My last post on the third great end, “The maintenance of divine worship” clearly revealed how I am approaching my work as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission. I am deeply committed to keeping one foot squarely in the Church world and another foot in the world of emerging spiritual values and forms of the Pacific Northwest. Thus, over the next two months my Sundays will be equally split between worship in churches and worship in the mountains. I have four preaching gigs scheduled and four snowshoe adventures locked into my calendar. My life is good!
At the end of my blog, I commented that the task of the church may be to become more aware of the spiritual values and forms of worship that have taken root in the lives of people beyond the church. One astute reader commented that the problem may not be the church’s lack of awareness. The problem may be more one of not knowing how to make the connection. It’s the practical question. The reader wrote, how do we in the church “own (those worship practices) ourselves and join them on their journeys.” The commenter challenged me and us to get practical.
So, here is a practical suggestion from my experience in the pastorate.
Before taking this position over four years ago, I organized and facilitated three different Meetup.com groups. Two of them were groups focused on movies and one group was focused on connecting with the Sacred through outdoor adventures.
Here is the story of one of those groups—Movies and Meaning—that I facilitated in Portland for five years and how it unfolded step by step.
Stage One: I developed an idea that felt like it could be a bridge between the church community and the people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” I came up with this “movies and meaning” idea where we would attend a current movie in the theater and then retreat to a pub or wine bar for discussion. The purpose of the discussion was to share our responses to the film from our particular religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical values.
Stage Two: I signed up for a Meetup.com account, crafted my description and invitation to the group, and hit the “activate” button. Within one week, 75 people had joined.
Stage Three: Over the next three years the group grew to 175 with an average gathering of 10-15 people each event. The group was generally about 85% “spiritual but not religious” and 15% church members. People described themselves as Buddhist Christian, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, lapsed Catholic, spiritual artists, dance spiritualists, and progressive Christian. It was a group rooted in spiritual values but very diverse and eclectic.
Stage Four: Not every month had a good movie that fit the focus of the group. After a few “dud” movies, people in the group finally asked me, “Brian, on the months when there aren’t good choices can we pick a movie and watch it at the church?” I naturally said, “Yes.” The group moved from being an activity sponsored by the church to an activity occasionally meeting in the church.
Stage Five: It became clear that there was a community forming made up of a small percentage of church members and a much larger percentage of community members. The goal had always been to build bridges between these two communities. It was becoming clear that there were areas of shared interest.
In the last year before I shifted to another church position we held two adult study series that served as a bridge and connecting point between the two communities. Adult studies averaged 30 people with half from the church and half from the community at large. We had moved from being two communities sharing one building to one community (at least during those adult studies) learning and studying together.
What are the lessons from this:
- People in the Pacific Northwest do want to engage in meaningful discussions about religion and spirituality and connect to other like-minded people.
- It is possible to build community between the traditional church-going member and the person who identifies as spiritual but not religious;
- People aren’t necessarily attracted to church. But they are attracted to relationships of trust and integrity.
- Building community in this age takes time. Simply opening the doors to the church on Sunday is not enough.
I have had success in bringing people together through the Meetup platform three times over the last 15 years. It doesn’t take a Master of Divinity degree to do this, but it does take a person gifted in building relationships of understanding, trust and respect.
Here is all you need:
- Just one person with a hobby, an interest, or an idea to share with others;
- A commitment from the church to pay the $14.99/month hosting fee;
- A commitment from the church to pray for and be open to people who have a different, but equally life-affirming spiritual orientation.
- Hiking group
- Cycling group
- Knitting group
- Quilting group
- Fine dining group
- Philosophy group
- Lectio Divina group
- Bible study group
- Meditation group
- Tai chi group
- Yoga group
- Cultural travel group
- Pilgrimage group
- Lectionary group
- Story-telling group
- Poets and writers group
- Dance group
- Women’s Issues group
- Racial/Ethnic Support group
- Caregiver’s Support group
- Grief and Loss group
- Singles group
- LGBTQIA group
- Board Games group
- Gluten-free cooking group
- Musical Jams group
- A cappella group
- Divorce Support group
Quite honestly, it is not that difficult to build spiritual community in this age. People are hungry for connection and depth. We just have to get out of our church comfort zone and learn how to MEETUP with people on their turf and their terms.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades