Problem:  Many unprogrammed meetings seem to be dying, at least in the eastern part of the country.  I know that many people react to this by arguing that saving meetings from extinction is NOT what we are called to do.  I guess I must be old-fashioned.  When I see an abandoned meetinghouse or a meeting with a few faithful old timers trying to hang on, I feel very strongly that we shouldn't look the other way and do nothing to help to rebuild these meetings!

A few years ago a power company lineman came to the farm on business.  He told me that he is a native of the deep South, and that his family had moved several times as he was growing up.  His father, a Southern
Baptist minister, was a "turn around specialist."  When a local church was losing out, his father would be called in to provide leadership, to get the church rehabilitated and healthy again.

I have heard of cases of turn around specialists working in pastoral meetings, sometimes successfully and other times rejected by the locals who did not want to change because they were contented with the status quo, even if it meant gradually dying as a meeting.

I don't see similar efforts among unprogrammed Friends. I have discovered that there are several books, some probably rather enlightening, on how to reorient dying churches.  One book addresses 50 ways that local churches turn off newcomers.  See *Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches drive Away First-time Visitors*: http://www.amazon.com/Unwelcome-Churches-Drive-First-Time-Visitors/...

Other books attempt to speak to the condition of dying churches.   *Autopsy of a Dying Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive*  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/143368392X?psc=1&redirect=true...

*Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around, and Yours Can Too*  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0805445366?psc=1&redirect=true...

Where are the turn around specialists, or at least the turn around mentality, among unprogrammed Friends?

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Hello, Forrest!

Before we can respond to the Spirit's guidance, it seems imperative to me to know which spirit we are referencing.  There are various spirits at work in the world, and many Friends seem to be uncertain about which spirit they should be heeding.  The result nowadays is a Babel of Quaker voices, each claiming authenticity as a response to the leading of the Spirit.

You have previously asserted the functional equivalence of different religious traditions and the spirit they represent.  On the surface, this sounds like a good solution to the problem of a multiplicity of spirits.  But, in fact, each religious tradition conceptualizes reality in terms of its own paradigm, and the nature of that paradigm and its implications are not the same.  See Stephen Prothero, *God Is Not One* for an exploration of this issue.  http://www.amazon.com/God-Not-One-Eight-Religions/dp/0061571288/ref...

One of the "turn around" problems I see in the Society of Friends is confronting the overly facile response to religious pluralism.  As Prothero claims, asserting the fundamental sameness of all religious traditions is to not take any of them seriously.  The result is a shallow, ungrounded spirituality.

A psychopath's "Jesus" is not the Jesus we know, but there is, and was, in fact one Jesus.

Different religious traditions conceptionalize reality differently, but there is, in fact, one reality. All of them come to terms, in varying ways and with varying degrees of success, with the aspects of that reality their adherents find most significant. This is hardly "the functional equivalence of different religious traditions." You wouldn't want to use a geological map to find the best route to the nearest gas station...

J.D. Crossan quoted two 1st Century Jews, one saying that Yahweh and 'Zeus' meant the same being, the ruler of the gods -- and the other one vehemently denying this,  because Zeus lacked that ethical aspect of concern for the outcast, wretched and rejected people whose suffering kept the rulers of this world in stolen luxury.

But every pagan who worshipped under the "Zeus" label didn't necessarily have that same brutal image in mind, any more than everyone who worships under the name "Christian" sees Jesus the same way.

I would say that you know which qualities  belong to Jesus as you love him -- and to whatever extent you may have mistaken a detail or two, there is a God who can lead you further in, if need be.

And that is the Spirit to be grounded in, name that as you like.



Adria Gulizia said:

Natural Church Development, which I highly recommend you all check out (I've only read one book in their library but it was very thought-provoking), would say that the reason we have different diagnoses about what is wrong is because there really are different problems. The thing  that sets NCD's approach apart is that it is deliberately and consciously Trinitarian, suggesting that every church in every denomination needs the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, the commitment and sacrificial love embodied in Christ's crucifixion and the wisdom and creativity expressed in the creative energy and care of the Father we share.  So some meetings may really just need to pray for revival and prophetic insight, others may need to be more committed and steadfast in acts of mercy and service, while others need to be more strategic in their programming and organization.

None of these aspects is less "biblical" than the others. Prophets and anointed kings have often needed to be thoughtful and shrewd; careful plans have been upended by the outpouring the Spirit of God. It is worth thinking for all meetings, fellowships and individuals about how we can better reflect all parts of God's nature rather than just the ones that come most easily to us.

