By Linda Buskirk
It started as a project for the DCDI team members from Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in South Bend: a Listening Campaign. One of the exercises for DCDI participants is to conduct interviews of a few people in their parish, and to report on what they learned by listening. But the Saint Michael’s team wanted to take that to a whole new level.
It took four of five meetings, but eventually, the Vestry committed to interviewing the entire congregation. Names were assigned for one-on-one discussions based on four revealing questions:
1) What brought you to Saint Michael’s?
2) What keeps you at Saint Michael’s?
3) What are the greatest strengths of our parish?
4) What do you see as the greatest challenges facing our parish?
Rector Matthew Cowden explains that the interviews were NOT all about the data.
“The point was not just to find out information, but to build a relationship between the interviewer and interviewee. It took awhile for Vestry to understand the value of such an enormous undertaking. Then one Vestry member – a banker – simply stated that the Listening Campaign was exactly what his bank does to enhance customer satisfaction. When he said, ‘it’s about building relationships,’ the rest of the Vestry got on board,” Father Cowden recalls.
It was not easy – the exercise took six months to complete – but Vestry stuck with it and the goal of reaching 100% of the adults at Saint Michael’s was reached.
Father Cowden says the outcomes were valuable. First, out of the process grew a deeper appreciation for the talents and skills in the congregation, many of which were not previously known by leadership or anyone else.
Second, deeper relationships were forged between church members, and new friendship began.
Finally, Saint Michael’s leadership believes there was a direct correlation to the improvement seen in the following year’s Stewardship campaign. More people pledged and many increased their pledge. There was the sense that it was an “easier ask” because of deeper relationships.
Father Cowden says he believes the people of Saint Michael’s haves always valued relationships and listening, but that the Listening Campaign made that richer.
“A culture of greater transparency exists. As people have learned about each other, they understand each other better. There is a greater understanding of the overall issues and well as who’s in charge of what,” the rector explains.
The leadership of Saint Michael’s are reaping the joyful benefits of listening in obedience.