I have always found the thoughts and writings of George Bullard to stimulate my thinking. Not long ago, I came across a phrase from his online journal [http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal]. In reporting on a workshop at the Lake Hickory Learning Community on Sustaining Pastoral Excellence, Bullard described a phrase used by Alex McManus that “mobilization is the new assimilation.” I love a good turn of phrase. Mobilization is the new assimilation… As Bullard caught the phrase, his understanding was that mobilizing people in the work of the kingdom of God…is the best way to assimilate them into the body life of a local congregation.
When the new “unchurched Harry” comes to church, they want to be involved in something with someone….If anything,… [to] get a measure of the quality of people’s lives through actual experience … are these people authentic, are they real, do they believe what they say, and how do they really feel about me…?
Bullard’s interpretation of the phrase took me back to a conversation that I had with one of my dear friends who is part of the leadership structure at the Willowcreek Community Church. According to him, there has been a huge shift in their approach to non-believers. The “Seeker” of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s” described as “unchurched Harry” valued anonymity, and Willowcreek honored that value by creating a safe space around those people who were “coming to God, but weren’t aware of it quite yet.” According to my friend, things have undergone a remarkable change in the last 7 years. “Seekers” no longer value anonymity as much as they now demand participation. When the new “unchurched Harry” comes to church, they want to be involved in something with someone – not so much for the long term, but in a limited fashion. My friend told me that it’s more than just a matter of finding a community and finally gaining a sense of belonging. If anything, this new demand is being made so that the Seeker can get a measure of the quality of people’s lives through actual experience … are these people authentic, are they real, do they believe what they say, and how do they really feel about me as a trusted partner? As a result, Willowcreek has had to shift their approach to the Seeker from anonymity to partnership and have discovered that mobilization is the new assimilation. It’s not been easy. They have to find appropriate ways to include the seeker into the action. They can’t very well make a seeker a Sunday-school teacher … but they are finding valuable roles for seekers to do 2 things: 1. make an impact with the seeker’s service [even if it’s helping with the parking lot managers] and 2. provide an authentic opportunity for the believers to communicate faith and create community. As I travel in our Fellowship, I find myself thinking – that would be both a challenge and an opportunity for our congregations … to think about how to make Mobilization a matter of Assimilation.