In our area of the world, active adult ministries are severely lacking. This has been a huge cross for me and many in our group of friends, who grew up with a strong, active youth group and prayer group, and many opportunities for retreats, conferences, and social activities to share our faith. Many of us have been frustrated that as we grew into adulthood, the fervour that guided our activities as youth has waned or in some cases disappeared all together. I am not unlike many others, who have felt a desire for the community of long ago. I and several other people at different times have tried to start new groups aimed at adult ministry, and most of them have a lot of interest in the beginning but that interest gradually fades. It is so discouraging to remember where we came from, or to see friends in other faith communities thriving and flourishing and wonder, why don't people commit?
For the past five years, Jeff and I have hosted a School of Community meeting in our home every Friday. This too has been a growing process, and by times (especially in the first few years) we have been very frustrated with the lack of attendance or even interest from our friends in the faith - why aren't people interested in what we are doing? Why is there so much resistance? Why do the friends who could not resist the zeal of growing in faith as teenagers pulling away from it as adults? This was a very immature analysis on our part, one that took experience and growing to pass through.
In the past we have attempted other ministries which we subsequently gave up on, but School of Community has been different. For starters, it's in our home. The things we gave up on were things we tried to do in town, at a central location, and it became too hard to bring our whole crew in town if nobody was going show up. Another big factor for us was that, at a certain point, the Movement (CL) made a commitment to us. When we attended our first Spiritual Exercises in Montreal, Jeff shared our frustration at not being connected with the Responsible for Canada. In Montreal and Toronto there are hundreds of people who meet in large groups, and it was difficult to see that zeal that we longed for (which was so much like our experience in our youth) knowing that when we came home, it was really just us and a handful of friends. When we shared our concerns immediately they said, "we'll come see you," and they have remained faithful. At least once a year someone comes to visit us, and we have been assigned a visitor who keeps regular contact with us. We have also been invited to join our friend's School of Community via Skype, so that even if nobody else comes it doesn't matter - we are still connected to the larger group. This has been a tremendous help to us. Over the years we have had one or two people at a time make a regular commitment to our group where we live, which has been a big blessing. In the beginning I was so focussed on numbers, and discouraged when our group didn't grow. But I'm learning to be grateful for the people who have been given to us, the one or two at a time who dive in and commit to everything, the many people who don't come every week but come when they can, and even the people who come once or twice, and never again. Some weeks my table is full of friends, most weeks there is a small faithful crowd, and I am thankful for all of them.
School of Community isn't the only ministry that has been faithful to me. Another group I have been involved with for the past few years is Adoration for Women offered monthly at our local Catholic school. Here again numbers are not huge, most times it is just a few women who attend. But the people in charge of the ministry remain faithful to having it, and don't focus on how many people come. Like with School of Community, the two things that allow this ministry to flourish are surprisingly simple: a commitment to meet on a regular basis, and a commitment to keep going even if only one person shows up.
I'm not going to say it hasn't been trying. When you really love something and want to share it with people (especially those closest to you), it's so discouraging when others don't share your zeal. I've seen it happen to people around me too, they get so upset and bitter when people stop coming to their meetings and interest fizzles out. People have a general criticism about life around here and that people don't want to commit to things, and that leads to frustration. But on the flip side of that, for me, it has caused me to ask myself why I do this in the first place. Is it so that many people will come? Or is it because it is something that brings me closer to the Lord? And if it is the latter, then the number of people doesn't really matter. I can't (and shouldn't) get caught up in judging someone else's commitment, or their journey. They will commit to the things that are valuable to them. That doesn't diminish my own journey or the things that speak to me. God is a big God, and He will use many tools to reach many people at different points in their lives. For me, the consistency of School of Community and Women's Adoration despite the small numbers has been the biggest blessing.
