A Volunteer-Driven Community - Vince Brackett
So there’s been a bunch of reminders for me lately of why I love this church. Really, I’m not just saying that because I’m supposed to as a pastor here. I want to pass some of these reminders on.
There was this feedback we got recently. One thing we ask every person who starts to connect with us here is: how was your experience with us? And we not infrequently get super thoughtful, well-written, and often moving responses. One comment we got from a newcomer earlier this year has really stayed with me. “The more time I spend at BLV the more it feels like this place is for real. BLV feels like everything I didn’t know I was looking for." I just was so moved by that. And all the more because, no joke, Kyle and I have since the beginning of this church 5 years ago prayed on multiple occasions that we want to people to find in our community “everything they didn’t know they were looking for” — seriously! We’ve prayed those exact words, verbatim, regularly for five years. So, obviously, getting that comment just felt like a gift from God to us. Here’s another recent reminder why I love this church The results from surveying a recent sample Sunday morning here on religious background: 10% Non-religious / Religion other than Christian 15% Catholic 30% Evangelical / Non-denominational 25% Evangelical / Vineyard 20% Mainline Protestant (Non-Evangelical: Methodist, Presbyterian, etc) I just like this. I like that this means not everyone is coming from the same assumptions and starting points. Or here’s another bit of survey data that makes me love this church Another demographic question we frequently ask here is: Before attending BLV, were you regularly attending another church? Essentially, did you transfer here from another church? Or is going to church a new thing for you? Or a new thing in this particular season of your life? (Like you went to church when you were younger, but you haven’t in a long while.) The reason this matters to us is because of culture Any group of people doing anything together have a culture, of course And churches are exhibit A of that — there is A LOT of culture in churches Often churches and longtime churchgoing people aren’t really in touch with that because the perceived importance of what is happening in church sort of crowds out any thought to how you’re doing what you’re doing — Like: We are interacting with God! We are talking about sacred, ancient things! Culture!? You want to talk about culture!? What we are doing here is above that! It is faith! But, man, that’s just not true. The music in churches, the language church people use when they talk to each other about their lives, the kinds of books or movies or popular figures or internet memes church people reference, what is considered taboo in conversation, or not taboo, Christian inside-jokes — all of that is culture — the American Christian Sub-Culture — And within that sub-culture are hundreds more sub-sub-cultures based on all kinds of differences — ethnically-rooted churches vs multicultural churches, denominations, styles, traditional vs contemporary, neighborhood church vs megachurch Because of Kyle’s and my experiences growing up... We have always been highly aware of all of these cultural elements that make up churches (he grew up going to an Evangelical church but always felt culturally more at home in non-church settings, and I grew up culturally Catholic but not spiritual at all)... The vision we felt we had for starting this church was: what if we had a community that talked NOT to the American Christian Sub-Culture, but that talked instead to "humans in general" — Which of course includes some people who would feel at home in church culture, but also includes a much larger pool of people who wouldn't tend to feel at home in church culture So wanted to start a church, in that we wanted to try to learn from Jesus and connect people with God, BUT what if that church just wasn’t very “churchy” culturally speaking? So this survey question — "Before attending BLV, were you regularly attending another church?” — is our best effort to try to understand how we’re doing in trying to be a community that feels like home to people who wouldn’t tend to feel at home in church settings. We always want to have a healthy number of “no” responses to that question. Otherwise, chances are we’re only talking to the American Christian Sub-Culture Also helpful is that this is a question that many churches in America survey about, so we have something to compare our results to. Here’s where this gets really interesting: People who study this estimate that most churches in America are made up of somewhere between 92 and 96 percent people who respond to this question “yes" That is — people who, we can assume, would feel at home in church settings Makes sense right? Over 90% of people in churches are culturally predisposed to feel at home in churches And then, for most churches, between 4% and 8% respond “no” — these are people who, we can assume, would not generally feel at home in church settings, but something about the way they connected with God or people at a given church changed that So that’s most churches… Here’s BLV, after our most recent survey 56% "yes" // 44% “no” Wow! Now that reflects our wider culture on the Northside of Chicago much more accurately I think. Again, I think of that newcomer comment we got: “This church is everything I didn’t know I was looking for." That is this “no” stat in quote form — people who wouldn’t tend to feel at home in church culture are finding themselves feeling at home in our church And, just to be clear, we don’t owe this reality to any special brilliance or wisdom or strategy on our part Kyle and I, when we're in settings with other church leaders, do hear from a lot of pastors questions like “what are the strategies? what are the tactics to attract those mysterious non-churchgoing people so they start going to church?" Honestly, for us, there is no strategy or tactics to this. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we try to be super thoughtful and intentional But, above all, this is just culture. Kyle and I are just being who we are, as people who have been incredibly helped by trying to follow Jesus but ourselves don’t feel very at home in the American Christian Sub-Culture. And from the very beginnings of this church (when we were just a Thursday night dinner group of 15 adults) this community has NEVER been “a bunch of churchgoing people trying to reach out to a bunch of non churchgoing people” — We were a mixed bag then, and we are still a mixed-bag today.
