20/20 Strategy Group moves beyond mere numbers

February 12, 2002

When they arrived at Camp Allen in the Diocese of Texas on January 28, members of the 20/20 Strategy Group and program groups may have thought that 20/20 was all about the numbers – doubling the average Sunday attendance in Episcopal congregations by the year 2020.

By the end of the first day, though, their vision had grown beyond data. They were envisioning innovative and groundbreaking ways to move the Episcopal Church away from 'business as usual' and into a missional mode that would strike the words 'we’ve never done it that way before' from the Episcopal vocabulary.

Sixty-five people from across the country and Europe, representing the diversity of the Episcopal Church, were invited by the presiding officers of General Convention to participate in a planning process to develop strategies for meeting that numerical goal.

God's project: reconciliation

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and House of Deputies president, the Rev. George Werner, welcomed the group to Camp Allen and spoke excitedly about the 20/20 initiative.

Griswold told the group that '20/20 has unleashed a vision of mission that both celebrates and names some of the energies abroad in our church. It also pushes the church to step outside its institutional safety zone and open itself to the driving motion of the Spirit in the service of God’s project, which is the reconciliation of all things in Christ.'

Griswold described the initiative as 'God’s project,' calling it 'nothing less than the reconciliation of all things to God’s own self in Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” He went on to 'pledge the full support of the Church Center staff to this missional vision, aspects of which are already being engaged.'

Moving into missional mode

Nine program groups ranging from 'spirituality, prayer, and worship' to 'research,' 'next generations,' and 'funding' spent the next three days in intense conversations, developing ideas that could move the church into that missional mode.

Several groups addressed the challenge of raising up the next generation of leaders to achieve the 20/20 goals. Members noted that diocesan ordination processes are often unreceptive to college-age students or to 'entrepreneurial temperaments.' Others cited crushing debt loads from seminary loans as a strong disincentive to accepting a financially insecure position as church planter. One person observed that given a choice between an associate position at an established suburban parish or one as a church planter with only a year’s guaranteed salary, with $500 a month in seminary loan payments, there really was no choice.

Dylan Breuer, a doctoral candidate in biblical studies and a youth minister at a church plant in Walkersville, Maryland, was part of the new congregation development program group. In a message posted on a listserv for GenX Episcopalians, she admitted that she had been 'deeply skeptical' of 20/20 when she first heard of it, but came away from the meeting 'wildly enthusiastic,' in large part because of the Camp Allen meeting. 'It was amazing to see the kind of creative energy that can result when we stop trying to figure out who deserves to be in the ‘in crowd’ and start working alongside whomever God calls,' Breuer said. Her program group’s ideas included remitting the educational debts of church planters, yoking dioceses without experience with church planting with those that have successful church plants, and providing incentives for church planters in historically underserved populations, especially those who are multilingual.

Not just numbers, but diversity

The Rev. Gary Steele, a GenX priest in the Diocese of Alaska and a member of the 20/20 leaders program group, observed that the 20/20 initiative is 'now, since the 20/20 meeting, emphatically about more than numbers.' Steele’s impression of the meeting was 'that 2020 became focused on diversity. I think the Rev. Michael Hopkins [a member of the next generations program group] summed it up when he asked, ‘Who will be welcome in the Episcopal Church? Will it be more than middle-aged, heterosexual, white folk?’ Then I think we addressed the question: If we place the Gospel at the center and seek to welcome all whom the Spirit draws, what will our church have to look like to be welcoming? With the possibility of whites becoming an ethnic minority by 2020, what will it take for the Episcopal Church to reflect the multicultural reality we see all around us? And the 2020 movement is saying: ‘Pursuing this mission is how the Body of Christ will be built up’ (Ephesians 4).'

A glance around the meeting rooms at Camp Allen revealed a key difference from a 'typical' national church meeting: a critical mass of younger leaders. The Episcopal Church has often been criticized by GenX and GenY members for ignoring them and giving voice only to Boomers and older generations. Many attendees at the Camp Allen meeting were far younger than the national average age for Episcopalians (59), including Nina Meigs, a high school student from Geneva, Switzerland, representing the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. Nina drew international attention last November when she read a prayer for peace and unity during an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. A thirty-something program group member remarked that he was used to being the youngest in the room at church meetings, and at the Camp Allen meeting he felt 'almost middle-aged!'

At least half of the nine program groups are chaired by people born after 1960, a conscious effort on the part of the 20/20 Strategy Group to showcase and nurture younger leadership. Strategy Group chair Sarah Lawton, a GenX leader from the Diocese of California, said, 'It’s important to me that those who are helping to build the church for 20/20 look a least a little like the church we are trying to build. To take just the age issue, this means providing more than token representation to the people under 40 who will be among the experienced leaders of the church in 18 years. These are people with significant years of job, life, and church experience already but who are also connected in significant cultural ways to the younger postmodern generations coming up right behind us.'

Several program groups suggested producing 20/20 materials in languages other than English, especially given the goal of building a church that reflects an American society that is increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. Participants shared war stories of trying to find liturgical resources in Spanish that weren’t merely direct translations of the Book of Common Prayer or the Hymnal 1982. Others suggested multicultural training opportunities for church musicians, noting that not all parishes have or want classically trained organists who are most comfortable with the generally Anglo hymns of the Hymnal 1982. Still others described asking publishers about developing church liturgical software in Spanish, and being told 'there’s no market for that.'

'Get ready for something bigger'

Although participants quickly moved away from focusing on 'the numbers,' there was considerable agreement that an accurate method for collecting data was necessary, and that the parochial report system as it currently exists definitely wasn’t the answer. The research program group suggested that the current parochial report be amended to include demographic data such as age, ethnicity, and race. The group also suggested redesigning parish service registers to be compatible with a new parochial report, so that determining the actual attendance numbers for Sunday services would not be so difficult or prone to miscalculation and misreporting.

Still another sign that the 20/20 movement isn’t church business as usual: the Camp Allen 65 probably won’t meet face to face again, at least not as a large group. The program groups intend to accomplish all their work by e-mail, Web, and conference call. The communications program group determined that one of its top priorities will be to develop and launch a 20/20 resource Web site so that program groups and any groups working on 20/20 projects will have a central repository for materials, contacts, data, and ideas. Within hours of arriving home from the meeting, Strategy Group chair Lawton set up a Web-based listserv for the entire group, and program groups began sharing electronic files that summarized their four days of conversations and consolidated notes taken on low-tech newsprint. Some didn’t need to wait until they got back to their offices, laptops, and e-mail to exchange files; they simply beamed files between their handheld Palm Pilot and Visor PDAs. More than one person read the day’s lectionary from a PDA during noonday prayers and the Wednesday evening Eucharist.

'I want to tell you something about this whole 20/20 vision, as we carry it forward,' Griswold warned the group. 'It’s going to be messy, and people who are frantic about tidiness – forget it! There are going to be ways it doesn’t fit the legislative process of the General Convention and diocesan conventions. People are going to be upset because it isn’t the Church the way it’s always been. Thank God! Just get ready for something bigger.'

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