Gathering the Abundance: Stories and Transformation

This is a resource for engaging our congregations in telling their stories as a way of interpreting and fulfilling their missions, by Rev. Naomi King~

A good inspirational story invites the listener into an emotionally laden conflict and brings the listener into a place of hope, joy, commitment, and/or encouragement.  When we read stories or hear them, each story reveals its emotional content.  We can only find that if we 1) observe the person telling the story and what emotional signals they are presenting and 2) observe our own reactions to the story and the emotional signals within ourselves.

How may we interpret our mission in the stories of our congregations and our cultures of giving?

First, refresh yourself with your congregation’s mission.  What is the story it is telling us?   What challenges does the mission present us?

Second, What’s the conflict in the story?  For example:

a)  We have not been engaging in social justice activities that reflect our deepest values and priorities as a congregation;

b) We’ve needed people who understand the ways to stand on the side of love and commit to leading the way;

c) We don’t have the money do all that we need in order to accomplish our social justice mission in the world.

Third, how might the conflict be resolved?

a) Offer a new model or alternative perspective as a solution to the problem or conflict;

b) Provide examples of real people who’ve made a difference through their contributions, both in their efforts and their resources;

c) Find donors willing to make matching or challenge grant to stimulate heightened giving and involvement.

Fourth, draft a way to retell a brief and pithy version of the story that uses descriptive language and imagery.  Bring the story to life!
Fifth, how does the story affect our congregation?

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The Emotional Arc:  Story and Transformation

Every story has encapsulated within it a conflict.  Every conflict has emotions attached to it.  Inspirational stories invite the listener into emotional identification with the conflict and its heart-warming or hopeful resolution.  Every story has an emotional arc.  Inspirational stories resolve conflicts in such a way that the listener’s own emotions follow the emotional narrative of the story.

Some Emotional Arcs

Apprehension–fear–despair

Apprehension–surprise–hope–delight

Joy–confusion–grief–exhaustion

Uneasiness–wonder–happiness-commitment

Transformational storytelling requires the storyteller to discover the emotional arc of the current story, imagine a new story’s emotional arc beginning in the same place as the current story, and offering the new story repeatedly, to guide the listeners into another emotional state.  Some people call this reframing.  Effective reframing begins with the original story’s emotional beginning, but opens to a new possible ending.

For example, a congregation may frame its story in this way:

We are a poor church; we always have been and always will be. 

There are at least two possible arcs to this story which may influence the experience of the congregation:

1)  Pride–pleasure–contentment

2) Shame–defensiveness–resignation

Another example:

Our congregation has survived the tough times through good stewardship and a commitment to generosity.  We have great opportunities and energy; and we’ll find our way through!

The Emotional Arc begins with pride, then moves to joy, then to hope and heightened commitment.

And another;

We have been a church without many resources, but we’re different now.  We have a great program, lots of visitors, and a clear sense of mission.  We are on our way!

The Emotional Arc begins with shame, but moves quickly to hope, followed by confirmation, pride, and excitement.

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The Reverend Naomi King is a Unitarian Universalist minister who has served congregations in Maine, Texas, New York, and Florida.  Naomi’s virtual ministry has expanded through social networking to touch the lives of many around the world.

Rev. Naomi King was the recipient of the UUA’s Stewardship Sermon Award in 2005, for her sermon entitled Stand By This Faith, http://uua.org/worship/words/sermons/submissions/8790.shtml

To contact Rev. Naomi:

Twitter:  @revnaomi

Facebook:   http://www.facebook.com/RevNaomiKing

Linked In:  http://www.linkedin.com/pub/rev-naomi-king/1b/bb6/8a9

New Economy and New Vision for Religious Life

Over the past year three-quarters of adults in America report being personally affected by the economic recession.  Nearly thirty percent of them in significant ways, such as living beyond their financial means, dealing with higher levels of debt, and spending down their savings.   Those ages 27 to 45, households with income of $40,000 or less, families with young children, and the “unchurched” are among those reporting the greatest impact.

Along with the impact on personal finance, giving to religion took a dip, particularly among women, Baby-Boomers (ages 45-65), low-income households, families with young children, and some minority groups.

In a new book entitled Futurecast, researcher George Barna reports how “The American Dream” is being re-imagined as more and more people adjust to their new circumstances.  Current trends offer myriad opportunities for pastoral care and ministry–the needs are staggering and urgent.

For example, trend research indicates that core values and religious affiliation are changing, with the largest faith group in America identified as “Skeptics,” largely a blend of atheists and agnostics.  Interest in spiritual life is high, but there is less enthusiasm for conventional congregational settings.