And that brings me to my point for today...
These reminders of why I love this church — What’s the number one reason I’ve gotten to enjoy so many of them lately? It’s our mixed bag of people here who, more and more with every passing month, are taking up the vision of this church as a piece of their own personal life visions.
It’s that we are a volunteer-driven community We got that incredible newcomer reflection because a friend who is invested here and loves this church invited them We get the kind demographics we have here because we’ve had teams of volunteers come together to put on events or design signage or online advertising to help us get our name and our unique vision out there: “A faith community with a healthy sense of humor and humility” — Not something that can be said by many faith communities. And even if it can, I remember a friend, who is a neighbor and saw one of our signs with that tag line on it, said to me: I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a church that wanted that to be their calling card. Right? Churches, unfortunately, tend to be known for trying to peddle certainty and answers. NOT humility. They’re known for being severe and in the worst cases condemning. NOT for not taking themselves too seriously. But, with our vision to be a place that feels like home to those who’d never expect to feel that way in a church, humor and humility feels like exactly what we want to be known for. And the volunteers who have taken up the mantle to communicate that. To try to deliver a genuine message about depth and meaning in life and trying to follow Jesus in pursuit of that, but doing that with humor and humility — those volunteers among us are straight up geniuses the way they’ve done it. Have you seen the videos on the front page of our website? Meeting some of the fine people who call this church their home? They are heartfelt and warm and genuine, AND funny and relaxed and not-at-all-self serious at the exact same time. Not in the least bit pretentious. But also not in the least bit cynical. THAT’S where we feel BLV lives. These videos are brilliant in the way they do that! And volunteers in this community came together to make those Or have you seen some of the printed material that volunteers in this church have created? Our direct mail pieces? Our bus benches on Foster Ave? They are awesome!
I am regularly reminded that I love this church because... Of our logistics teams that show up every Sunday to create a enjoyable and thoughtful atmosphere that is welcoming to people who may or may not have church background Of our prayer team volunteers who - we kind of joke every week about them being not weird… but think about it… people who will pray for you that aren’t weird… that’s NOT a given! Of our Kids teams That welcome families, and teach our kids to wonder about and fall in love with life and God Of our small group leaders Who sacrifice time and energy and money to host people during the week, so we can all stop and connect with other human beings in the midst of fast paced modern life Of our audio and worship teams put in hours and hours every week to create prayerful spaces for us — And a big effort that I'm really proud of is that the musical spaces they take us to is NOT EXCLUSIVELY intense, earnest white-people rock music, but also spirituals and gospel music and folk music and historic hymns Don’t get me wrong, I love intense, earnest white-people rock music — I often will choose a song or two from that category when I lead worship here, BUT we all need more musical and prayerful spaces than just what that style of music offers us. And because the Global Christian Music Scene is dominated by the American South, England, and Australia, well… that’s a lot of white-people rock music. So it takes some effort to seek out and find different musical styles. I’m proud of our team that does that!
Basically, Kyle and I can not give enough thank yous. What BLV is is because of so many people. We really hope everyone here can join us today after service at Winnemac Park for our Thank-You Potluck. All are invited! Please don’t stay away if you don’t have something to bring for the potluck — there will be plenty!
