I was attending our annual Diocesan Professional Development Series for ministry leaders in parishes. The moment I walked in the door, I recognized many folks from across the Diocese of San Jose who are doing great ministry. As I entered the doorway, I didn’t walk more then two steps before getting a huge smile and a hug from a colleague.
Wow! What a way to be welcomed! For fifteen minutes, I spent time going around the lobby of the church saying hello to many friends. We talked kids, football, new haircuts, and food! It was great!
After fifteen minutes, I finally checked in for the workshop, gathered my handouts and name tag, and went inside to begin the series.
I walked in feeling good. I was ready to listen and learn. Why? Not because the subject matter was awesome. (However, the topic was great.) No, I was ready to listen and learn because of the great welcome and community that I felt as we began.
This experience re-confirmed some lessons I’ve been learning recently:
- People attend church (and church programs) because of the people that are going to be there. That’s primary. The secondary reason people attend is because of the topic (maybe). If people have great relationships with others and they feel welcomed when they arrive, then we can move to the next bullet point…
- Once people are engaged in the community, they are ready to listen and learn. Growing an Engaged Church, by Albert Winseman, states that “belonging leads to believing.” It’s true! We build community first, then they are ready to learn and believe. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you just come up with the right program and right topic, the people will come. Build the community, then they will come…and learn…and believe.
As I looked around the room, I realized that many of these parish leaders have known each other for years. When they come to any Diocesan event, they not only know that they will get some good resources and learning out of it. They know they are going to gather with good friends. That is a powerful place to be.
How can you and I build a strong community in our ministries?