We can escape the death spiral.
This article from Thom Rainer appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday. (If you haven’t read it yet, you probably should now.) Rainer lists eight signs of a church that might be closing soon. Then he suggested that any church exhibiting four or more of these signs must change or die.
Almost every Quaker meeting I know exhibits at least six.
What Rainer says rings true. We face a choice – do we change, or do we die? Sometimes, when Friends talk about change, I hear helplessness in their words or their tone. Change what? How? Why?
Here’s my answer to those questions. Please feel free to add your own.
1. Value people. Send occasional handwritten cards to everyone in your directory. Ask visitors for an email or phone number and follow up every time. Develop a practice of telling each person in your meeting what you appreciate about them. Invite people to meeting events personally, individually, and by name.
2. Be meaningfully present in your community. Participate in town events. Organize work days to help at the local school or library. Prioritize local giving in your meeting budget. Listen to your neighbors. Study white privilege and systemic racism. Learn about gender inclusion.
3. Take actions to make participation easy for young adults and young families. Provide childcare at every meeting activity. Have a dedicated space for teens to gather, even if your meeting doesn’t have any teens right now. Pay the way for young adults to attend Quaker gatherings. Develop a meaningful presence on social media. Explain Quaker jargon and processes clearly, briefly, frequently, and at the moment they are relevant – whether that’s in business meetings, in discussions, or even at social hour.
4. Assume that joy and play are as sacred as struggle and lamentation. If the meeting spends two hours laboring over the budget, it should also spend two hours playing games or singing. If you don’t have time for that, you’re doing too much laboring.
5. Develop a permission-giving culture. The default answer to every new idea is “yes, and how can I help?” Save “no” and “maybe” for those moments when there’s a truly compelling reason. If you send an idea to committee for seasoning, ask yourselves – is more discernment essential, or are we doing this out of habit?
6. Start your budget process with giving. Allot the funds for donations and meaningful programming first, with a preference for things happening outside the walls of your meetinghouse. Then, set aside what’s essential for facility maintenance. If anything is left, assume you haven’t given enough away.
7. Seriously consider getting rid of your building. If the meetinghouse is a source of conflict, if it’s a money pit, or if it’s in a geographically inconvenient location, you can sell it and go someplace else. Really. That’s a thing you can do.
8. Perform holy experiments. Try things that might fail. Move ahead even when you’re not 100% sure. Trust one another. Give yourselves permission to make mistakes. Ask God to lead you to radical places.
I believe that Quakerism is as relevant as it’s ever been, but many of our institutions are not. The Spirit of God is unchanging–we, however, are not meant to be.