November 13, 2015

Easier Entries and Exits?

A colleague recently mentioned that she was starting a music project for Christmas. The commitment for participants would be six weeks of rehearsals. She said it seemed much easier to get people to commit to something that had a clear start and finish date, rather than asking for an open-ended commitment.

Her plan got me thinking about how many church commitments are either open-ended, or just really long. Join the choir, and how do you ever get out? Join the vestry and you’ve just given away three years.

Once you’re on the hook for a long commitment, the only way out is to quit. Most people don’t want to be quitters. That alone may be enough to keep some people from joining.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my lifers in the choir. There are some Sundays when I only get up to go to church because I know they will be there, and I will get to sing with them. But not all of us are cut out to be lifers. When the only choices we are offered are an open-ended commitment and no commitment at all, many will opt for no commitment. Over-committed has become a way of life in some demographics. And most people still take commitment seriously. They would rather say no than fail to live up to what they have promised to do. They worry that they may have already taken on too much.

How many of the ministries in your congregation operate on a concrete, manageable timeframe? Do you offer people regular ways in and dignified ways out?

Even for something like a choir, which certainly benefits from having some long-time members, is there room for someone to join just to learn the Christmas or Easter music, sing for the holiday, and then bow out gracefully? Do you announce the start date? The end date? What about ministries of service and outreach? Is there room for someone who can give three months, then needs to turn attention to something else for a while?

At St. Mary’s, we occasionally invite someone to just one year on the Vestry. Usually it’s because someone else has had to bow out before his or her term was up. We have found that there are some people who will say yes to a one-year invite, yet would never consider a three-year term. We have even had one person serve three successive one-year terms!

Maybe it’s time to check your exits. Those people who are loathe to be quitters may be just the folks you need, even if it is only for a season.

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