Hello, Adria!

I Googled "Natural Church Development", and found many sites that addressed NCD.  I would like to read more, but would appreciate a suggestion from you about where to begin.  Could you give a bit more of an introduction to the topic, and point us to a good site to begin our exploration of it?   What is the title of the thought-provoking book that you read?

I ordered most of the books I mentioned in my "turn around" essay.  I note that some of them have arrived at the post office, and I will review them briefly as I am able to read and digest them.

The Ammerman volume, *Congregation and Community*, is one I read some time ago.  It informed my essay on "Conservative Friends" in the last (double) issue of *Quaker Religious Thought*.  There is one essay in Ammerman's book specifically on a Midwestern programmed meeting.  Remove references to pastors, etc., and it could be a description of some Conservative and FGC meetings.  I wouldn't want to criticize that particular meeting for its limited vision, because it is very similar to many other older established meetings, programmed and unprogrammed!

Meetings may declare at great length their desire for new blood but, when they start to attract newcomers, they quickly find out that "business as usual" (only with an influx of new people) isn't how it works.  An influx of "new people" means new ideas and new questions about how things have been done for the last XXX years.  How the local establishment reacts will dramatically impact the success of the "turn around" agenda.

To your point Bill, I will suggest to Friends reading this, that if your meeting only respects and listens to people who are long-time Quakers or attenders, then you are doomed to repeat the same patterns.  This realization caused my meeting to first spend several months discerning that we would NO LONGER require formal membership for ANYTHING; not clerk of meeting, not Trustees, not committee clerks, and not for members of ANY committee.  This set the tone in our meeting that we IMMEDIATELY value new ones, and if they consider themselves Quakers, then we do too. 

This has resulted in us immediately listening to new ones because we officially adopted a desire to accept all as they are.  If they are interested in us, we are interested in them.  We have also wanted more diversity for years; but couldn't attain it.  Now, due to this cultural change we have attracted persons of all political persuasions, more Christian Friends, more economic stations in life, more diversity of age. 

This diversity has brought us so many spiritual insights that we would have never been given had we continued to do 'business as usual'.
 
William F Rushby said:

I ordered most of the books I mentioned in my "turn around" essay.  I note that some of them have arrived at the post office, and I will review them briefly as I am able to read and digest them.

The Ammerman volume, *Congregation and Community*, is one I read some time ago.  It informed my essay on "Conservative Friends" in the last (double) issue of *Quaker Religious Thought*.  There is one essay in Ammerman's book specifically on a Midwestern programmed meeting.  Remove references to pastors, etc., and it could be a description of some Conservative and FGC meetings.  I wouldn't want to criticize that particular meeting for its limited vision, because it is very similar to many other older established meetings, programmed and unprogrammed!

Meetings may declare at great length their desire for new blood but, when they start to attract newcomers, they quickly find out that "business as usual" (only with an influx of new people) isn't how it works.  An influx of "new people" means new ideas and new questions about how things have been done for the last XXX years.  How the local establishment reacts will dramatically impact the success of the "turn around" agenda.

T

Hi Bill! I read "3 Colors of Ministry." While I'm not sure that I agree with Schwarz's conception of spiritual gifts, which may not encompass Friends' traditional idea of "stewarding" gifts. However, I appreciated his broad conception of gifts. Taking the included gift inventory (though I would never claim a gift based on such a tool!) sparked my imagination about how God could use me in ways I would  not have chosen. (God might *possibly* want to use me as an evangelist? Gulp!) I also found his included "change compass" very useful and consonant with my experience. Fundamentally, though, I really appreciated the "3 Color" framework as a way of thinking of the strengths and weaknesses of various bodies of believers. I hope that helps!

I agree with the comments below.  Attracting newcomers is only step one.  Empowering newcomers to continue making a difference is far more critical -- and to what ends.

In our region, some meetings have evolved their practice far beyond what the regional Faith & Practice describes e.g. entire standing committees (vs. ad hoc), such as Clerks' Advisory and Communications escape any mention in the "operating manual" we stack up in the library, purporting that newcomers should study it. On the other hand, some meetings have shed standing committees, yet how are newcomers to discover this from Faith & Practice?  

Do Quakers have the right to tell the public one thing, yet do something else, and still call themselves Quakers?  I'd say there's a limit to how far we might let things slip, before we no longer practice our Quakerism.

An old timer like me, a stickler for documentation, has more leverage as more newcomers join us:  "now that you realize how we say it works, and how it actually works, are rather different, wouldn't you like to see the truth more accurately reflected in our official manuals?"  It becomes a truth in advertising campaign, and something concrete to consider.

