Greetings and peace in the name of Jesus, Ministry Partners, family, and friends. The focus of today’s blog post discusses the Mechanics of Productive Gatherings. If you have not heard this term before, do not fret, neither have I. For the moment it is the best term I have found for describing a concept and dynamic of Local Church Services and Other Gatherings that might explain the challenge of growing group gatherings, or at least allowing people to consider their time spent in the meeting resulted in a net positive. What is it that attracts people to one organizational location or system and keeps them there versus another that also attracts the same people, but the people do not stay for the long-term?
Of course, people join and leave groups for many reasons. But the larger undiagnosed reason for their departure, I believe, is a mechanical failure to adhere to the solid mechanics of productive gatherings. The good news is that mechanical failures can be overcome with better design, better maintenance, and better materials. Most of you reading this blog have learned some of the principles for hosting high quality meetings already. You know those things that can destroy a meeting and those things necessary for a high quality meeting to take place, things like 1) adhering to a precise schedule of starting and ending times and agenda, 2) allowing all attenders to “unpack their bags” literally and figuratively in personal space arrangement, group orientation, and allowing time to emotionally stabilize by sharing those things that may be distracting them personally and collectively, 3) preventing a small part of the group from derailing the agenda pursued by a larger part of the group, 4) jointly evaluating the meeting process to improve it for subsequent meetings, 5) listing the positive and negative takeaways of the meeting, etc. The list is much longer, and you already know what they are.
However, I am wanting to discuss something about which we experience challenges in the Local Church services and seem perplexed to know what to do about it. The simplicity of this concept and dynamic is staggering, and yet I seldom, if ever, see this mechanical device consciously being employed.
In searching the Internet for use of the term I have chosen “The Mechanics of Productive Gatherings/Meetings” I found the following two links. There were others which I did not investigate. With these two I began gaining some reassurance the most popular work was following traditional thought and not exploring what I wanted to discuss with you today. You can go here for more traditional thought on successful meeting dynamics and mechanics.
In this discussion I am considering something very basic in the human economy explaining a desire to be together in a common cause beyond those who join a group because they have found a unique aspect which causes them to exclude other similarly situated groups in choosing the one they ultimately join. Historically those criteria often include such considerations as biblical doctrines of faith, social or economic niches, and purposes that speak to a common felt vision, purpose, mission, or goal. But what if you understood the Mechanics of Productive Gatherings in such a way you were able to preserve the uniqueness of the attractant for people who share common purpose, vision, mission, goals, and convictions and develop a better “Meeting Machine”?
These thoughts began to solidify today on my way to and from the celebration of life service for our dear friend, brother in Christ, and former minister and local church pastor Garland “Guy” Roscoe Brunson. I have been thinking for several days about these concepts as several of us in the General Conference Church of God (Seventh Day), GC COG7, International Ministerial Congress, IMC, and the Southwest District, SWD, are exploring the use a) of small groups in Local Church growth, not a new thing, b) of growing the fellowship of believers to saturate the geography for increased opportunity in fellowship, c) for fulfilling the Great Commission in non-traditional ways in a world turned upside down by isolation and quarantine requirements, by d) considering new designs and design adjustments in the system of Church operations that 1) glorify God, 2) edify the Church and 3) promote the work of the gospel to transform people from death into life.
For the last several years in the celebration of life memorial services, or for those who insist “funerals”, I have utilized a tool called a “treasure chest” for helping people make the most of their investment to the person and their family to whom they are “paying tribute” and at the same time to build something with which they can leave the assembly with an increased value, or return on their investment of time and expense for being there. It is from this experience it occurred to me Church services should also have a similar mechanical dynamic.
First and foremost, in the celebration of life services the array of emotional stimuli individuals are experiencing is acknowledged and during the service an effort is made to visit most of those arenas in a way that leads them to the stabilizing assurance of Jesus Christ in the scriptures. The purpose is to allow them to visit the rooms of those emotions without guilt for being in that room and feeling the way they do while they are there. It is part of the grieving and healing process. Also, they are invited to invest in the service by thinking thoughts, bringing to remembrance, especially precious experiences and memories of the person which they hold in high esteem and to bronze those into treasures to put inside the treasure chests of their minds which they will take with them when they leave. Finally, they are challenged to find something about the person they admired and which character trait, behavior, or value their life would be richer if it were more prevalent in their own life. Then they are challenged to decide how they could employee that in their life for a better future. Of course, the rest of the agenda is to provide the best eulogy possible for the individual and to provide biblical comfort for those experiencing the loss of relationship with the individual, empathizing with the loss of this person.
