Dear Friends,

How can communities thrive financially?
Since 2014, we've seen new initiatives grow only to fold within a few years because the community depends totally on a small group of people who are not recompensed for their time and talent.
As a dominant culture we struggle to value community sufficiently to pay for it. Somehow, we’ve come to expect community to ‘just happen’ or be magically attached to a brand we consume.
Community takes time, and attention...and money!
Some communities rely on an annual crowdfunder to pay for their basic needs (though this rarely supports more than one full-time staff member.) Others develop products to subsidize the community. But the most successful examples we’ve come across manage to do two things at the same time:
  1. Offer people something they are used to paying for, and know they want,
  2. And while doing that, create the conditions for meaningful relationships.
By far and away the most successful version of that today is fitness.

We've talked a lot about CrossFit and SoulCycle but the growing number of boutique fitness companies reads like a list of breakaway Baptist denominations: Pure Barre, Tough Mudder, Orange Theory, Barry's Bootcamp, Crunch, FlyWheel, Core Power Yoga etc.
They thrive financially because we've been taught that having a hot/healthy body is good. And we are willing to pay for it. ($28 for an hour-long high-intensity workout class, anyone?)

Compare this to a traditional congregational model of dues or tithing.

The numbers are stark, as explained by Gil Rendle in his monograph, Be Strong and of Good Courage. “The average worship attendance needed to support the salary and benefits of a full-time ordained clergy person is 150. The current average worship attendance across all congregations in the United States is 75.”

The numbers just don’t add up. And it has left congregations and denominations in a crisis of confidence. 

No longer do we know that we need what congregations offer. And nor do we think it is worth paying for. 

There's a lag in the system because many religious efforts are subsidized by historic endowments and aging large donors. But this only means that the gap is growing between the real cost of religious community and the value most of us place on it. 

Rendle writes, "It is the challenge of nostalgia that encourages [congregations] to try to reclaim what they once had, rather than risk what they are called to do next." Many are “still dependent on their memories of size and strength, and still constrained by the polity, policies, and practices once effective in large institutions.”

“The age of large and consolidated strength has waned, and “micro powers” and small expressions of community are now taking the global stage.”

So, is the solution just expensive fitness classes? Of course not.

The short-term solutions are already here: Combining a podcast (with revenue coming from ads, patreon, live show tickets and merchandise) with small reading groups or group travel experiences is one option. Or think of large learning platforms that enable offline connection, or workplace-based communities. Or fandoms with convention gatherings and gamers that play in teams. 

But the long-term solution will be to prove meaning-oriented community's true value.

My best bet is that this will happen through a healthcare and wellbeing frame. The data is already conclusive: community makes life better. It can even save you.

Once doctors are commonly prescribing community and we see tax incentives for community leadership, we'll know we'll be in the midst of an enormous cultural shift. May we help it come soon! 

Have a wonderful weekend, Shabbat Shalom,

PS. If you're looking for a story about what is possible, this one was great.

Let a stalk of wheat
be your witness
to every difficult day.
Since it was a flame
before it was a plant,
since it was courage
before it was grain,
since it was determination
before it was growth,
and, above all, since it was prayer
before it was fruition,
it has nothing to point to
but the sky.

Remember the incredibly gentle wheat stalk
which holds its countless arrows fixed
to shoot from the bowstring --
you, standing in the same position
where the wind holds it.

- Ishihara Yoshiro
Copyright © 2018 Casper ter Kuile, All rights reserved.

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