I often hear people from predominantly white churches say they wish their congregations were more diverse. And I wonder…
Pandemic Micro-Risk #1: The Chalk-It-Up
Pre-pandemic, I was putting together a resource for congregations called “The Micro-Risk Playbook.” It’s a collection of small innovations and that congregations could take on to nurture a culture of faithful risk-taking in their churches. I have a few of them posted on this website, but a quick read-through and you’ll see they’re not so useful during this pandemic.
So here’s Pandemic Micro-Risk #1: The Chalk-It-Up.
This works for someone in your congregation who’s just spent some time in the hospital and is coming home soon (new baby, surgery, COVID-related...) Pick a day and invite people to FILL that person’s driveway and/or sidewalk with messages of love and support. Seriously, set a record in their neighborhood for applied chalk. Hearts, rainbows, mandalas, flowers, badgers… Have people bring their own chalk and remind them to respect social distancing if more than one group shows up at the same time. Will it take the place of a baby shower or a laying on of hands and prayer? Well, no. But will it say we see you, we love you, we’re with you? I think so. And what might it demonstrate to neighbors about the way your congregation shows up for each other?
The reason your church is managing decline is that you are heavily invested in problems that no one cares about.
Back in February, that’s what I might have said to you, to your church’s leadership, or to your whole congregation. Budget woes, shrinking attendance, fewer children in Sunday school, deferred maintenance on the building, volunteer burnout… These are real problems, of course, and they take lots of time and energy to address. But no one cares. You care, of course. Your church cares. You all care so much you pour gobs of energy and time and angst into solving them. But be clear: no one outside your congregation cares that you have those problems. And an organization that pours most of its problem-solving energy into things that no one outside the organization cares about is working with a recipe for decline.
That’s what I would have told you back in February. And then we would have had a robust conversation about what it looks to begin to shift a congregation’s vision and mission around problems that exist beyond the church’s physical and institutional boundaries. And it would have been fun! Invigorating! Imaginative! But that was so 6 months ago. Ah, we were so young.
Here’s what I’d like to say to your church now: People still don’t care about those problems, and a growing number of them are in your own congregation. Back in March, in the span of a few weeks, your church’s institutional problems faded in people’s minds as others came into focus: isolation, fear, change, uncertainty… And so you invested in connection, however clumsy and awkward it was at first. And sure, it was a huge loss. But it was also an enormous gift because on some level you had to ask yourselves, “When we take away the layers of church that the wider culture already doesn’t care about, with what are we left?”
3 questions and an invitation:
This fall I’m going to lead a series of church leadership retreats. This is something I was already doing before the pandemic, so we’ll just move it online. I want to engage you, your church leadership, or maybe your whole congregation with some deep thinking about where we are and where we might be headed. If this invitation ignites some curiosity in you, I hope you’ll let me know and we can get that lined up.
With Awe and Belonging,
A micro-risk is an easy to try, fun to play with, ok-if-you-fail small risk that, when combined with other micro-risks over time, nurtures a culture of faithful, strategic risk-taking - the kind of culture we need in our churches. You'll find a few here, (here, here, and here), but if you're hungry for more, you can check out my Micro-Risk Playbook here.