Once on the topic of documentation, we circle back to Information Technology (IT) and its core concerns.

Version control software might be adopted such that our F&P evolution is allowed to branch, fork and merge in a more managed and choreographed fashion (as software does), with accountability and rollback capability.  

Individual Monthly Meetings may share some core sections (say on marriage), while more easily adapting other sections for local needs -- without messing it up for the others -- thanks to version control.

Now I agree, that sounds pretty geeky.  Version control software?  Seriously?  

That brings us full circle, as some of the newcomers I'm most eager to recruit are those who consider themselves geeks, or developing in that direction.  Quakerism and meticulous recordkeeping go hand in hand, as do the ethics of Open Source (transparency, equality...).

In my little world, IT concerns are cutting edge within unprogrammed Friends.  It's not a crisis in Spirituality we're facing but a question of lagging behind in Technology.  

Friends and "religious people" in general are perceived as offering zero career-relevant skills, let alone a context within which to apply them ethically (according to a set of values).  We fail, as a role playing opportunity, a simulation, in which to practice ethical living, insofar as we neglect to mirror the world our participants actually face.  We become merely "quaint", a brand of "cute", that verges on irrelevance.

Escaping the Luddite stereotype is high priority in my book, into a Promised Land of better and more appropriate tool use (language being itself a tool).  Which is why I previously circled Mary Klein, editor of Western Friend, as a pivotal figure (a "turnaround Friend").  She brought us together for a new kind of multi-timezone video-meetup the other day.  She's helping us improve and update our practices around information sharing within West Region (as AFSC calls it).

Kirby Urner
Technology Clerk
North Pacific Yearly Meeting

William F Rushby said:

Meetings may declare at great length their desire for new blood but, when they start to attract newcomers, they quickly find out that "business as usual" (only with an influx of new people) isn't how it works.  An influx of "new people" means new ideas and new questions about how things have been done for the last XXX years.  How the local establishment reacts will dramatically impact the success of the "turn around" agenda.

In several ways I'm a technological moderate.

I believe that you can't talk as much fluent geek as you want in business meeting.  We use consensus process, and about 1/4 of the business meeting has trouble even with basic technology concepts.

I hold the same opinions about stock picking for profit in business meeting.  Every meeting has one or two people that sort of know what they're doing, and lots of people who are lost.  The nature of stock picking is that millions of people try their hardest to get an extra 1% out of the market, so doing any better than that will of course be extremely difficult and convoluted to explain.  The safest policy is to say either "let the yearly meeting pooled funds committee help us out here" or "mutual fund". 

I'm also a consensus moderate.  Consensus process itself can be overdone.  300 year old minutes of business meetings are full of typos and poor grammar.  Serious spiritual objections to some minute are important, but most business meeting comments don't rise to this level.  They're about getting the language perfect for posterity.  Friends need to invent a way of getting the language perfect without wasting people-hours.

Yes, sometimes committees are kind of fake in that they don't really do much, and so they're burdensome for a smaller meeting.  We preach simplicity, so, OK, let's try simpler.

At some point we're going to recognize that each generation of young Friends / young adult Friends has a rule against sexual activity at events, and each generation remembers that the rule was often ignored.  So is it an actual rule or is it Friends acting a bit silly? 

I remember a story of a Philadelphia Friend dressed in proper gray who visited a rural meeting where a Friend wore a bright calico dress.  The gray preached simplicity, but the calico was the simple dress.

Kirby Urner said:


That brings us full circle, as some of the newcomers I'm most eager to recruit are those who consider themselves geeks, or developing in that direction.  Quakerism and meticulous recordkeeping go hand in hand, as do the ethics of Open Source (transparency, equality...).

When Quakerism got started, Friends had limited contact with one another and only met at Meeting, on average, literally.  Getting to meeting required horsepower, also literally.

There's a leftover bias in our practice, to this day, to stop the conversation outside the two hours per month or so that a given committee meets.  That's the habit.  We see the same thing around school:  people take off in the summer, because that's when rural folks farm.  Schools needed to let kids get back to work.

Consider Peace and Social Concerns Committee (PSCC) as some call it.  With a listserv and/or Wiki in the picture, Friends are able to continue their conversations, in an archived manner, outside the framework of once-a-month face-to-face meetings.  

It's quite natural for a PSCC to have a listserv, advantageous, and provides a valuable resource for newcomers wanting to catch up on the conversations.

