As interesting as my travels have been to me, I find that I'm not someone who lives very well out of a suitcase. Among a list of resulting goofups (don't ask about my losing my camera on a bus!), I drafted a progress report in mid-June -- and forgot to post it. Ooops. For those more interested in the report than in the timing, here it is.
It’s mid-June as I write this. I’m a third of the way through my sabbatical study, and frankly astonished by how interesting and intense this first month has been. The best way to describe it would be to imagine cramming a master’s program into one summer.
So far I’ve read a half dozen books, visited ten congregations, and interviewed leaders in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pittsburgh, New York and Washington. About half of these congregations are Episcopal. All vary greatly from one another in worship style, demographics, culture, setting and vision. Two are extensions of older, existing congregations intentionally trying to reach out to people that were not part of their traditional congregational mix in earlier days. Two are older congregations, once on the downward slope of the “congregational life cycle,” but have found new vitality by “reinventing” themselves. The rest are new church starts, launched in the last ten years.
Although each of these congregations are very different from one another, they appear to have a number of things in common:
• They are all growing.
• They view growth not as a goal, but rather as a strategy for transforming themselves and the world.
• Their membership is a lot younger than traditional congregations.
• They view ministry relationally. (They feel that loving your neighbor is authentic only if you know your neighbor.)
• They view newcomers relationally. (Newcomers are seen as new friends who change the community in unexpected ways, rather than as additional assets support the institution in ways that are pre-established and unchanging.)
• They are dispassionate about “brand loyalty.” (Members are primarily interested in Jesus, secondarily interested in their congregation, and are not particularly concerned about what happens or doesn’t happen on the wider denominational level.)
• They freely use the culture in which they find themselves, rather than worrying about or worshipping the culture.
• They are dispassionate about their buildings. (They are the church and they use buildings.) They view their community experience as important, and evaluate their rental, ownership, or even borrowing of buildings by how well those buildings support or stand in the way of their community experience.
• They are dispassionate about money. (Money is seen as a tool for community building and ministry rather than something to be acquired, protected or hoarded.) They are not afraid to talk about, raise and spend money to enhance their community experience and ministry effectiveness.
• They spend most of their money on staff and communications.
• They have a lot of fun together.
• They are so clear about their values, identity and vision that they are dispassionate when people, both newcomers and established members, choose to seek a different congregation that differs in values, identity and vision.
It will be interesting, as I continue to read, visit congregations, and interview leaders this summer, to see what other commonalities or differences appear. It will be even more interesting to discuss these with you after I return. I hope your summer is as interesting and stimulating as mine has been.
The Lord be with you.