A few years ago, I learned about a name for a pesky phenomenon about congregational life in congregations. While I knew this in seminary, I had never heard it framed in such a concrete, visual way before and I am fascinated about how it fits at FUUSN and what we can do about it. That is to say, we all engage deeply until a new life transition and then we have a choice: do we take the off-ramp or not? Did we get what we needed from this congregation and so, now, can we leave? What life transition leads us to leave?
Off-ramps! How can we avoid them? How do we engage and re-engage people at all stages of life?
I know I am asking a lot of questions and not giving many answers. I do not have one single answer. I do have this thought: if we find ways to reach out to old friends, not only newcomers, we will be a more vibrant community. This is by no means an invitation to leave newcomers alone in their pews or during coffee hour. Rather this is an invitation to remember that, sometimes, engagement and re-engagement looks much the same. What do you do to re-engage long-time members and friends? How might that help you consider the engagement of newcomers? Or, and pay attention or else I might seem redundant, what do you do to engage newcomers and new members? How might that help you consider the engagement of long-standing members?
I will leave you with this story. I had the opportunity to reach out and connect with some homebound members of my own spiritual community. I made several calls and one truly stands out. One woman and I spoke for over an hour. I knew this call was simply a means of getting to know her as we had never met. She is an Octogenarian with many health concerns, many leave her unable to have visitors when her health is in decline. She shared so much with me about her life and asked me about mine, she shared memories of our shared community, and even managed to share her works of poetry. By the end of our call, I felt like we were old friends. Since that call, she and I have exchanged a few emails with her. By connecting with her, I managed to re-engage her in a meaningful way. She knows someone [from her religious community] will be a phone call or email away!
This work of avoiding off-ramps is what we can do to ensure people feel cared for and loved whether or not they can leave their home, whether or not they attend regularly, whether or not they are a newcomer or long-time member and friend. Are you curious about how you can get involved in this work? Do you want to learn more? If so, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org because there are many ways you can get involved in helping to avoid those off-ramps!