Thank you to everyone who took a little time to sit down and share their stories during our Listening Campaign this past summer! Having been the first experience of a listening campaign as a congregation, I wanted to offer some of my observations and highlight some of the things the Listening Team identified as learnings in this process.
As part of St. Paul’s continual mission discernment, each year three “priorities” are identified as focus areas of St. Paul’s Mission. These three priorities are used to shape the way our council, ministries and members are live out that mission together through ministry programs, worship, and events. This past year, the identified priorities were: Faithful in Worship, Growing as Stewards, and Continued Mission Discernment (Read more about these priorities here).
The second priority, Growing as Stewards, includes a special focus on building relationships. This emerged from a number of experiences over the past three years which highlighted that (1) active participants in St. Paul’s ministries do not know one another as well as we typically assume, and, (2) that our relationships are one of the most valuable things we steward as Christians.
This past summer, the focus on building relationships was lived out through St. Paul’s Listening Campaign. The campaign launched in March when members of St. Paul’s were trained in the art of one-to-one conversation and formed a “Listening Team.” Over the next several weeks, this team led the listening process by planning, executing, and debriefing conversations. A final report of this phase of listening was reported to the congregation on Pentecost.
The best part of the campaign for the Listening Team was the opportunity to become more familiar with other members of the congregation and hear their stories. It takes a certain amount of courage to even ask people to sit down together. But overall, the team found that people were excited and willing to talk and swap stories.
The goals of the listening campaign were fourfold:
- Establish or deepen relationships
- Learn what people value, who they really are, and how their life experiences have shaped them
- Find commonly held interests, goals or values
- Through attentiveness and inquiry, gain new clarity about one’s self and self-appreciation
There were times during the campaign that the team felt a lack of clarity around the goals. Early on, the team had decided not to “bring up” St. Paul’s unless the other person mentioned it first. As the campaign went on, members of the team expressed desire to apply a more focused questioning around a particular issue. This created a real tension for the team – how to discover the common pressures and passions of members without trying to lead the conversation to a particular end through a set of predetermined questions.
This tension was probably most felt when the team met to reflect on their experiences and what they heard in order to prepare for the report to the congregation. In preparing for the report to the congregation, the team expressed that they did not get a sense of closure from the first phase. There was still a lot to debrief and unpack, but the short amount of time for the turnaround did not allow for enough conversation.
The team desperately desired to come up with a report and recommendation that would convey the richness and depth of all that they had heard. Following the Pentecost report, the general consensus of the team was that the identified action steps did not seem to adequately address the pressures and passions that were uncovered in the conversations. Additionally, the action steps did not appear to contain any “risk,” which may have contributed to a lack of enthusiasm.
When the team discussed how best to move forward, a key component was finding ways to create opportunities for people to share their stories and build relationships with others. The Table Talks will be helpful in this regard, but there will likely be more relational work to be done in the months ahead.
In identifying their own “next steps,” the Listening Team decided to focus on supporting the work of the grant team through one-on-one conversations with applicants/references and hosting “research meetings” to build relationship with others actively serving the community, learn what motivates them and they got to this point in their life, and discover where their goals and values overlap with St. Paul’s.
If you are curious about the listening campaign, wonder why St. Paul’s is doing this, or are interested in being a leader in the process, send a note to Pastor Joshua, who would love the opportunity to sit down together and discuss these things further.