June 13, 2012

Pulling the Plug

When she was about 8, my daughter decided to throw a party. She selected a theme, planned the menu and activities, and invited the guests. What I didn’t know at the time was that she also planned how she expected her guests to act. And then got very upset when they didn’t.

This memory came flooding back as I read this line by LeeAnne Watkins: “I feel like I’m selling something that people don’t want—and then getting mad at them for not wanting it.”

LeeAnne’s article “This just isn’t working: When people don’t show up,” was posted on The Christian Century website on June 4, 2012. She’s sharing her congregation’s decision to cancel all of its adult education and midweek services and her decision to stop “getting seduced by the latest thing that’s supposed to work, putting mountains of energy into making it really good and then getting cranky with people because they don’t come. So we stopped it all.”

Like LeeAnne, my daughter learned an important lesson all those years ago: Wishing for people to behave a certain way doesn’t make it happen. And, getting cranky when people don’t behave in the way you expect is a waste of time and energy. Instead, why not focus on talking with the people we are trying to reach to learn more about their interests, wants, and needs.

So how do we do that? First, I suggest we let go of our assumptions about what we think ‘they want,’ opening ourselves to the possibility that we may not be as tuned in to our target audience(s) as we think we are. Acknowledging the many ways the world has changed in her lifetime, LeeAnne shares EDS Professor Kwok Pui Lan’s view of a world that has moved from a cathedral mind set to what she describes as a bazaar mindset:

“a marketplace where you shop from place to place. You have no obligation to stay long and no commitment to buy. . .. It’s not just the volume of information we face but the way it affects brain function—the clicking from page to page, the new habit of linking information so quickly.”

This concept of a bazaar mindset makes sense to me and is one I want to spend some time thinking about. Reflecting on my faith journey, I find that the bazaar metaphor fits me far better than the cathedral mind set.

What’s your experience? Are your adult education programs and midweek services thriving or just limping along? Have you pulled the plug on programs that just weren’t working and if so, what, if anything have you replaced them with?

What experiences do you have to share with other congregational leaders related to sharing the Gospel beyond Sunday services?