But this blog is not about how to minister in a celebration of life message. It is about “The Mechanics of Group Gatherings”. The above accounts were shared to reveal the inspiration for these thoughts and to provide a point to transition into both the need and the mechanics of the concept and dynamic. After the service, a sweet sister leaned over and said, “I enjoyed this service very much.” And, almost in a catch of the breath she rhetorically asked, “Are you supposed to enjoy a funeral?”
From that perspective, I want to challenge us with some misconceptions about Church services. In the Anglo-Christian community more than in some other cultures, but it seems to be emerging everywhere, it has become a common belief people will not attend more than one service in a week, especially a midweek service. While I was delivering food to a retired veteran Pentecostal pastor on Friday, he bewailed the same expression without any prompting from me. He lamented over the inability to find a Local Church with midweek services, citing every church he had attended previously had stopped because the people were not attending in sufficient numbers to keep the service going. Unfortunately, his reasoning likely contributed to the problem more than helping it as he brought an accusation against the people who were not willing to make time for God in their life.
I think the retired pastor and military veteran was missing the point. The last time I checked, people who were living to attend Church on Sabbath or Sunday were also living on every weeknight and doing those things that interested them. The other thing I have noticed is an awakening over the last 20 years of youth and young adults seeking for a meaningful place to assemble for devotion to God, fellowship, and edification within the body of Christ.
The key point of people not attending night services, especially midweek services, is not that they will not attend any longer, it is they are unwilling to attend the kinds of services Local Church Leadership is providing for them. Sadly, oftentimes this same Leadership is working diligently at great expense of time and resources to provide those services. And the people are not responding as the Leaders desire. Why?
I have observed youth in the Churches of God (Seventh Day) who are going to midweek services out of a choice to be there, convincing their parents to allow them to attend services of another denomination. I have witnessed my own grandson driving half an hour each way to be in the midweek service of another denominations Local Church while staying convicted to the doctrines of the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day). He has even been their guest speaker on occasion. He would arrive early to help the Pastor get ready for the youth and young adult services. He found value in what was happening, and he was willing to invest in it. Also, this Pastor was welcoming his contribution. Why are our youth and young adults so eager to experience God, fellowship with believers and seekers and so unwilling to attend our own attempts at having a midweek service? Some will say it is because of “worldly” aspects or “unchristian” like reasons. I think those people are blind and unable to see reality. While there are always exceptions, most of those people are there for the very same reason we want them to attend our own midweek services. They want to attend and we want them to attend for reasons like, being edified from the scriptures, having opportunity to meet and interact with morally wholesome people their age, learning about the call, vision, purpose, and mission opportunities of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, developing strong ministry relationships in Bible study, music, prayer, and worship, to name a few.
Here is a major point. It is not just about the youth and young adults. The very same principles apply to children, adults, and seniors. If we know something needs attention and we are unwilling to correct it, what does that say about us in our own ministry? Maybe we are uncomfortable doing something different. But are we mature or are we babes in spiritual maturity? The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14 to not be children in spiritual maturity but to be adults in understanding and spiritual maturity.
This brings us to the point of this blog, and I am guessing you already know the answer. The simplicity of the mechanics of productive meeting dynamics is truly staggering. People are not attending the services designed by some leaders because of extremely specific reasons, they are not being edified and either they cannot invest themselves into the meeting or their contribution is not received. I can almost hear the outcry of those who say, “But they are being given exactly what they need. They just will not consume it.” Really? Could it be it is prepared in such a way to make it repulsive to consume? It does not matter how wholesome a food is if it is prepared in such a way it is disgusting to eat and it is not being eaten. I can almost hear the rebuttal again, “Well, we refuse to serve them ‘junk’ food and unspiritual meat.” That is great, because those refusing to attend are not seeking “Junk food” or “unspiritual meat”. They are seeking something they can feel good about consuming and know they have benefitted from the experience.
