October 22nd, 2020

turtle

On growing the movement

An institution or a group lasts as long as it lasts. All things have a lifespan, and nothing can be renewed infinitely. That means that schools, businesses, hospitals, churches, clubs, academic associations, or Scout troops can only keep going so long before they finally run out of people to sustain them. And then they live only in the memories of those who were involved in them once upon a time.

This is not a bad thing. Whatever we share in the here and now is a precious thing, to be enjoyed in the here and now, without necessarily worrying over how long it will last. But those who are charged with looking after the future of the institution or group need to do what it takes to renew the organization.

There are two institutions that I have spent most of my life in: the church and scouting. And both The UMC and BSA have struggled with decline for half a century. In any given congregation or Scout unit, decline may not be happening, but the larger institution in both cases is slowly melting away. Conferences and Councils both wrestle with trying to find the magic formula for growth.

In both cases, the answer is the same, but nobody wants to hear it. You have to start new groups in order for your institution or movement to grow. Consolidating effort, achieving efficiency, preserving staff jobs, merging groups are all just managing decline. Growth comes from starting new groups.

In the local church, new groups – new program groups, new task groups, new spiritual accountability groups – allow places for new people to attach to the congregation. This not only renews the congregation, it makes it possible for the congregation to grow past a certain size. In the larger assembly, like a Conference, starting new congregations is simply the same thing, scaled up. In terms of the whole denomination, starting new Conferences may be a response to growth, but it is also a means of jump-starting growth when pursued the right way. A healthy org expands its outlets both to service more people, but also to attract more people. New people bring new people.

In terms of Scouting, there is nothing wrong with the one-patrol troop. Most of the time, my troop was like that when I was growing up, and we had all the fun that could be had. But whatever the size of the unit, it can’t usually grow beyond a certain size. The key to expanding the total number of Scouts is to expand the number of units. Expanding units means growing the Council. If enough growth is going on, the Council will have to expand the number of Districts to service the units. And eventually, BSA will have to expand the number of Councils, rather than constantly consolidating them.

Whether in terms of church leadership or scouting leadership, any strategy for the future which does not explicitly prioritize growth has accepted decline. And growth comes from starting new groups, not merely promoting existing ones.