Everybody, Everybody!

(I’m pretty sure someone else came up with this song–as an actual song–first, but Homestar Runner is the one who introduced it to me, so he’s getting the credit.)

The third best compliment I’ve ever received (after the time my Satanist clergy friend from the Living History Museum referred to me, non-hostilely, as “Jesus-Jenn”–and then gave me a Psalms calendar and a hand-made wrought iron fireplace trivet for Christmas, and the time one of my African American friends and I were hanging out and she was really into the story she was telling me and almost used a sort of vernacular that only African Americans are entitled to use with other African Americans, paused, laughed, and said, “Oh! I forgot you weren’t black!”) was a bit more recently, from a childhood friend/acquaintance of mine who has been spiritual-directing and coaching for much longer than I. One time she responded to one of my newsletters and expressed appreciation for the fact that, even though I still identify as an Evangelical, I don’t slot into the currently expected mold of such, and don’t indicate that I have a sense of some people being “in” and other people being “out.” I’m not telling you this to be some sort of braggy. This friend knew me in high school when, in order to make sense of my world, I was very invested in categorizing people–including myself. Part of the significance of the compliment came from that fact.

But even though I still don’t see myself as this faultlessly inclusive person, I do kind of think that, childhood and adolescence aside, the inclusive impetus is kind of my God-given default. About which we might have more to say in some other post, but for the moment let’s explore this hypothesis.

I remember one time in Kindergarten when my teacher (who should never have worked with children in any capacity, but that’s another story) had set us a project and, after giving us (probably not enough) time to complete it, said, “Is everybody done?” I remember thinking something like, “What kind of a question is that? How can I answer for everyone?” Out loud I said, “Well, I’m done, but I don’t know about ever…” The teacher shushed me. After that I pretty much stopped being able to engage in any kind of public speaking ever, until about, oh, four years ago. The last four years are pretty funny, if you think about it.

Also London. My flatmates and I used to have get-togethers at our house on probably almost a monthly basis. They were ostensibly for the students who came to our church-run ESL classes, and those students definitely came. They were from all over the world. And so did our friends from the church. (They were often from all over the world, too.) And other random friends from other churches. The groups would mingle and mix at our get-togethers, and then sometimes the students would come to church, or the church people would get involved in the English classes. This was, I firmly believed, exactly as it should be. There shouldn’t be all these divisions between people, I thought. Let’s be clear–I have always thought, and still think, that people can and do choose to reject God. I’m not a universalist. But I’ve always had an intense longing for everyone to be included.

Here’s something I’m wrestling with these days, though: even though our culture preaches tolerance and inclusivity, I get the strong sense that people at any end of any spectrum not only expect, but almost in some way want people (maybe especially “religious” people) to be black-and-white about things. If we think we know where other people stand, we know where we stand. Even if where “the other” stands, seems to us to be unjust (in fact maybe genuinely is unjust), it gives us something to work with. Also we want people to be black-and-white (really, quite an unfortunate idiom these days) in the business world–which is pretty much everywhere. Everything is a business, and, well, one is supposed to know one’s audience. How can one expect to grow one’s initiatives if one is just randomly communicating whatever one feels like all over the place? I’ve been getting feedback like this (less complimentary than anything my Satanist, my African American or my spiritual director friends said) ever since I started writing a blog (2006), and published a book (2008). And even before that.

Trees in the Pavement is ostensibly a children’s book. It’s about children. Also about refugees. And religion. Adults like it. If people ask me who it’s “for,” I say “8-11 year olds” but more adults have read it than children, I’m pretty sure, and what’s more, really liked it. Favored One, the book coming out this fall, couldn’t find representation, mostly because I think (?) I might’ve invented a new genre. (The lectio divina genre. You’ll have to read the preface to find out what I mean by that.) I’m actually more than happy now to be publishing through the Pilgrimage!

But the Pilgrimage is also changing. Not only are we now a publishing arm of the Sanctuary at Woodville, I have twice as many spiritual directees as I did in January (still looking for more–ideally about 7 more, 14 in total), and I’m getting ready to create a new course along the lines of (but separate from) Stepping Into the Story, but the OSFGroups seem to be changing, too. Maybe not as positively. Let’s be clear. I think the Pilgrimage will be around in some form for quite a while to come. But I’m not so sure what to do about the OSFGroups. There are probably lots of reasons for this (not least of which is that spring–even when we’re not having actual spring–seems to be a difficult time for all of us to engage). But one reason might be that I haven’t been trying to target an audience. I just don’t want to. I want everyone to be included.

Here’s the thing. I’m not a salesperson or a marketer. I’m not particularly interested in becoming one. My “marketing philosophy” basically runs in tandem with that Buddhist idea that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”–except maybe the other way around. If people want to join, they should join. If they don’t, they shouldn’t. I want to include, but not force, everyone. I don’t want to exclude, but I recognize that not everything is for everybody-everybody. I prepare for these groups what I know to prepare, and people interact as they choose to interact, and we’ve had something good going for quite a few years. I’m not going to lie, though. Even taking into account that spring doesn’t seem to be a great time for these groups, the OSFGroups appear to be fading out a bit. I’m getting some good input from particpants about this, but while there are some overlapping interests, there’s also a lot of “opposite” feedback regarding what people feel to be beneficial and important.

Now I’m wrestling. I get that I probably need to be a little more intentional and focused if I want to attract new participants–and turn them into veteran participants. Here’s the thing, though. I’m also trying to grow a physical, in-person church these days. I love both ministries in different ways (another post some day might be the differences I’m learning to notice between the Pilgrimage and traditional church), but I’m not a very strategic thinker to begin with, and if I have to invest energy in strategizing, I think I’m currently more concerned to strategize for the in-person church, while continuing to sort of “intuit” the OSFGroups. I just want everybody to come along–either here, or in person. It doesn’t really matter. We may have all come from different places but how awesome if we can travel together in the same direction!

I’m not saying I won’t, because I do understand the point…but I just don’t really relish the idea of focusing on some specific demographic here, when someone who doesn’t fit the “target demographic” may actually fit the Pilgrimage really well. Who am I to say?

What do you think? Do you target your initiatives? If so, how do you design things to do that? If not, why not, and what works for you instead?

Published by Jennwith2ns

Jesus person. Wife and step-mom. Daughter, sister, auntie, friend. Collector of stories: mine, yours, tangible, not... Pastor of Central Baptist Church, founder and spiritual director at The Pilgrimage, and author of Trees In The Pavement and Favored One.

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