So as today is about celebrating our volunteer-drivenness, we wanted also to share with you all what’s on deck for our volunteer-driven community. What’s the season we’re headed into right now? And what are the volunteer priorities for that season? It’s two things: Taking advantage of Chicago summer events to spread the word about BLV The next phase of our Kids Program
For this first bit, let me invite up Jen Colburn, who is going to tell us what she is planning [Square Roots]
The second priority is: the next phase of our Kids Program We have one of those things people call “a great problem to have" — Our Kids Program is exploding A year ago we averaged 6 kids a Sunday. It is now double that. And a friend of mine who is a pastor told me that at the church she leads about three years ago they had 12 kids, now three years later they have 60 So… wow! Awesome, right? But we gotta make sure we are ready to receive a ton more children and families well. We’ve actually been somewhat aware of this possibly happening — You may or may not be aware but the last 6 months some incredibly important work has been underway trying to set our Kids Program up for long term success… And two people have spearheaded this: Melissa Baumann & Keziah Brackett Specifically, they have developed a clear mission statement and set of values, they have helped build a warm and safe culture that you can feel when you walk in the room, and they’ve attended trainings so they can build a curriculum for our children that is aligned with the way we pursue faith here as adults A curriculum that is about learning to wonder about God and life, NOT about being told overly-simplified answers that you will have to unlearn when you get older To do this, the two of them have sacrificed so much Mainly, both have given up half of their Sundays since January to be in with the kids — half of their Sundays!!! So that six-month phase is coming to an end here in June It has been a huge success. And now we need to enter our next phase: We have to sustain the culture and foundation they have built by our volunteer power We need three adults/Sun, which has been challenging to fulfill, and we will very soon need four Really, because of this curriculum we’re training in and developing here, this is one of the coolest things any of us might get to be a part of: Some of the most magnetic pictures of Jesus in the Gospels are him interacting with children, and in my favorite instance, from the Gospel of Luke, shielding children from unhelpful religious teachings of his day, choosing to rebuke the adults around him in front of the children, rather than the reverse And that’s what this curriculum is all about — it’s about entering into childlike wondering about God, about life, and about the teachings of Jesus and the Bible — not about rebuking children enough so they can memorize the “right answers”, which years from now won’t mean a thing to them. The beauty of this is that you don’t have to feel like an expert yourself to help with this curriculum — because the best thing we all can do is just wonder about stuff right alongside the kids. And anyway, the fact is: the primary way children develop pictures of who God is is NOT the content of what they are taught at church, it’s the way adults treat them at church This is the opportunity for us as a church — to build in a generation of children pictures of God that don’t need to be entirely unlearned when they get older. Pictures that look like Jesus — loving, mature, faithful, not stern and inconsistent. I want to be clear how important this is to the health of this church as a whole. Specifically with volunteers in a Kids Program there is a real danger of volunteers getting burnt out Kids vols have the hardest load volunteer-wise, because they miss adult service Logistics, audio, musicians, prayer team — they put in a lot, BUT we don’t miss the service when we volunteer those ways The load carried by our Kids Team has to become a priority to us all in this next season — the whole church — not just families, but single people too, couples without kids too. So as a first step, beginning in July, Kyle and I will each be doing one Sunday a month in Kids church because, honestly, this is our biggest priority right now And then here’s three levels of ways we’re asking all of you to consider volunteering: highest level: volunteer once/month in Kids next level: volunteer once or twice/year in Kids You’ll be set up with a background check, and reached out to by one of our program planners, Keziah or Melissa to get oriented last level: don’t let a Sunday go by that you don’t profusely thank our kids volunteers think about it: what if every week our Kids Volunteers are being thanked by single people without kids? — that’s cool right? — that shows a community that gets what St. Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians: ”There is one body, but it has many parts… “If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.”” By something as simple as thanking our volunteers, we can live that out. If you’re not a parent, I want you to consider how volunteering with our Kids Program can be one of the most amazing gifts you can give to your friends here who are parents Because we parents — we love the break we get at Sunday morning service. We love the quiet.
Okay, later in the service you will have a chance to communicate your desire to help in any of the ways we’ve talked about using one of our connect cards.
For now, I’d love to pray for us, as a community that is volunteer-driven, but also as individual people who regularly experience the costs of time, energy, and money that it takes to volunteer — in order for any of us to be a part of a larger whole, we need to feel resourced by God to do so… Let me pray...