However, our regional Faith & Practice has been entirely silent on the topic of listservs, despite their being with us since the 1980s, leaving it to various committees to ad hoc their own roles.  At one point, the Communications committee in my MM was asking to be consulted, before PSCC started up a new listserv.  Why Communications and not M&O?  When did we decide on this workflow?  

Can't any standing committee start a listserv if it wants to, without permission from another committee? That's what our Treasurer expected.  So many points of view...

These are the kinds of discussion we see around IT in our region, and they need to be addressed consciously. Too many years have gone by with our F&P falling further and further out of sync with the realities.

The response has been two fold:

(1) at the Yearly Meeting level (NPYM in this case), with the Discipline Committee proposing to extend Faith & Practice with an Appendix on electronic communications, with conference call technology falling in that same category.  

(2) at the West Region level with leadership from Western Friend (discussed earlier).


So far, that F&P Appendix is still in draft form.  It would make sense for Discipline Committee to start a listserv and invite more discussion of the issues.  We don't want to have all these discussions during business meeting only.  Consensus is less likely to emerge in the absence of sufficient discussion and dialog.

I set up a listserv for the IT Committee precisely for this reason:  our concerns do not go on vacation between Annual Sessions and Monthly Meetings have issues right now.  

Quakerism that's only practiced on the weekends is not going to keep pace.  Thanks to the Internet and telephones, our Quakerism is now operative 24/7.  Newcomers should feel comfortable contributing to their meeting's internal life by Wifi, from coffee shops, on week days, not just from meetinghouses on First Day.

QuakerQuaker.org is helping show us how that's done.

Kirby


Paul Klinkman said:

In several ways I'm a technological moderate.

I believe that you can't talk as much fluent geek as you want in business meeting.  We use consensus process, and about 1/4 of the business meeting has trouble even with basic technology concepts.

I'm coming late to this discussion, but find myself a bit concerned about a need for balance as we look as we look at how to turn around meetings. 

In my last meeting, new attenders were so valued that we automatically accommodated to the point of losing our anchor. The most egregious was a move to eliminate God language to avoid "insulting" anyone. That was when I left a meeting I helped start. 

What are the essentials that we need to preserve and teach in order to maintain and practice the soul of Quakerism? If we can figure out and practice that while opening up the rest, then Quakerism will provide a home for some seekers. 

I intentionally use the word some. We can't be everything to everybody. 



Stephanie Stuckwisch said:"In my last meeting, new attenders were so valued that we automatically accommodated to the point of losing our anchor. The most egregious was a move to eliminate God language to avoid "insulting" anyone. That was when I left a meeting I helped start."

Hello, Stephanie!  I think you make a good point here.  Opening up to new attenders does not mean that a meeting needs to become a "doormat" for whoever knocks at the door!  My experience is that meetings are usually not responsive enough to newcomers, rather than too responsive.

By the way, my wife and I were instrumental in starting a new meeting, and then found ourselves disfellowshipped when we balked at the direction it took.

I agree, Stephanie. This is one of my favorite aspects of the Natural Church Development paradigm. Every church (gathered body of believers) needs a  center, and that center should be God. But what that looks like will differ depending on what the starting point. For many liberal meetings, the social justice and organizing elements (which function equally well in the secular and spiritual realms) of God-at-the-center is strong. However, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and a clear commitment to the Gospel could be improved. For other bodies, the starting point is different, so the areas where the body needs to grow are different.

Jesus' ministry is so instructive in thinking about how to treat newcomers and visitors. He didn't ask about people's theology before teaching, healing and loving them. In fact, he got a special satisfaction out of the fact that non-Jews were coming to him for healing and transformation. But while he was eager to meet the legitimate needs of all comers, they didn't get to pick what Gospel they heard. They didn't get to wordsmith the Lord's prayer.

Jesus taught with authority, then passed that authority onto us, as long as we do what he commands. So we should love all who come and serve all who come and teach all who come (and go out and bring in folks who don't come on their own initiative). However, every person who comes in the door shouldn't get to redefine what it means to be a Friend.

Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

I'm coming late to this discussion, but find myself a bit concerned about a need for balance as we look as we look at how to turn around meetings. 

In my last meeting, new attenders were so valued that we automatically accommodated to the point of losing our anchor. The most egregious was a move to eliminate God language to avoid "insulting" anyone. That was when I left a meeting I helped start. 

What are the essentials that we need to preserve and teach in order to maintain and practice the soul of Quakerism? If we can figure out and practice that while opening up the rest, then Quakerism will provide a home for some seekers. 

I intentionally use the word some. We can't be everything to everybody. 

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