  • Healthy interpersonal relationships–family ministry, life issues & skills programs
  • Opportunities for personal growth and spiritual deepening
  • Personal financial planning classes & Stewardship Education programs
  • Ways of tapping the power and connectivity of music and social media
  • Community-building

These are clear indicators that now is the time when congregations must find creative ways to boost funding instead of succumbing to the impulse to slash budgets.

Congregation Leaders…now is the time to breathe life into your mission and vision for your congregation’s brightest future!   Instead of engaging in agonizing discussions about your financial woes, use your precious board and staff meeting time to make your case for your congregants’ generous financial support, brainstorm creative solutions, educate yourselves about effective stewardship practices, and enthusiastically report the ways your congregation is making a difference and changing lives.

The Barna Group conducts and reports research on current and future trends in congregational life.  For research on the effects of the economic recession on giving and budgeting in congregations:  http://www.barna.org/donorscause-articles/486-donors-proceed-with-caution-tithing-declines

Unitarian Universalist Association President, The Reverend Peter Morales shares his thought-provoking sermon Beyond Belief with the UU Church of Arlington, Virginia;http://www.uucava.org/page/beyond-belief-by-uua-president-rev-peter-morales-feb-12-2012

For an amazing array of faith development and community-building programs for all ages:  http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/index.shtml

Ministering to families and all ages: http://www.uua.org/re/multigenerational/index.shtml    http://www.uua.org/re/adults/46930.shtml

Our Whole Lives-comprehensive sexuality education program for all ages:  http://www.uua.org/re/owl/index.shtml

Resources for Nurturing Generosity and Stewardship Education for individuals and congregations:

http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/generosity/index.shtml  http://www.uua.org/documents/stew-dev/study_guide_giving.pdf

Hospitality and Stewardship: Partners in Congregation Growth and Prosperity

Hospitable congregations allow people to offer themselves in worship by recognizing and receiving the gifts that people bring. In the case of one congregation, this meant making the ‘tithes and offerings’ element of the service itself a dramatic and powerful event…However, hospitable congregations do not restrict the receiving of gifts to the offering plates. The talents and abilities of the congregation are employed throughout the worship…At every point in the service the leadership of worship is shared. People in the pews; sing and pray and read and testify and bless. The energy of worship is not concentrated in the chancel but fills the whole sanctuary.  

                                                                                             ~Thomas G. Long                                       

I have often hear congregation leaders say that if they could attract new members and grow numerically, their budget problems would be eased.  With a larger number of members, the congregation could more easily afford to add staff, increase the size of the facilities, and offer more programs.  While this may be true in some cases, it is important to emphasize the importance of practicing hospitality and effective stewardship in our congregations, at all times, in order to achieve and sustain membership growth.

Sustained health, growth and prosperity is experienced in congregations when hospitality and stewardship are practiced in conjunction with high quality worship and religious education for all ages.  Alongside of these runs an intentional membership development process that begins at the first point of contact with the congregation, whether that occurs virtually through the website, by personal invitation, or in crossing the threshold of the sanctuary to experience meaningful worship and fellowship.  All of this takes a cadre of well-trained lay and professional leaders with a commitment to lead and equip the congregation in the vital practices of hospitality and stewardship.

How do hospitality and stewardship look and feel when woven together?

~The congregation’s website (and bulletin boards) are visually appealing and engaging, with up-to-date content that reflects its mission, values, ministries, programs, and priorities.

~The congregation building and grounds are well-tended and points of entry .

~All points of entry are visible, attractive and welcoming, with clearly worded signage to help newcomers navigate the facility.

~There are warm and friendly people at the entrances to greet and help newcomers feel welcomed and comfortable.

~The nursery and children’s spaces are staffed with experienced care providers, clean, safe, and well equipped.

~The worship service, religious education program, and fellowship hour refreshments are carefully planned, organized, and led in ways that demonstrate good management and use of resources.

~There are opportunities for meeting people and engaging in the activities of the community.

~The giving of money, time, and energy in support of the congregation is evident and reflects a culture of generosity, commitment, and gratitude.

~Celebration happens regularly because there is joy and genuine affection felt in the community!

For more resources for congregational membership growth, hospitality, and stewardship:

http://uua.org/growth/newcomers/index.shtml

http://uua.org/growth/newcomers/182775.shtml

http://uua.org/growth/newcomers/20014.shtml

http://uua.org/documents/congservices/midcongs/growthresources.pdf

http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=2886

Resources for nurturing Generosity in your congregation: http://uua.org/finance/fundraising/generosity/index.shtml

Thomas G. Long’s Alban Institute e-newsletter article entitled “Hospitality to the Stranger”:  www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=4576