Even if small groups are not part of your spiritual community’s growth strategy, the process for growth remains the same. As an exercise with your leadership team, ask your group to name or describe an example of someone in the congregation who fits each of these descriptions, then contemplate: What systems or infrastructure does our ministry utilize to support this person in transitioning to the next step?
Step One: Explore
Think of the spiritual seekers in the explore step as people who are inspired and motivated to find spiritual support for issues that are impacting their lives. Like drifting dandelion seeds, they are wandering through possible spiritual homes and looking for a place to land.
What is your community doing to invite these “explorers” to visit your church? What is your process for encouraging them to move into the next step and “engage” in your ministry?
Step Two: Engage
Engagement is often the step most lacking in a ministry’s strategic growth plan. We all want to take these new explorers immediately to Step Four, where they embrace our teachings, volunteer, tithe and become leaders in our congregation. This is the most common reason people search for the back door.
Engagement is not service to the church. Engagement is participation in your community.
It’s more than passively attending service each week. Engagement expresses as attendance at your newcomer’s orientation, participation in a small group, or having coffee with the minister to learn more.
Engagement is the fertile soil you provide for the drifting seed. It is the assurance that “if you plant yourself here, you will grow.” We must give these newcomers an opportunity to dig into our culture and be nourished before we expect them to blossom.
What ongoing systems does your ministry have to keep people “engaged” in your community? How do you support these people in moving to the next step?
Step Three: Expand
It is natural that if a seed plants itself in a fertile environment, it will begin to establish roots. This is the third stage of growth, expanding our understanding of spiritual principles. These are the people in your community who attend your classes or small groups, but are not yet leaders in your community. They are sponge-like in their enthusiasm to learn, but still young in their faith and hesitant to put the principles into practice.
How does your spiritual community encourage people who are “engaged” in your ministry to “expand” into deeper understanding of our teachings? How do you support these individuals to step out in faith and experience their next level of spiritual growth?
Step Four: Embrace
The degree to which we can support people in embracing our teachings is the degree to which your ministry can blossom.
People who have stepped into the “embrace” phase of growth demonstrate what they know about spiritual principles. They tithe. They volunteer. They set an example in consciousness for others to strive to emulate.
This is the step that calls most of us into ministry. We want others to know the richness of life that is available at this level. In our enthusiasm, however, we often forget that this blossoming cannot happen if we don’t first cultivate the seed, allow it to grow roots, and grow into the fullness of its potential.
What systems or processes do you have in place to support people in taking the step from “expanding” in spiritual knowledge to fully “embracing” the concepts they have come to know? Who are the people in your congregation who have reached this level, and what are you doing to challenge them to step into the fifth and final step?
Step Five: Enlighten
We tend to think the main purpose of the flower is to blossom. But nature’s growth process does not stop there. In order to sustain growth, that flower must yield new seeds. The ultimate expression of our spiritual journey is not just to live the teachings. We must give from our fullness to plant new seeds and pave the way for others to grow and bloom as well.
The enlighten step invites those who live and demonstrate these teachings to provide the same opportunity to others. These are your small group leaders, people who embark to become a licensed Unity teacher, chaplains or those who serve in leadership positions on your staff or board.
By cultivating growth at this level, the minister’s role is to be “a leader among leaders,” multiplying your capacity for outreach, and empowering people to know the fullness that comes from nurturing spiritual transformation with others.
What opportunities does your spiritual community provide for people to step into this phase of spiritual growth? How do you support people in growing to this level within your ministry?
Putting It All Together
Conscious development of each of these steps can drive your marketing efforts, your Sunday experience, your commitment to small group ministry, your staff focus and your annual budget.
When you understand the natural growth process and create systems at each step to receive people, support them, and uplift them to the next step, not only will your community grow in numbers, but more importantly, it will fulfill the mission of our teachings: empowering people to create heaven on earth through the practical application of spiritual principles.