Church members want new people to attend the church because they hope to lighten the load in fundraising events, keep dwindling programs alive, and support the diminishing budget. Sometimes it happens that way, but more often, if the members become intentional about ministering to younger generations, they will move away from assimilating the new people into existing customs and begin the process of forming new communities. (Carol Howard Merritt, Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation)
Yes, and that goes for grassroots organizations hoping to attract younger members, too.
The process of becoming intergenerational (or inter-cultural for that matter) is one of mutual transformation. We can’t both say, “we want new people with fresh perspectives and new ideas,” and expect the organization to do the same activities on the same issues in the same ways.
If we are to successfully welcome new generations or new cultures into our communities, our communities themselves will change.
Are we open to that change?
I’ve just started reading Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation by Carol Howard Merritt, and I’m contemplating how her lessons about intergenerational church life apply to ICPJ.
As I consider our successes in recruiting, retaining, and involving younger people in the life of ICPJ, here are some common themes I observe:
- ROLES: Many younger people first become involved by signing up for a specific, concrete role. Many of our younger members, activists, and donors first became involved by being interns, CROP recruiters, SOAW trip attendees or organizers, or board members.
- RELATIONSHIPS: Our most involved young members are also the ones we’ve built the strongest relationships with. We have had more interns vanish than stay involved as members, donors, or volunteers. Those who stay involved tend to be the ones who were more involved to begin with and who had the strongest connections to ICPJ.
- PERSONAL CONNECTION: relationships are personal. Yes, the connection to ICPJ as an institution is important, but I more often hear reconnecting members remark about a person than remark about the institution.
- TRANSIENCE: Younger people move more. Many of our most active younger people are now less active. Some have left the area. Some have started families. Younger people tend to face more drastic and rapid changes in their lives. We have to be ready to welcome them in warmly, accept their departure or lessened involvement gracefully, and maintain connections so that they may re-engage.
- IT’S PERSONAL: Personal connections are made one at a time. At the risk of repeating myself, the people who have been most involved and stayed most involved have done so through personal connections. You can’t automate that. You can develop community norms and organizational practices that support personal connection, but at the end of the day it still depends on people connecting to people, one person at a time.
While some of these observations are especially true for younger members, many also apply to people of all ages.
From these observations, I leave with several questions:
- How can ICPJ (or any group) create more defined roles as initial contacts for new and/or younger members?
- After people sign up for these new roles, how can we walk with them to increase involvement and connection?
- How can we create practices (organizational and personal) to increase the connection among members, especially new members?
- How can we treat people like people? That is, while ICPJ as an institution is concerned about members, donors, and volunteers, how can we also ensure that we honor, respect, and care for people as their lives demand changes in their levels of involvement?
- What do our members need from us? How can we meet the needs of our interns, volunteers, and members in terms of community, contribution and professional development? (Coming from the Christian tradition, this question feels to me at it’s core to be, “how do we love each other?”)