For the past few days we have been looking at how congregations best learn. These posts have been based upon an article in Congregations, a publication from The Alban Institute. The article entitled "How Your Congregation Learns" was written by Tim Shapiro, the president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations. The fifth element of a learning congregation is that Congregations learn well by attending to rites of passage. Shapiro believes that when a congregation is in the process of learning new things it is very important that they do not neglect the tender moments of life that bind a congregation together. These moments would include such things as births and deaths, marriages and divorces, graduation, illnesses, and the other events that shape the lives of people within the congregation.
This honors the importance of relationships in the church, especially the smaller church. So much of what we do is dependent upon the relationships that exist in our churches. If a proposed change might have an impact on the existing relationships in the church it will likely face great opposition until those concerns are addressed. I was asked to speak to a church about a process our judicatory was offering to help churches transform. During the Q&A time an older woman told me that if what we wanted to do might cause some people to leave she was against it without even knowing what we were offering to do. In her words, "There's nobody here I'm willing to give up." The church decided to not invite me back to begin the process.
However, if a church can be very intentional about ensuring that special life's events in the lives of its members are not missed or overlooked, it become easier to learn some new things. One of the important things a pastor can do when recommending that the church learn some new ways of ministering is to announce some new steps the church is taking to serve well those persons going through transitional times in their own lives. Knowing that the rites of passage in their lives will be recognized and celebrated makes it easier to learn ways of ministering to others.