conversation is an engine

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Extreme Listening in a Congregation: Framing a Question and Listening for the Reply

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and yet, sometimes it does work

Once upon a time a church had outgrown their facility and the leaders wanted to raise money to build. So they thought of a campaign and called it “Hearing from God.” In the campaign they asked members to pray about how they should give and then pledge toward the amount they heard. After several months of praying, along with weekly stories from the pulpit of people who prayed, heard and decided to give generously, the final day came when all the pledges were in. But the pledges did not cover the costs of the new building—not even close.

Did the “Hearing from God” campaign succeed as a marketing tool? Yes. The campaign focused congregational interest by tying growth plans with the expectation that this was God’s vision and God’s work. This tactic is nothing new to the human condition, whether we’re talking about starting a war, running for office, providing jet fuel for the pastor’s personal jet or gassing-up any other part of the church growth business The campaign worked exactly as planned: it helped elicit pledges from the congregation, pledges over and above typical giving.

Did the “Hearing from God” campaign succeed as a moment of corporate listening? No. And massively so. The congregation was asking “Should we?” while the leaders were asking “How much?” The end of the campaign revealed how different the two questions were, as leaders refused to revisit the what they actually heard from God. Instead they pushed the project forward, despite the seemingly obvious conclusions.

The multi-million dollar project moved ahead, but the twist on hearing and resultant lack of listening initiated a corrosive set of questions about leadership. Subsequent decisions about firing and hiring supported the growing congregational awareness that the entire church entity had been hijacked by a set of leaders pursuing private dreams. “Hearing from God” became a shorthand joke among the congregation for whatever current project leadership was pursuing. Over the course of the next two years, thirty-three to fifty percent of the long-term members leaked out the back door.

What does it cost to avoid hearing?

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Image credit: x-planes

Written by kirkistan

November 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm

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