No Lone Rangers: Part 1

written by Kat Bair
4 · 11 · 24

I remember a meeting where where clergy I worked with were bemoaning the reality that as soon as our confirmation class was over, half of our confirmands were never seen again. They said,

“We need to do something to increase our retention.” 

They looked at me. 

“Yeah, it would be great to have a higher retention rate.” I felt the exasperation in my voice and tried to hide it on my face. 

“Well, what are we doing to keep them around?”

I articulated all the efforts we had tried: buddy systems, special events, transitional weeks, parent connectional events, small groups, big games…

“Well, we really think this needs to be a priority. Let’s set a goal of increasing the retention by at least 10% this year.”

They nodded to one another and moved on to the next agenda item, considering this box checked, their work completed.

Ever been in a meeting where you can pinpoint the exact moment you mentally and emotionally left the room even if your body stayed in your chair for a while longer? I began to doodle on the bottom of my agenda, absentmindedly coloring in the “o’s” of “bishop” and “order” and “worship.”

I was exhausted in a way that I couldn’t quite articulate, and it felt like it was my fault. That I had somehow failed and that I was being set up to inevitably fail again, not out of malice, but because those around me didn’t seem to be able to hear me. The failure I could see coming, the reality that made me leave the building, that I knew even if they didn’t? I didn’t have any more ideas. 

I had been working on this problem for years. I had written papers about it, designed programs around it, talked about it to death with everyone who might possibly have an answer. I could tell you about a dozen different models for confirmation, every mainstream and at least 20 context-specific curriculum sets. And these people, who had just noticed this issue, looked at me and just said, “fix it.” 

I knew I couldn’t. Not only was this extraordinarily complex, I had already used all my good ideas. The things we were currently doing were all my good ideas. I didn’t have a secret file full of even better ideas that I was saving for a special occasion, believe it or not, this really was my best. 

It was demoralizing to say the least. And the reason I’m talking about it now is because as I’ve continued to work with youth pastors and church leaders across the country, I have seen that same exhaustion on their faces. Many of us led ministries through Covid, pivoting every two weeks for at least two years, slugging it out with our communities over masks and vaccines, losing loved ones, gripped with fear about what else we might lose. We rose to the call, developed virtual offerings, drive-in services, communion offered in freezing parking lots. And when “normal” returned, we faced the expectation that everything should just snap back into place. And it didn’t. In a post-Covid ministry world, leaders are looking at their boards, their bosses, their denominations, who are pointing to declines in attendance, donations, and metrics across the board and saying “fix it.” 

And just like me, they are doodling and pretending to be listening, because just like me, they are all out of ideas. 

Here’s my good news: someone else isn’t. There are ideas that will transform and revitalize your community. It wont look like it did before, but it will be faithful, beautiful, and healing.

And you aren’t going to come up with those ideas. But you know someone who will. 

We at Ministry Incubators love our solo innovators, but we also know that a lot of the best innovations happen in the context of a team, and that can have its own gifts and challenges. Over the next 3 weeks, we’re going to be talking about how to assemble an innovation team, how to make them effective, and how to integrate innovation into your regular work of running a ministry. 

The hope is that at the end of this series, you will have a vision of innovation that draws you deeper into the conversation, and not makes you pull the mental escape hatch. The work of innovation is hard, but praise God, it’s not all on you. You are called to lead your community, and sometimes that leadership looks like Moses, passing down edicts from God, and sometimes that leadership looks like the prophets, lifting up leaders that God has anointed from obscurity and walking alongside them. 

Next week, we’ll talk about assembling your team, but for now. rest easy in the truth that you are called to pour into your community, but so are a lot of other people. Hallelujah for that.

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Kat Bair

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