Mind the gap

The project started, like many other missional projects, with a very small team and not many resources. What they lacked in material support, they more then made up for with their passion for loving people, sharing God’s joy and generously inviting people in their lives. In the beginning they focused on making connections, being part of the neighbourhood and trying to gain an understanding of peoples hopes and struggles. Gradually this understanding gave birth to ideas for ways they could shape a gathering, that would be meaningful for people in this particular place. The team wanted it to be a blessing to people, not a burden. Something to look forward to and be enlivened by. The team set about creating this gathering, pouring their energy into making the experience as easy for those who came along as possible. And people did come along. Within a year, they were hosting gatherings for over 100 people who were all finding a home, experiencing God’s love and a sense of worship. The core team had a strong shared purpose and were dedicated to the task. They held strong to their original value of ensuring the gathering was a blessing not a burden. As part of this, they rarely asked others for help and chose not to make tithing a part of their practices as a community. People could come and go as they pleased, without being required to make any commitments. By the end of the second year, the team was exhausted but also satisfied to see so many people attending the vibrant gatherings.

The community of people who participated grew, but the vision-casters, decision-makers and holders of responsibility did not change at all. While the core value of being a blessing not a burden was retained, there was an opportunity to ask a deeper question: Why are the people coming different to us? Why do we think they should receive without contributing when we have different expectations of ourselves?


  • How much is being part of a community, congregation or project about receiving? How much is it about participating?
  • When might be a time that it is important for an individual or family to be more of a ‘consumer’ than a ‘contributor’?
  • What might be some of the things that hold people back from making a contribution?
  • What is more important: How things look, their excellence and professionalism or the learning journey of a person having a go at contributing?
  • Thinking back to times in your life where you have ‘stepped up’, tried something new, taken a risk in offering your gifts or skills. What encouraged you to take the plunge?
  • How does the transition to active participant sffect an individuals faith journey?
  • Take some time to map out the steps a person might take in your project as they journey from observer or visitor to committed, active participant. What are some of the stages, or steps? What might be important to acknowledge, do or communicate at each point?
  • What does active participation look like in your project? How does this participation effect people?
  • What do you hope for, for the people you are serving? What would it look like for them to be a peer, not simply someone you care for?

Wisdom from the pews

“There is a critical maturing step in all the projects where people moved from consumers to contributors, or observers to participants. Work needs to go into this kind of transition. Doing 'for' rather than doing 'with' will hold this maturing up from happening. “We weren’t participants, we were spectators.””

“In contrast, seasons of intentional team building can broaden who takes direct responsibility beyond the core group and a paid worker. Expecting people to initiate this journey themselves, by approaching a leader with an offer to help out, might be unrealistic. Most people will underestimate themselves, feel hesitant about stepping up but may respond well to a direct invitation or encouragement. ”

“It can be helpful to create a range of ways that people can step into responsibility with varying levels of time and energy commitment. It is also important to create clear processes where people can step down again, or change roles or take a break. One project had two months every year where rosters were made blank and everyone had a fresh opportunity to volunteer.”

Going deeper