Why are we losing cherished faith and service communities? What can we do?

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As young people increasingly gravitate toward new opportunities, unfortunately they are leaving behind faith communities like churches, and service communities like Rotary. There’s growing evidence that backbone spiritual and service benefits within these cherished circles of care will eventually die out.

On the flip side, young people are attracted to resolving challenges that otherwise can stop progress in dying clubs. They love to pull together to disrupt and redesign time-worn problems into innovative possibilities. But what if the meeting structure or our weekly agenda becomes the roadblock that bottlenecks progress?

Most would agree that disruption would refuel and ignite fading faith-based and service communities. The vital question that arises is, what goes and what stays?

Some say it’s time to increase social inclusiveness and others argue for fewer formal structures.  I say that irrelevant rituals will fall away only when we begin to solve practical problems innovatively and tackle pressing societal issues from the bottom up. A do-or-die disruption?

Michael Brand, international catalyst for innovation and renewal, claims that Rotary gains about 44,000 new members a year and loses about 51,000 during the same period. Look around in your faith community and you’ll see similar declines in attendance. It’s estimated that anywhere from 8000 to 10,000 churches close their doors for good every year.  And the young will continue to flee if they walk into unmet expectations. Seniors there, will continue to age without passing on leadership batons.

Shifting expectations of the young should help us all to reshape the mix of possible interactions between younger and older community members. Take time, commitments, and service.

Time is precious to overstretched millennials. Commitments already overwhelm them, and flexibility is needed for their survival in clubs. Cause to rethink the relevancy of existing rituals and routines? Expectations at our spiritual and service gatherings should ensure that what we do fits who we are. Yes, across a diverse membership. Not that it’s easy. Disruption takes skilled leaders to pull-in younger brains while re-igniting current members. Innovation helps here.

In my graduate leadership circles, all participants offer insights and all mentor disruption in every session. For example, we ask two-footed questions to engage others in what’s called mind-guiding or mutually mentoring new ideas that interest us all. We asked recently, How would you motivate people who hate reading? Then we increased interest by mutually mentoring one another in pairs, as a way to build innovative strategies that include non-readers interactively in the process. Mind-guiding or mutual mentoring enables us to draw on a fuller range of intelligences from more diverse participants, regardless of their age or literacy levels.

Emerging generations look for emotional and intellectual stimulation that serves others but is also socially engaging. If a community is to survive and grow, we will need to change our way of thinking to encourage new members as well as retain any recruits alongside those who already belong. Change is inevitable, so it makes sense for us to use new discoveries about our brain’s capability as a disruption to ignite and sustain that growth. Evidence of change becomes visible.

For instance, a Rotary or church community may rotate their functions to reach for a wider range of interests.  One week may include lunch with a speaker, one week could join in a service project together, one week becomes a social and supportive gathering, one week could host an impact event where members tackle solutions for futuristic ideas.  Specifically, we might improve climate change, suggest ideas to realign economic development, or propose more effective educational directions for under-served populations.

Empower all community members, and younger folks will flock to our meetings. It’s vital that they also help to redefine timeworn gatherings. Millennials often come infused with innovation and energy that could help us all rethink our purpose while creating space to attract and support their friends and peers at our meetings.

What if we launched a project such as improved literacy to an underserved group, in multiple intelligence sprints? Let me illustrate.  Each team could serve non-readers through use of one of Dr. Howard Gardner’s eight distinctive intelligences. Simply stated, teams would each design a disruptive strategy to improve literacy through their selected intelligence. The goal would be to replace an outmoded or broken reading method, with a more innovative approach.

We disrupt reading problems by refueling literacy through intrapersonal intelligence. For example, we’d motivate non-readers through meditation, reflection or other inner growth possibilities. Think of it as an inward turn toward growth in that relaxed mental setting where we learn to draw from personal or inner literacy DNA pools. Like eagles beat the winds of the upper air, introspective intelligence elevates our minds over panic, past anxiety, and beyond common fears that stump our growth. Other entry points can improve literacy also.

Musical intelligence triggers literacy through increasing sensitivity of the brain stem to the sounds and cadence of innovative ideas, for instance. Activate our brain’s reward centers and we depress an inability to learn that may stockpile in our amygdala (the brain’s storehouse of emotions) through past failures. Music can reduce fear and eliminate other negative emotions.

Bodily kinesthetic intelligence stokes literacy through increasing neurons in our hippocampus – where we call up trusted facts that improve our brain’s executive functions. Movement enables us to plan and organize far more literate results. It also boosts moods to lift our expectations, and it improves neuron survival well past those golden years.

Notice how each distinctive intelligence creates custom-made literacy skills.

Linguistic intelligence for instance, compels us to question, play with, transform and live insights we write or speak concerning literary growth in literature, finances, leadership, athletics or any other field.

Interpersonal intelligence inspires us to spend time with different kinds of people, and to learn from peers, elders or family who express more literate ways to live.

Naturalistic intelligence draws out literacy in human brains, through its many rejuvenated colors and natural textures found in the climate, outside environment or other natural settings.

Mathematical intelligence challenges us to delve into science research for literary solutions to problems we face. It also includes a growing ability to organize and prioritize facts so that literacy grows in response.

Spatial intelligence allows us to catch clues from a reading through charts, visuals, photographs or sketches. It’s the visual expression of any communication, and it allows spatially strong readers to use their strength in order to improve literacy skills.

If we ask together, what will it take to stir new strength into communities in ways that awaken talents and increase relevancy? we’ll likely agree on a community where young people love to invite friends and where grandparent like connections will co-lead with them.

Faith and service groups can offer innovation keys to help communities of mixed ages evolve worldwide. The opposite is also true. Stagnant communities and diminished membership may cause enormous loss of spiritual, social and civil capital. But disruption can create new talent and open enormous opportunities within relevant clubs, equipped for our new era.

YOUR TURN! What do you think?

How might your community serve others with the brain more in  mind?

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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset