New faces and new places characterized my first trip to Minneapolis a few years ago. I met Joe Myers while attending Soularize. One evening several groups went to dinner. Another couple of people at the table with us – Mark Riddle and Denise VanEck. The ethnic food did not quite do the job for most of us. In fact, I recall Joe not eating much at all, if any.
A couple of years later we hosted Joe for an ETREK Course at Biblical Seminary. The chief text we used was Joe’s book, The Search to Belong. Joe had begun working on his next book project recently released, Organic Community: Creating a Place Where People Naturally Connect. I recall him working through the material found in the chapter titled, Language: future lingo – moving from noun-centric to verb-centric. The discussion was lively.
When I heard Joe’s new book was released I queried Joe for a copy to review with a view to how this could work into another ETREK course. Let me say I thought Joe’s first book to be insightful and in many ways an articulation of what some of us have felt when trying to fit the experience of “small groups” into the “understood”” framework. His emphasis upon the (in)ability of people to participate in more than one or two “intimate” relationships underscored the frustrations experienced by many in small groups. Joe did not dismiss these groups. Instead he noted we should take great care with our language so as not to place undue expectations creating frustration when everyone in the group failed to “connect.”
Organic Community will not disappoint. If you were to fear the need to read the first in order to “get” the second be assured Joe offers a helpful and healthy synopsis of the pertinent material so the reader could pick this one up and not feel he or she missed something. That said, I would recommend he Search to Belong. I could offer a chapter by chapter review but prefer to offer thoughts on one of the chapters as indicative of project that is Organic Community.
One of the chief issues any leader faces is measurement. Nearly 15 years ago I sat in a DMin seminar where the discussion turned to the very subject of evaluation. How do we know if we are successful? Southern Baptists tend to think of success in terms of numerical analysis. (Although currently there is some question as to the validity of such a method among many SBC young leaders – that is a different post.) Uneasy with the direction of the conversation I suggested we could not adopt a universal ruler for success. One pastor served an urban church experiencing a significant demographic shift. Decisions to stay and lead through these changes gave way to moving on. When I questioned this norm the reply was, “I will send them your resume.” Talk about missing the point! At the time I pastored in a small north central Texas town with little possibility for growth. Decisions made years ago ensured the decline. Several churches served the less than 700 people. If we applied the normal numerical expectations for success our church would surely be a failure. The ruler did not work. I wrote an article for one of our denominational magazines around this issue.
The timing for reading chapter 4 – “Measurement: recalculating matters – moving from bottom line to story” – was impeccable. Anyone working through transitions knows the “walls” inherent in affecting changes in mental models. Language, experience and comfort play a dominant role in the process. A simple illustration in the chapter noted a conversation between a supervisor and a new employee. Numbers were crunched. Projections offered. By all accounts the company could expect steady, constant growth. The supervisor helped the new employee understand when we “average” numbers and project growth, the numbers don’t tell the “whole” story. While there may be expectations of continued growth to suggest there will be no periods of decline or stagnation in a given twelve month period is to make the numbers say what we want.
Our denomination suffers this malady. Considered the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with some 16+ million members, a closer look reveals a different story. When regular attendance is considered our denomination is significantly smaller. Our tools of measurement often fail to tell the story. In fact, we often hear of churches in decline. Looking year over year may indicate such a situation. However, should a major employee close taking jobs and families elsewhere, numbers do not tell that story – they just indicate things have declined.
Joe’s emphasis on moving to story allows us to measure those things that matter – character transformation, community investment and the reach of the Gospel. There is no disdain for keeping track of numerical progress. The warning is to put them in perspective. Story allows numbers to have a proper place. Measuring success comes in relationships not numbers.
Pastors, staff members, any church leaders – vocational or volunteer – would benefit from Organic Community. Get your copy today.
(I will offer the implications of another of Joe’s assertions – cooperation to collaboration – in a follow-up post.)