(Image: Glean Network)
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our faith institutions to reimagine how they serve their communities, and has threatened the “pay to pray” business model, with estimates of 20-30% of America’s houses of worship at risk of closing in the next year. At the same time, though, attendance is up, demand for belonging and connection is sky-high, and opportunities to deeply serve our communities are waiting around every corner. So how might we embrace the possibilities of the moment and reimagine how our institutions serve? Taking insights from every domain from higher education to social impact, here are 10 approaches to adapting your institutions and serving your people where they are.
As signs of hope begin to break through the traumatic 14-month COVID-19 nightmare, leaders across every domain are beginning to ask tough questions about what’s next for their businesses, organizations, and communities. In the faith sector - one that was already destabilized after years of disaffiliation and disconnect from younger generations - the tough questions grow tougher with each new report about the impending wave of church closures and shrinking membership.
But if you look a little closer - beyond the catchy headlines - you might find reasons for hope. Since the pandemic began, 46% of young people are reconnecting to religious practice; 24% of Americans have experienced a deepening of their faith, and only 2% a decline in faith. And worship attendance is up as services shifted online and the barriers of entry disappeared.
At Glean Network, we practice a pragmatic optimism - rooted in reality, inspired by the emergent. Looking through that lens, here are 10 suggestions for community transformation that we’ve gleaned from working with hundreds of prophetic, fearless leaders who have transformed their communities over the years, and are in the process of doing so today, as well:
Vision > Strategy Only 22% of strategic plans are actually implemented. Place more emphasis on articulating a vision that gives people goosebumps and hope, and work backwards from there.
Stopping > Starting While organizations often get the most excited about the “start doing” list - the new projects and initiatives, the shiny new objects - it’s the “stop doing” list that’s even more important. Be prepared to let go of programs and initiatives that are in decline so you can ensure bandwidth and resources for the new ones.
Experience > Expertise Focus more on the lived experience of those in the room and those you seek to serve, and place less emphasis on who has the right titles and degrees.
Diffuse > Centralized Faith communities that are thriving and growing today are often decentralized both in terms of location (think outside the “box”) and organizational structure. Starting point: Everyone is a potential leader.
Impact > Attendance Don’t worry about attendance. Worry about whether or not your work has lasting, sustained impact. The more you focus on attendance, the closer your organization will move towards the entertainment industry, and away from its transformational potential.
Process > Products Innovation has the potential to transform institutions because of the ways that the process (self-reflection, interviews, team-building, out-of-the-box-thinking, culture change) impacts the organization. Spend more time on process and less on products.
People > Programs People must always be your #1 priority in this work. Programs will come and go, but people who feel deeply held, served, and known will not.
Small > Large There is no one-size-fits-all way out of this tumultuous moment. Build multiple programs, initiatives, and micro-communities that are exceedingly beneficial to small numbers of people. Starting point: Interview 10 people who are currently not engaged in your offerings and co-create with them.
Curiosity > Certainty Try to suspend your conclusions and assumptions for as long as possible, and embrace a mindset of curiosity and possibility as you navigate uncharted territory.
Sometimes > Always “Always” is just “Sometimes” with a longer track record. And “Sometimes” is just “Once” that made it. Don’t be afraid to try something once, and don’t be intimidated by a culture of “Always”. Have faith that your “Once” has the sacred potential to become an “Always”.