We have a participation problem.
And by” we,” I mean pretty much every organization in existence.
Local professional organizations have membership meetings where the only people who show up are the officers and committee leaders.
Social organizations struggle to attract younger members with the interest and drive to continue the mission of the organization.
Musical groups can find people to perform, but getting people to come to performances is a challenge.
Churches, of course, struggle to get people to worship on Sunday mornings, but also to find members willing and able to participate in the social ministry and outreach programs that churches host.
I've known people who felt they didn't need to get out and attend church on Sunday morning because they could participate in worship through the television. There are churches that stream their worship services online.
Groups meet online through email lists. Lots of people “attend” by virtue of receiving the emails, but very few actively participate. And they don’t even need to leave their homes for that meeting.
People are glad to belong to their professional organizations so that they can say they belong. But to be actively involved at the local level seems to be more than they're willing to commit to.
The food pantry at St. Stephen's is always looking for reliable volunteers to help serve clients and stock shelves. The reliable part seems to be the difficulty.
I looked online to find some information about why people don't participate in things. There were no solid scientific studies that I was willing to wade through, but there were two items I found which rang true. The first article is from Casey Lewis, a pastor in Decatur, Texas.
Reasons People Don’t Participate in the Church’s Community
Individualism – A lot of church members are individualistic believing they can change by themselves.
Compartmentalism – Most people tend to compartmentalize their lives. There is church life, work life, and family life.
Busyness – Almost all Americans are busy. But we all know we make time for what is important. So when we say, “I am too busy”, what we really mean is that living in community with other Christians is not important to us.
Consumerism – Most Americans are consumerists. They come to church in order to get, but are not willing to give. They are content sitting in the pew week after week because they have been conditioned by society to consume and shop around instead of plugging in and getting involved.
I can identify with all of those reasons. I can do it myself. I do have a church life and a home life. Everybody is always busy. Church is where I come to be refreshed. not necessarily recharged to go out and be an active disciple.
The second article wasn't church related, but it also rang true:
The reason for non-participation is not based on a personal cost-benefit analysis. Rather, it has to do with the social context of the event. It isn't rational, but emotional.
In other words, people don't come to a concert because they see the notice and think, “Oh, that looks interesting.” They come to a concert because someone invites them to come.
"People are willing to try something new when friends join them in doing it."
"It wasn't advertising that made it happen. It was the word-of-mouth of people sharing with their friends that made it happen."
I can think of art shows and performances that I would never have attended on my own. I went because of a personal invitation. Sometimes I enjoyed it. Sometimes I didn't. But I got out the door and participated.
We have a participation problem. In church. In society. In our organizations.
Get over it, it’s not all about you. It's sometimes needs to be about the work that the organizations do.
Church life IS home life. Church life IS work life. I have admiration for cultures such as the Amish, who so incredibly blend their religious, work and home lives.
Of course we're busy. But we do give priority to the things that are important to us. "Where your treasure is, there your heart is also." (Matthew 6:20) Where is the treasure of time focused?
Eight years ago my husband and I became fans of the television show NCIS. Our oldest son, fresh out of college and in a new job, had the opportunity to work on the NCIS set filming the opening of one of their episodes (Season 6, Episode 22, Legend, Part 1). We call it the best 13 seconds on TV, and everything in the house stops when the opening for that particular episode is run.
Last night, one of the main characters, Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) lost the love of his life and inherited an unknown daughter. This brought him to the realization that he needed to leave the work he loved and focus on being a part of his daughter's life. He chose to focus on his treasure (his new daughter) and do whatever he needed to do to participate in her life.
It's easy to go to church on Sunday mornings, listen to the lessons and the sermon, take communion, and then leave. Attending worship can be refreshing. We have to work harder to make the Sunday morning church experience recharging, equipping us to leave the church building and to carry the lessons of the day into our home lives and our work lives throughout the week.
And I know it's hard. It's uncomfortable. But it is so critical to ask people to participate. To come to worship. To come to a concert. To come to the Empty Bowl Dinner. People find it uncomfortable to ask. I’ve felt that discomfort. But it is so necessary to extend the invitation. That personal touch makes the difference.
Every organization you belong to can use help in getting over the participation problem.
- Ann Warner