More On Gathering: Life-giving Movements vs History Making Events

I’m aiming for a short post today. In the buildup to Parachute 2010 and coming out of my season at NYWC, my history with Eastercamp and other events in the spectrum – I’m thinking more and more about gatherings.

The Tipping Point
I loved encouraging, resourcing and inspiring youth workers with my work through Eastercamp – examining different expressions of community participation in experiential worship and story. But a one-off experience isn’t enough to sustain long-term or ongoing change. My tipping point, especially with the rest of the team was the shift we were making in core values. For a long time, the core value was fulfilling the role of resourcing and serving youthworkers. There was a point at which another focus, on numbers and getting bigger and bigger took over. It was based out of a genuine motive – we wanted to be as impacting as possible. But as a leadership team there were two very different ideas as to how to get there.

We had been experiencing consistent growth for about 9 years at this point – every year increasing 7 – 23% of our overall numbers. One idea was to throw everything at strategies that would attract other large denominational numbers and independent churches to join us.

I came to the realization that the best possible strategy long term, was to become a movement of youthworkers and communities, rather than a one-off event. Even though we were denominational in roots and history, we had expanded beyond the sense of connection our denominational ties allowed for, and limited/confused as to how to incorporate other values/practices/flavours into our event. However, a movement has a unique ability to draw diversity into unity, based around common purpose.

We could have greater long term relationship and support with youthworkers if we continued to find ways of expressing, sharing and developing our values (community, gospel, fun, locally connected, financially accessible) throughout 365 days of the year.

(Sidebar: It’s actually incredibly easy for events with the right staff to begin to do this nowadays, because of the influence and emergence of social media tools as methodology for creating personality and energy within a set of ideals, even if that ‘community’ only connects annually, bi-monthly etc.)

Follow some of my semi-chronological thoughts…

1. If you want to gather people together – you need more than a reason. You need a common value, a common love, a common cause. You need something that engages both an intellectual, emotional and spiritual reaction.

2. In order to gather people together again and again – you need more than a cause, you need a movement.

3. The best movements are chapters in the story of a Tribe, a community of people connected in some way  that share commonality of values and/or expression of those values and within the history of a Tribe there may be several movements. Similarly there may be movements shared by multiple Tribes..

4. One-off events make history & “do you remember when” stories in the history of Tribes. They are great moments that inspire the future but in of themselves, they are not the future. They are turning point gatherings, or reconciliation gatherings, or healing gatherings..

5. The future is carried forward by life-giving movements that gather for the sake of gathering, because when they are together, the story continues. Movements are embodied by a set of values or principles.

6. The most sustainable business model for those communities that wish to be Gatherers, is to build movements, rather than events. Creating a movement is about shaping leaders, people, listening to the ongoing expressions and finding ways of broadcasting that to the rest of the Tribe, sharing it with the rest of the movement. One-off events connect people to a place and time, but a movement invites people into an ongoing story – in essence, a shift between “I heard x & y at z?” to “I am talking with x & y. Simplified but it works.

7. Movements find their health in other places than numbers. They still need to make their budgets, but often values of a movement overtake the values of an individual or justification. Multiple not-for-profits demonstrate this, when a commitment to getting dollars to the field, overtakes the desire for clever and aesthetically pleasing marketing materials.

8. Of course, if the movements are shaped by leaders, voices, prophets, etc – then the most interesting question becomes.. how do you build a Tribe? A tribe has to be sustaining.. in other words, there must be space in the natural order for the young to be constantly arriving and growing. This is an incredible challenge withing our culture.

The shift from being an event to a movement changes loyalty, ownership and expectation on the part of the organization as well as the customer/client. However, the long term benefits outweigh the bumps in the road. Movements can exist equally well in micro and macro climates – because they can operate by different rules than one time events. Similarly, you can’t simply duplicate a one time event model and think you’ve created a movement. The rules of Movement are clear – commonality in purpose/values/cause and connectedness.

More later… what do you think so far?

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