Old First is getting going on P.O.W.E.R. (Philadelphians Organized for Witness, Empower and Rebuild), the community organizing we are learning about in order to determine if it would be an addition to our ministry.
We’ll begin by learning about 1 on 1s, the backbone of community organizing. While you may not understand the whole process until you attend the Founding Assembly on Sunday, Sept. 25, 1 on 1s will begin to open for you some of organizing’s power… They will also make a difference around Old First as they help us strengthen relationships, particularly with newer people to our community.
THINK ABOUT THIS:
Church can drown in the bureaucratic culture of organizations so prevalent in our society. We get overwhelmed by group meetings, collective agendas, and task-oriented activities. Communication is limited to worship bulletins, newsletters, email and phone calls. We rarely meet with someone individually unless we have a job to do or crisis to address.
Talented leaders are recruited for many tasks, and attend multiple meetings until they risk burnout and loss of interest. Congregants may worship together for years or meet for months, and never have a conversation about anything, but what is on the agenda for the committee that night. We fall into the mistake of believing our task is to perpetuate a system that creates only very minimal relationships between people.
What are the hazards of operating in a bureaucracy that has no relationship-building initiative? The same people do the same things in an unexamined way. New talent and energy is not discovered or engaged. Group meetings get certain tasks done, but only use the skills of folks which apply to the set agenda. Leaders and followers grow fatigued over time and echo the perennial complaint: why do the same people do everything around here?
How can congregations and organizations break out of this constraining, de-energizing, and often depressing situation?
The solution is to create a culture of relationships that is served by the bureaucratic apparatus rather than dominated by it. The primary tool of relational organizing is the individual meeting, an encounter with a person that is rare in our culture. Individual, or 1-on-1, meetings are critical to create bonds between existing teams, find new talent, identify new issues, or develop a new constituency. There is no short-cut around them, and they produce results that nothing else can.
Very simply, doing individual meetings is the strategy that is essential for, over time, creating a relational culture.
WHAT IS 1-on-1 MEETING?
• A 30-45 minute meeting of face-to-face conversation with one person.
• Getting to know an other person and being known by that person.
• An opportunity to go deeper than the repeating tasks & small group activities that congregational/organizational life usually allow.
• An inquiry into what matters deeply to a person and why.
• An opportunity to know the private motivations each person has for doing public action.
• A search for leaders and participants with the talent, motivation, initiative, energy, or anger to change a situation.
• A way to identify issues to be addressed.
WHAT A 1 ON 1 MEETING IS NOT:
• An interview of non-stop questions or a survey.
• Going through the whole life story or resume of an individual.
• A recruitment device that fits someone into a set agenda or committee.
• An intellectual conversation about policy or strategy on issues in the congregation, neighborhood or city.
• Search for personal friendship or a social encounter.
WHAT IS NEEDED FOR 1 ON 1 MEETINGS?
• A commitment to engage in relationship- building and leadership.
• Credentialing for your introduction; a reason for meeting that you can explain to others simply.
• Patience and persistence to work with people’s availability and
• Curiosity about other people and an ability to listen.
• Willingness to practice this skill over and over again, in multiple settings.
HOW TO DO AN INDIVIDUAL MEETING?
• Have a clear introduction and ending: the middle is improvisation that is particular to the person with whom you are talking.
• Talk more deeply about a few things instead of covering 20 topics.
• Ask “why?” much more often than “what?”
• Ask the person to tell stories and personal history, talk about important incidents, time periods, or mentors—not just recite facts and dates.
• Offer back conversation and dialogue: it’s not just for the purpose of the other person answering your questions.
• Close by asking the person who else they think you should be meeting with, and what questions they have for you.
HOW DO YOU USE INDIVIDUAL MEETINGS?
To conduct an individual meeting campaign, it is important to establish a context. Who will be doing them, and for what purpose? Are there specific people you need you or your team need to talk to?
Keep track of each meeting by making notes on each individual. Just write down important items, not everything you heard. However, don’t ever take notes while you are having the meeting itself: this makes you a surveyor or interviewer, which is not the right purpose or tone for the conversation.
Create a process for evaluating what you learn once you have a significant number accumulated. This may be your individual work, or involve a meeting with the team that is working on the campaign. It’s important to go into the meetings with an open mind: you can be interested in a specific topic or issue, but be open to where the person you are meeting with takes you and the conversation. Your goal is to ask questions and listen, without fitting the person into any fixed spot. Individual meetings are an exchange about what is important to each of you, not a session where you work to get the person to do something.
After you have met your goal for a certain number of meetings, either individually or as part of a team, evaluate what you learned. This may lead to various choices:
• additional individual meetings with new people,
• some kind of different group action,
• second meetings with especially interesting or strong leaders,
• a new project or event,
• revising how you have been operating based on what you heard,
• asking people to take some sort of new initiative based on what
you discovered about them.
The entire process is improvised and created out of what you actually hear and how you decide to respond. You can’t plan this response until you have a number of individual meetings.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BUILDING A RELATIONAL CULTURE/ORGANIZING?
• Leaders who come to know each other beyond a task-oriented agenda trust one another and find room to try new things in new ways.
• New people can be engaged around their own interests, not “square-pegged into a round hole” in an existing plan.
• The capability to do a new project or campaign based on people’s real energy and motivation, instead of an annual or monthly repetition of activity.
• A network of people who know and trust each other, and over time are able to take action in a variety of ways.
• A stronger, more dynamic, more creative congregational or organizational life.
Building a relational culture/organizing over time is the best way to build our congregation’s strength, leadership potential, and greater participation of more people.