Which Social Cause Is Right for Your Congregation (and Denomination)?

Forbes magazine has several tips for businesses to find the proper outlet for their social activism that may also be instructive for churches wanting to enter the social justice field.

1. Look in the mirror. When it comes to defining your social mission, start with your business mission. Increasingly, we find it helpful when these two are aligned from the start – even if your company makes widgets. Strategic leaders recognize that giving back can be baked right into your corporate DNA, such as with equity pledges, where companies offer a small percentage of their equity to nonprofits. Regardless of your organization’s structure, your business mission will help inform the most aligned direction to harness your corporate energies and offer the best opportunities for pro bono volunteering and other engagement.

2. Go on a listening tour. As you consider your mission and values, it’s important to get your employees involved so that they feel “heard.” Surveys are a common tool to cull employee interests around causes, including where many of them may already be volunteering and giving. Sure, you won’t be able to prioritize every cause, but you may be able to find patterns of common interests, which will help when it comes to increasing volunteer participation if you decide to pursue these causes. And even with the many causes that you don’t elevate to the corporate level, a volunteer platform will empower employees to pursue many different interests as a part of their volunteer work.

3. Do your research. When it comes to selecting specific nonprofits to ally with or support, tools like Charity Navigator provide insight into organizational history, financial health, accountability and transparency. Make sure that you do your due diligence in assessing how your company can make the biggest impact at the most minimal cost.

4. Get help. Experts in the field can serve as invaluable translators helping companies and nonprofits speak the same language, align expectations and goals and establish relationships destined for success. Guidance from a trusted expert in the nonprofit world can help steer your company to the cause area and nonprofit that is the best possible match.

Since confessional churches rely on word and sacrament, perhaps activism related to literacy, wheat farms, and grape growing is the best fit. Here‘s a story about wine cellar workers at Woodbridge who want to join the Teamsters. Perhaps your diaconate could help.

Also, the National Association of Wheat Growers has several items on its list of policies that might guide a session or diaconate’s thoughts about social justice.

Too bad, though, that cellar workers and wheat growers are not high on the list of causes that motivate millennials. The top five are:

Civil rights/racial discrimination 29%
Employment (job creation) (tie) 26%
Healthcare reform (tie) 26%
Climate change 21%
Immigration 19%
Education (K-12) 17%

The runners up:

Respondents also sited wages (15%), environment (14%), college/post-secondary education (13%), poverty and homelessness (13%), mental health and social services (12%), criminal justice reform (11%), women’s rights (10%), women’s health and reproductive issues (9%), early education (8%), sexual orientation-based rights (8%), and literacy (4%) as issues they care about.

That’s a boat load of activity for any single congregation. Even a denominational agency, like the Committee on Social Justice, would have a hard time meeting at most three times a year to give due attention and resources to all of these matters.

The encouraging news, though, is that millennials have a fairly low bar for what constitutes social activism:

Researchers also asked respondents what types of actions they take on behalf of the causes important to them. Voting topped the list, in order or priority, followed by signing a petition, no action, posting on social media, and changing purchase of products and services. Voting, researchers surmised, is seen as a vital form of activism; the survey found that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents said they had voted in the 2016 presidential election.

So, if your officers are voting, Tweeting, and posting on Facebook, they already have a social-justice ministry.

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P&W, the Next Generation

At roughly 2:30 of <a href="

“>this video, which is very, very good, the Lutheran Satirist makes reference to Lutheran youth leaving contemporary worship services for Presbyterianism. News alert: God’s frozen chosen have been defrosted ever since the First Pretty Good Awakening inflamed the English-speaking Calvinist soul.

Aside from what this video may say about Presbyterians, it does raise questions about the generational divide of contemporary worship. Steve Thorngate thinks the video’s point about using contemporary music to attract the young misses the point of contemporary worship. First he quotes the creator of the U2charist:

The U2charist is a demonstration of one way that liturgy can bring people together to celebrate what God is doing in the world to bring justice for the poor and reconciliation for the world. It is by no means the only way to do so, or even necessarily the best way for your congregation. If your congregation doesn’t really know or like U2, it may feel forced and awkward to use their music without substantial adaptation in liturgy — and if it feels forced and awkward for you, that’s probably going to come across to anyone who does visit your church for the first time for a U2charist. That probably wouldn’t be the best sort of circumstances in which to try such a service; there’s little that’s cool or fun about a bunch of people doing something that they think is no fun at all because they think it would look cool to others.

Thorngate chimes in:

The people I know who have planned and executed U2charists, etc. aren’t thinking primarily about outreach-to-the-kidz either. Neither are the people I work with in my side job as a church musician, where we do several such events each year.

Now, this is a church where youngish adults are already overrepresented, and where the musical culture is nontraditional and eclectic. This is key: the pop-star-themed services are organically related to what we do every week, not some gimmicky departure from it. The morning service makes enthusiastic use of a wide mix of pop music. A U2charist makes sense there, and they’ve done several. The evening service—the one I help lead—is more invested in folk, roots, and country-rock music. A Dylan-themed service (Bob, not Breuer) makes more sense in our context, and I’ve planned and led a couple. We’ve also talked about doing a Johnny Cash-themed service sometime.

Attendance always goes up for these services. But that isn’t really the point. The point is to proclaim the gospel from a new angle, to engage in a fresh way—by taking something that is already part of what we do and giving it a one-week special focus, as other churches do with any number of things. In a context where popular music styles are the norm, and where we decline to observe a strict separation between the sacred and secular when choosing source material, this is a very natural thing.

Thorngate is probably right. Contemporary contemporary worship is no longer aimed at teens. It is now the accepted form of worship for former teens who have now become adults. And that’s why the worship wars are over. We have crossed the rubicon and entered the world of eclectic liturgy, sort of like the United Colors of Benetton.

Still, the Lutheran Satirist is right that contemporary contemporary worship is still cheesy and that the key to retaining the youth is faithful parenting and faithful preaching. If that happens, young people and adults aren’t gullible about the appeal of U2 or LeCrae or Faure in worship.