After more than half a year of considering it and several months of discussing and observing it with Shane, last Sunday we finally launched our conversation groups. To say they went well would be putting it mildly. We'd hoped for about 50% participation from the congregation but at least 90% of everyone in worship stayed for the conversation.
Two factors likely contributed to the high amount of participation: 1) The topic of conversation laid out in my message and 2) the novelty this being our first Sunday of conversations. I'm guessing we won't always have such a high participation but I'm hoping we could stay over 70%.
Here are the things I'm hoping come out of this change in structure:
1) Discipleship - this is the main reason we're doing this. These conversations are a way to "bring the message to life and people together." Though it may be a great way of encountering new ideas, not a lot of life change happens in listening to someone give a monologue. Life change is more likely to happen within the context of conversation and relationships. As we've been saying for awhile now, TFC is moving toward a more conversational approach in her ministry.
2) Relationships - according to this summer's surveys, only 27% of our congregation is in small group. While I believe small groups still result in a deeper level of community than our conversation groups can, they're a big step in the right direction.
3) Momentum - we're in serious need of some positive momentum right now as a church. A positive and refreshing change might bring that about.
4) Retention - People stick around a church because of relationships and we've now made the step from "be in worship" to "get to know people" a very, very short step.
We've got some challenges, too:
1) Preaching- I'll have to keep my messages shorter than I'm used to. I've also got to change my approach; rather than leading people toward a final ending point, I'm leading toward a continued conversation.
2) Service length - we're going to work hard to keep the service to one hour. Usually, this shouldn't be too difficult. When we have special events like a child baptism however, we'll have to figure out a way to streamline everything. One way we'll be doing this is I'm no longer making announcements - at all (unless they're massively important). "Check your weekly, sign up for our email list" is going to become my weekly spiel.
3) Space - This is the huge one. While it's wonderful for worship, the PRMS auditorium isn't structured well for conversation groups. We're working on ideas, though.
4) Creativity - we don't want to get stuck in a rut in our approach. So we've got some ideas of different ways we can begin and facilitation our conversations.
Finally, on a funny note, Willow Creek Church (the Willow Creek Church) just announced they're going to this exact same format. While I'd like to thing that means we're an early adapter, it more likely means that Willow Creek has become slow to innovate. Or maybe Shane is the early adapter and in adapting his idea, we're semi-early adapters.