Here are the principles.
- Teach those invited to service an investment of their time and resources are expected and instruct them to expect a high amount of return on their investment.
Matthew 6:19-21, CEV, 19. Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. 20. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. 21. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.
- Teach those you are inviting to midweek services that attendance to those services is an opportunity for them to make an investment.
- Then allow them that opportunity. Create a welcoming environment that includes an opportunity for active engagement with an investment on each one of their parts. This is best done in a small group dynamic so one gifted one through their brilliance does not blind the rest to the contributions of others.
- Help them make the correlation that the investment in time and resources they have made is yielding a high return on their investment presently and eternally.
- Understand people are designed by God to want to contribute and to not be able to do that results in being administrators in the entertainment industry instead of ambassadors for the King of kings and Lord of lords building disciples for Jesus Christ.
The following text is often used to discuss spiritual gifts and administration in the Church. However, it is seldom used to recognize the desire of people to be active components of the fellowship and even less to note the value of the contribution of individuals. When chaos rules, the key point of the text, or when people have their gift/contribution rejected, or are otherwise made to feel unwelcome, the growth of the group stops and sometimes the group dies. Please read the text from the perspective of being inclusive rather than exclusive and for helping those in attendance make an investment and realize a return on their investment.
1 Corinthians 14:26-40, NLT
- Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
- No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say.
- But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately.
- Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said.
- But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop.
- In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged.
- Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns.
- For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.
- Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.
- If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.
- Or do you think God’s word originated with you Corinthians? Are you the only ones to whom it was given?
- If you claim to be a prophet or think you are spiritual, you should recognize that what I am saying is a command from the Lord Himself.
- But if you do not recognize this, you yourself will not be recognized.
- So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues.
- But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.
The Mechanics of Productive Gatherings are the following.
- Build an environment where members, regular attendees, and guests are welcome in a non-threatening, safe and comfortable environment
- Not everything has to be according to traditions of centuries past, only the principles need to be retained, the methods change with the times
- Shorter rather than longer services for midweek or night services
- Multiple functions within the same service
- Changes of venue and agendas
- Strengthen interpersonal relationships with those who attend
- Diversity of leaders
- Provider or server of benefits, snacks, games, competitions, etc.
- Allow safe vulnerability with testimonies of trials, failures, and successes
- Adopt projects suitable for the group to experience the feeling of accomplishment
- Not everything has to be according to traditions of centuries past, only the principles need to be retained, the methods change with the times
- Install a transmission that allows engagement of every person at various levels allowing them to make real-time investments of themselves, their time, and their resources
- Discover something that will allow each person to have ownership contribution to the event and group
- Build interdependent activities into the setting creating value between those participating
- Connect steering and drive components that allow each one to see their contribution is both moving the group along the intended path and his getting them personally where they need or want to go in Jesus Christ
- Celebrate successes as a group and as individuals, poster boards, social media, etc., can be used to make it noticeable
- Clearly communicate the path or route being used to get to the clearly identified goal, it is important each individual and group knows where they are along the path and when they can expect to reach the goal
- Help them see the improvement in their spiritual and relational “bank account” or “investment portfolio”
It really is that simple. And, yes, it really is that difficult. But just like operating a piece of complicated equipment, knowledge and skills development can soon make it second nature. Think of electronic games or sports, seemingly impossible feats are performed because of knowledge and practice. Coaching makes the process go faster. Do two things, 1) get a coach, a good one, and 2) be a coach, a good one. Soon you will be as effective a Local Church administrator as a winning NASCAR race driver is on the circuit. Complex things are complicated only until they are mastered. Like a musical instrument, producing a pleasing tone may seem impossible at first. But some knowledge and skills development quickly produce the ability to be part of the orchestra.
The Mechanics of Productive Gatherings is staggeringly simple. But do not be deceived. Simple is not always simplistic and is seldom easy. But neither does complex have to mean something is complicated. You can do this. You can make a difference for the Kingdom cause of Jesus Christ, the Church, and the quality of someone’s spiritual development.
Be strong and courageous in Christ Jesus, friend. Be fruitful and multiply in your ministry.