What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-19-19
The path to congregational sustainability is a paradoxical process of reaching out and reaching in. This past weekend we began training in the “reaching out” piece. 11 folks from First Congregational Church of Granby participated in a workshop entitled “Reaching New People” hosted at First Church in Windsor and led by Rev. Paul Nickerson, a UCC pastor who consults with scores of congregations across the country around issues of church vitality. First Church in Windsor participated with a team of about 20. FCC Wallingford and South Congregational Church of Granby also had representatives present.
During this intense 9 hour workshop over two days, we learned how changes in the wider culture have made the “attraction model” of reaching new people ineffective. We learned best practices of getting out into our community and inviting people into authentic relationships. This is the basis for reaching new people in the 21st century. We wrapped up the workshop by developing a plan for implementing these new strategies and identifying people who could serve on a Vitality Team to work with the congregation so that together we can use our limited resources to greatest effect in growing the church. The Vitality Team will be supported by ongoing coaching from Rev. Nickerson. Reaching new people isn’t just the job of a few. It’s everyone’s responsibility to learn how to be good inviters. If each person in worship invited one friend to worship every week, we’d instantly double our attendance. Imagine that!
I have already begun leading the “reaching in” process. “Reaching in” is another way of saying “building organizational health.” I have been meeting with staff and team leaders, refining and implementing church policies, casting a vision for a range of possible futures for the congregation, modeling healthy leadership that honors FCC Granby’s Behavioral Covenent, reporting to the appropriate committees, and doing a lot, I mean a lot, of listening. Reaching in is a slow, deliberate process whereby we create safe space in which difficult truths can be spoken and heard in love. No congregation is perfect. Every congregation has baggage from the past that needs to be brought into the light, examined, healed, and released. Every congregation can improve its ability to listen deeply, communicate clearly, and engage differing perspectives in ways that draw people together instead of driving them apart. Most often an intentional congregational process led by a neutral expert (not the pastor) who knows the congregation but has no vested interest in particular outcomes is the most effective way to accomplish these goals.
As a congregation we need to tend our wounds, atone for our mistakes, and build a culture of hope so that we can welcome newcomers and weave them into our congregational life. As a congregation we need to let go of past hurts that weigh us down so that when the storms of change wash over our tiny boat, instead of sinking to the bottom, we can ride the waves. We need to learn how to be vulnerable and trusting with each other so that whatever the future holds we can face it with joy.
How is this related to our conversations with South Church? As I’ve said before, we need to fix the holes in our boat because if we tie one leaky life raft to another leaky life raft, where does that get us? We’re all still going down. Or think of it this way: what marriage is most likely to succeed? One in which the partners are stressed out, depressed, and dying or one in which the partners are happy, hopeful, secure in their identities, and looking to the future?
Whatever our future, the process of reaching out and reaching in will take us where God and the Town of Granby need us to be.