Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review - Lasting Impressions

"Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging" by Mark Waltz is an excellent and very challenging book about the process of helping people connect and belong. Mark is the Pastor of Connections at Granger Community Church, and earlier wrote a book called "First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences In Your Church."

First Impressions looks at making a positive impression for guests and repeat visitors and considers the role of greeters, ushers, welcome desk, etc. I wasn't sure what to expect from "Lasting Impressions", but it turned out to be a whole lot more than a simple follow-up. What I did find was a book that looked at those who did come back and asked the question "Now what?!" It's really about creating a culture of belonging, talking about the need for organic relationships, a good understanding of what you can (and can't) do to help people grow. As a bonus, the book has review questions and exercises to discuss and apply what you learn with your team. Chapters  include: People Still Matter; Assimilation: Watch your Language; You Can't Create People; Starbucks, Stories and Space; Be an Environmental Architect; How Full is Your Menu?; What do We Expect?; Develop Relational Road Maps; Construct Volunteer Venues; On-Ramps, Exit Ramps and Mile Markers.

What really impressed me about the book was that it turned upside my thinking on a number of interrelated issues - small groups, how to recruit volunteers, how to encourage membership - and described just how much their thinking has changed in the past decade as the times change. Some takeaway points - meet people where they are at; avoid pushing an agenda or assimilation into a checklist of programs; get over being responsible for people, and be responsible to them; growth is a transformation process that takes time and caring relationships; be an environmental architect who considers purpose, use and people; simplify and reduce what you offer; encourage next steps that are highly relational; ministry is just as much about relationship as it is about task. Some examples of how they've applied this at Granger: they eliminated affinity ministries (relying on self-selecting groups and centrally coordinated events); they're a church with small groups, not of groups (as many people simply can't/won't join one); they have very few things they ask people to do rather than expect heavy activity attendance. With respect to engaging volunteers to advance the Kingdom via ministry, they assume there are people out there longing to make a difference in their lives, who want to volunteer, but are not clear on how or where. They talk about the vision and need frequently, "chunk" tasks into smaller tasks, create "First Serve" opportunities (no strings attached come-and-serve-once) and "Second Saturday" (a few hours once a month to serve the community), provide a variety of schedules, celebrate success with stories and video, encourage experimentation, and constantly are on the look out for new people with leadership potential. Personal invitations to serve alongside are still the most effective recruiting tool, but they do not neglect having a limited number of clear on-ramps, such as a Volunteer Expo, an all-skate serve event, hosting a volunteer on-ramp online, and a 'Backstage Pass' tour of all that's going on. It's a firehose of great ideas, meant to spark thought in your own context rather than provide a model to copy.

I could go on, but really, just go ahead and read the book! "Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging" (Group Publishing, 2008) is available at Amazon and other retailers.

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