I have always loved field trips both as a teacher and a student. I am interested in how other groups or cultures go about the business of life. I wish that doing “field trips” was a more normative practice for adults to perhaps experience how other families navigate meal time or how other pastors structure their weeks or how other churches do various aspects of ministry.
I believe that ministry leaders would greatly benefit from taking the occasional field trip to neighbouring churches both within and outside their denominational tribe. Too often we miss the chance to learn about some very helpful and healthy ministry initiatives because we assume that our closest CRC is just like us or our closest neighbouring church is way too different to have anything that would be useful to our CRC setting. Assumptions can keep us from some great learning opportunities.
Here’s a recent example of a fruitful field trip initiated by Youth Director, Stephen van Breda, and Pastor Kevin TeBrake of Exeter CRC in Southern Ontario. While they were the first to say that overall, ministry was going quite well in their church, as TeBrake put it, “There was change in the air.” He and Van Breda began wondering if there still might be silos in how these ministries functioned with each other that were keeping them from being “cohesive and even more effective than they already were”? As they began looking to the future, they wondered how they would handle growth and wanted to visit an area church that had tackled some of the same issues Exeter might be facing in the future. They called their Classis Youth Champion to find out where they might visit another CRC that had a comprehensive, Cradle to Grave Faith Formation plan in place.
So the Classis Champion connected them to Faith Formation Ministries team leader, Syd Hielema, who then connected the Exeter ministry team with Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster and made way for a field trip to happen. The Exeter group included both TeBrake and Van Breda along with a youth elder as well as the church administrative assistant. They headed to Ancaster and spent a couple of hours over lunch asking about best practices and looking at Faith Formation from another church’s perspective.
Both churches had been a part of a Faith Formation Buffet earlier in the year and Exeter found it helpful to have the opportunity to ask deeper more specific questions along with finding out the reasons behind some of the Faith Formation practices found in Meadowlands. Both congregations shared both positive ministry experiences and some of the struggles they were experiencing while being a prayerful encouragement to each other. For the Exeter group the field trip was positive enough to want to go on another, maybe to a church right in their own area.
This is an example of fruitful networking, using both classical and denominational resources to help congregations grow in effective ministry. Is it time for your church or ministry group to go on a field trip?
Here are some things to think about before engaging in a field trip:
- Cultivate an Open Attitude: Do we have teachable hearts? We may not be broken, but are we open to learning how others do ministry? Are we eager to learn about different ministry philosophies and approaches? Are we willing to be solely in the learner role, to go and listen, ok with not being asked to give our best practices or ideas? (It is not always easy to back away from wanting to share our good ideas even when we are there to learn.)
- Be Specific in your Goals: Are we looking for churches who are further down the road where we want to go or churches that help us understand where we are now. Both are valid. It’s important to know which is which.
- Develop a Deep Curiosity: Are we willing to find out the reasons behind ministry initiatives, the back stories to choices churches have made, and not just copy what looks like a really cool or innovative idea? This is key. So often we borrow ideas without understanding the history behind the innovation or change. We forget to ask how the idea addressed the particular needs of the church culture we are visiting and whether our own church culture can or can’t support the same type of change.
- Use Existing Networks: Who do we already know that is doing winsome and intriguing ministry? Where do they look for best practices? Can they lend us some of their social capital to introduce us to other churches and ministry leaders where we don’t have a pre-existing relationship so we can find new opportunities for learning?