I mentioned a new ministry that is just starting in the city to a friend, and he was kind of awkward about not attending. He said he felt bad that he couldn't go every week, and that he sees the things that come and go and wonders if his lack of commitment is what keeps them from going on. This is a person who leads a very busy life, and understandably can not take on another weekly commitment. I told him not to worry about that! I've had people say the same thing about School of Community, that they feel so bad they can't come every week, and while I would love for many more people to make a full-time commitment to it (and pray for it all the time) I'm thankful for any time anyone can come. This is not my work, it is the Lord's - and He can accomplish His will whenever and wherever He sees fit. The companionship I desire is good, but it doesn't replace an active, vibrant relationship with God - which exists for me whether many people or few people come to my table. My desire to share is not bad in and of itself - I want people to come because I've experienced something that has been life-changing for me, and I want to share it with my friends. But I don't cease to experience that if nobody shows up. I have to allow my gift to be for me and their gift to be for them - I can't force anything on anyone, I can only offer what I have been given, and allow for it to be accepted freely or declined without bitterness.
And so, leaders of ministries, here is where the point of my post comes out - keep doing what you're doing. Don't stop if nobody shows up, because in the end it should not be about them. If what you are doing is something that is valuable to you, then it is just as valuable if 2 people show up as if 20 do. When you are establishing a ministry, do it in a way that is easy for you, so that it will be easier to keep it up long term if the numbers don't become what you thought they would. When we met in town we gave up quickly when numbers dropped off because it was too hard to sustain without help from other people, but now that School of Community is in our home, it doesn't matter. We can keep going with whoever comes, even if nobody comes. Jeff and I together can be our own School of Community.
Another important point - seek out the people who will commit to you. Like the Responsible for CL I mentioned earlier, or the woman who runs Women's Adoration at the School, these people will give you what you need to support your faith journey. Neither of these people are concerned with numbers, they are just concerned with keeping me connected to the community. They have both been lifelines to me in my faith, and help me focus on Christ through their faithful commitment to the groups they are members of. Again if nobody else comes, I can trust and rely on my relationships with these people, as a beacon of hope that connects me to Christ.
We all want to share the things that have brought us closer to Christ. It is natural to desire community with our friends (especially when we've had it in the past). But in order for our gift to be for others and not for ourselves, it has to be authentic. It has to be freely offered, and people have to be able to to accept or not accept without feeling pressured. If you are starting a ministry, don't worry about numbers. Don't fall into the trap of criticizing the commitment of other people in your community, or become bitter because people aren't coming - they have their own lives. Be open to whoever is willing to come, however often they are willing to come, and ask yourself first and foremost, "is this valuable to me?" If it is, then numbers don't matter. Stay the course, be open and welcoming to anyone who comes, and don't force a commitment on anyone. If anyone says, "I feel bad that I can't come every week," or "maybe it's my fault things aren't happening," let them know that's not true - that you are happy to have them, and that things will keep going even if they can't come.
We've had a few meetings that have been crowded in recent months, but for the most part our meetings continue to be rather small. But what people are starting to notice is the faithfulness we have. Friends who probably still aren't in a position to attend are starting to ask us, what is this group you are affiliated with? Why is it that you have stayed so long with them? And it gives us a chance to share our experience, which is really less about CL (though CL is a huge part of it) and more about our relationship with Christ. Many people have commented that it is beautiful that we have been able to have these weekly meetings for so long, and that helps me to be grateful for what we have. There were many years where I was so frustrated that more people were not coming, but that bitterness has given way to freedom and gratitude. If you are in a position where you desire community and are frustrated at a lack of commitment, I get it - I SO get it! But I want to encourage you that it gets better with time. That what makes a difference is not the number of people who come but Who your heart is focussed on. If you are doing something that is bringing you closer to Christ, don't give up on it - keep it going. One day you will look back and realize that He has been there all along. The scriptures set the benchmark for us. It does not say, "Where ten or twenty are gathered in my name," but "two or three." Each of us knows at least one other person with whom we can share our faith on a regular basis. Let's start there.