May 16, 2015 § 2 Comments
In my first post in this series I listed among the signs of Quaker decline the steady decline in our membership. This has been going on for decades. We keep dying off. And most of our kids, though they often retain a Quaker identity (when asked what religion they are, they are likely to answer “Quaker”), most still do not remain active in a Quaker meeting when they become adults. And these two forces consistently outstrip our rates of convincement of new members in many of our meetings.
The intuitive response to this problem is more and better outreach—letting the world know who we are in a way that might encourage seekers to check us out. I like the broader rubric that New York Yearly Meeting uses for this aspect of meeting life—advancement. Advancement includes all efforts to advance Quakerism, and this includes “in-reach” efforts as well as outreach. For, to grow our membership, we have to actually have something valuable waiting for these seekers when they do finally find us.
But, while advancement in this broader sense is important, I don’t think growing our membership ought to be our primary goal. Our goal as meetings should be to bring people to God and to bring God into the world, not so much to bring people to Quakerism and make Quakerism more visible in the world.
Nevertheless, we do have something uniquely spiritually valuable to offer people in this age, for those people anyway who want a shared path, a tradition, a community—a religion—as their way to commune with the divine and channel their desires and efforts to heal the hurts of the world.
So, to do this—to advance Quakerism—we need three things:
- A vital religious life—we need the goods:
- worship that offers true communion with God,
- fellowship that is welcoming and caring, and
- spiritual nurture for individuals and families, including
- recognition of spiritual gifts,
- support for ministry,
- religious education for adults, and
- a First Day School, or readiness to provide some religious education for children on the spot if a family comes.
- A message—we need a clear, truthful, articulate message:
- a confident, simple, but not dumbed-down answer to who we are, what we “believe”, and what we offer; and
- a vision of a world rightly ordered in God’s shalom.
- Vehicles for outreach:
- a decent website (doesn’t have to be great),
- a social media presence, not necessarily very active, but with proper attention having been paid to the social media platform profiles, so that when seekers land there, they can actually find out who and where you are;
- a listing in the web portal(s) for churches in your area;
- a sign at the street, well lit at night, big enough, and readable at the speed limit;
- parking—clear indications on the website and at the street as to where to park;
- witness engagement, as led, in your neighborhood, your municipality, your region;
- a modest, consistent advertising presence.
So the next questions are:
- Have I missed anything?
- Does your meeting have all these elements in place?
- If not, do you agree that you should?
- What about that last one—advertising: do you agree that you should be advertising your meeting, and if so, what media would you use?
In the next post, I plan to unpack each of the items above a little bit with queries.