Is your church cozy, bored, stressed, or discipling? Lately I have been meditating on the Invitation-Challenge Matrix from 3DM. It's an evaluative tool worth sustained consideration.
Here's why. I think many churches attempt to be strong at invitation. They say outwardly that ALL are welcome. Whether they actually are invitational is another story. Many churches believe they are high invitation when they are actually low invitation (we'll come back around to that in a bit). They're blind to the ways in which they are low invitation.
|3DM Invitation-Challenge Matrix|
The horizontal line on this matrix, however, is the line churches (and really all social organizations) struggle with the most. Many church leaders assume that high challenge is de facto low invitation. But that isn't the case. Cultures can be both highly invitational AND highly challenging. The only problem with high challenge is when it is coupled with low invitation. The matrix suggests that the sweet spot for discipleship is a culture that is high on invitation AND challenge. In this kind of culture, learners feel welcomed and gain a sense of belonging from invitation, and they also grow because they are challenged when it’s appropriate and necessary.
Here's an example. When I was in high school, the most dynamic youth program at our church was the high school choir. More high schoolers participated in the choir than in the Sunday evening youth gathering. Our choir director was great at balancing invitation and challenge. He created a very welcoming culture, but he also expected a lot out of us. We learned really difficult anthems, some in foreign languages, and with difficult time signatures. We prepared an entire set of songs for a one-week tour. By the end of the year, not only were we welcomed into an invitational community--we were also challenged to be better singers and musicians. I'm a better singer yet today because of that choir. We were challenged to make a difference, and to grow.
Many faith communities couple high invitation with low challenge. This can feel nice for a while, and no one feels excluded. But the result over time can be disastrous. Imagine, for example, if everyone knew how to get on the train to Hogwarts on platform 9 and 3/4s. Muggles would have had a run of the school, and no one would have actually learned to be a wizard, because the teachers would have been busy just making hot chocolate for everyone and ensuring no Muggle children got lost in the Forbidden Forest.
Cozy can feel nice for a time, but most of us, if we reflect on it, really also want to grow. I want to stay in shape, so I need a plan or someone to challenge me to run regularly, and step up in different types of running challenges. Cozy feels great, until I get depressed when I realize it has been three days and I'm still in my pajamas and I missed the job interview for a career that would have been difficult but deeply satisfying.
Oh, the stress
The dangers of the other quadrants in the matrix are also best illustrated with stories. I have heard stories over the years from parishioners who were asked to take on a rather challenging volunteer role, but then were not equipped for it. They were sold the task as an easy one, with little description of the challenges involved. Once they got into their role, they realized it was indeed worthwhile and challenging, but no one walked with them to mentor them and equip them for the role. All the challenge remained, but none of the invitation, and so the stress was high.
This happens to Han Solo early in Star Wars. Obi-wan Kenobe asks Chewbacca and Han Solo at Mos Eisley to help them get off Tatooine. The promised payment is quite high, but the dangers involved with the mission are much greater than Solo anticipates. He considers bailing on the mission numerous times. At the very last minute, however, when everyone assumes the challenge was higher than the invitation could bear, Solo's growing love for Luke Skywalker results in his saving Solo from Darth Vader. You get an indication that, unbeknownst to Luke, he was extending invitation to Han Solo after all, paired with challenge, to help Han Solo be a better man.
Easy Come, Easy Go
Finally, we observe in many communities that people drift in, then drift out again, on a regular basis. This is the mark of a bored culture. Invitation is low. Challenge is low. The surprise in bored cultures is that anyone sticks around at all, and yet people, perhaps out of force of habit, really do stick with worship or attendance at sporting events or civic meetings, even for many years, without a real challenge and very little invitation.
This is not a life-giving pattern. It's the feeling many of us had in those stages of our schooling when we weren't self-motivated to learn, school was less challenging than it could have been, and we were going through the motions to fulfill only what was necessary.
Unfortunately, many church programs drift toward bored cultures. We want the people there so we can report the numbers, but leadership fails to do the hard work of both challenging and inviting. It is easy to drift towards bored culture, because the opposite of bored culture--discipling culture--requires a lot of life-on-life mentoring and intentionality.
Put every aspect of life and ministry on the matrix
Take the time this week to run every aspect of your life and ministry through this matrix. Where are you or those you lead too cozy? When are you stressed? Who around you is bored? What are the contexts where the best discipleship is taking place?
This is an art rather than a science. For example, if my neighbor invited me to study Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit starting next week in the original German, I'd probably be intrigued but pass. I don't understand Hegel well enough, and my German is rusty enough, that the challenge is too high. However, a doctoral candidate at the university who has her syllabus today with Phänomologie des Geist on it is actually thrilled, because she knows she needs to acquire German-language skills for her chosen profession, needs to read Hegel, and anticipates tremendous discussions with her professor and classmates who will accompany her on the journey.
Similarly, depending on what kind of discipleship process members of my own congregation are ready for, an invitation to a weekly supper and bible study as part of our catechumenate can appear either stressful or discipling, depending their life context. The challenge of a weekly meal and study needs to be coupled with a sense of belonging and community building (invitation) so the challenge of the new schedule is paired with the benefits of growth and belonging.
Every single aspect of Christian ministry can benefit from a review on this matrix. Are your church staff experiencing high invitation and challenge? Are your church council members getting a sense of a belonging to a meaningful leadership team (invitation) and challenged to grow in their own skills and faith practices (challenge)? Does your weekly bible study extend a warm welcome to all, but in a way that ensures that those participating also deepen their commitment to, passion for, and understanding, of Scripture? Do your Sunday school youth feel welcome, and do they also feel like they are participating in something that makes a difference, helps them gain new skills, brings them to greater maturity?
Finally, evaluate your own life in relationship to the matrix. Perhaps I have given myself to easy of an out on the Hegel thing. I speak some German, and it is getting rusty. Do I need a pairing of invitation and challenge, to find a community among whom I can improve my German and read Hegel, a philosopher I have come to admire and puzzle over more and more?
If you want to go to Hogwarts, you're going to need to find that platform. You also need an owl to drop an invitation off. Challenge-invitation. It's a matrix that will transform your life and your church in 2014.