May 28, 2016 § 1 Comment
Working recently with a group that has formed in New York Yearly Meeting to facilitate outreach in the yearly meeting, I thought to come up with a checklist of the things a meeting should have in order to maximize the meeting’s visibility to seekers and to be ready to hold onto newcomers who visit the meeting.
Here is my first draft of such a Meeting Outreach Checklist. Does anybody have any suggestions for things I should add?
July 17, 2015 § 2 Comments
Outreach and Inreach
Quaker renewal depends on “advancement”, on advancing Quakerism—reaching people who hunger for what we have to offer, but haven’t found us yet, and being ready for them when they come. Thus there is both an outreach and an inreach dimension to Quaker advancement.
A lot of the posts in this Quaker-pocalypse series so far have been about inreach, the project of deepening the spiritual life of the meeting into maturity so that we are ready when seekers come.
But now I want to turn to outreach. Or really, to the bridge we must inevitably build between the two—how we present our faith and practice to these seekers when they ask—what do Quakers believe?
For very often, this is the first thing seekers ask us.
When people ask us this question, we often stumble in our answer. We often start with a bunch of disclaimers about how diverse our theologies are, and how we can’t really speak for all Friends, and really, I can only speak for myself . . .
Then we are likely to start by saying that we believe that there is that of God in everyone—which isn’t true! “We” don’t believe this; only some liberal Friends do. And, while it may be true that many, or even most, liberal Friends believe there is that of God in everyone, this turns what George Fox meant by this phrase on its head and has only been used by us this way since Rufus Jones started it around the turn of the twentieth century.
And anyway, just what does it mean to say that there is that of God in everyone? What does “that of” mean? What do we mean by “God” when we use the word this way? And how do we know there is that of God in other people? Are all of the Friends who profess a belief in “that of God” in other people so psychic that they have actually experienced the “that of God” in someone else? Or do we just believe it because we believe it of ourselves?
After perching all 350 years of our exceedingly rich, centuries-old tradition on this one slender, 100-year-old notional pedestal, we then go on to say, maybe, that we believe in “the testimonies”. But we don’t “believe in” the testimonies; we hold them as truths that have been consistently revealed to us over the centuries, but what we “believe in” is the guiding and strengthening power of the Light and a G*d who breaks into the community’s life with new truth about how to live when we turn toward the Light in our individual and collective discernment.
We need more of an answer than this when people ask us what we believe. What canst we say?
I have been working on an answer to this question of what we believe for decades. I received an answer in 1991 and I’ve been trying to refine it ever since. I now have several versions, and I want to publish them here, but most are quite long, so I will have to publish them as downloadable pdf files. And, as usual, now that I look at them again after some time away, I find I have some things to add and some things to change, so they’re not ready yet.
My latest effort, however, is fairly short and designed to be easier to read online. I will publish it next. But first, I want to provide a resource, a set of links to how various Quaker organizations present the essentials of Quaker faith and practice.
Various Quaker answers to the question, what do we believe?
- Friends General Conference offers a general introduction to Quakerism and videos.
- Friends United Meeting offers a set of Frequently Asked Questions.
- Evangelical Friends Church International gives us an evangelical Quaker answer.
- Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has a fairly well developed and attractively presented section on the Quaker way.
- New England Yearly Meeting also has a Frequently Asked Questions approach.
- Ohio Yearly Meeting offers a simple Conservative Friends perspective.
- Friends World Committee for Consultation offers an introduction to the kinds of Friends around the world.
- QuakerSpeak.org features videos on dozens of Quaker topics.
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.