Practicing Possibility

By Steve Matthews, Senior Missional Consultant


“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

 Lewis Carroll


One of the gifts of being a consultant is that I get to partner with some amazing people from many different walks of life.  Some are paid church professionals and others are devoted members of churches.  All come to the work of church redevelopment and/ or church planting because they see a seed that needs to be nurtured into fruition in their church or community.  Some do the work because even though they don’t see anything growing, they nonetheless feel a compelling nudge toward a possibility that spurs them to plant a seed.

At a recent gathering of leaders in the Episcopal Church, we called this important work “Practicing Possibility”.  So much of our energy can get caught up in maintaining the status quo of what it takes to run a church. We often find ourselves doing the thing we “ought” to be doing for the church and community, and at the end of the day, while we have done good work, there is little psychic or spiritual energy left for dreaming about what’s possible or seeing the seemingly impossible thing God is trying to get us to notice.

At this gathering, we decided that we needed to invite other faithful people to practice possibility.  We used the word practice because this work of seeing and nurturing what’s possible in our churches is holy work, and it is resurrection work (hello Easter!), and if we don’t practice it together in the community, we may well find ourselves sucked into the vacuum of well-meaning Christian duties that fail to stir us into our resurrection possibilities.

At FaithX we talk a lot about vitality and sustainability.  It’s an important subject since many faith communities see dwindling numbers and increased expenses. Some of the standard measures for community vitality come from data like generational balance, a rich racial and ethnic tapestry, and population growth.  In other words, your work as a church in a given community is going to be viable and sustainable if you live in a community where people want to live.  This has some merit, AND we must not think that these metrics are determiners.  

Sometimes we find ourselves in communities that are not vital or sustainable by these measures, and we are called to need to put on Lewis Carrol’s glasses and dream and experiment and see holy possibility despite all evidence to the contrary.  What does it mean to make the impossible, possible?  Maybe it means being daring and risking failure. Perhaps we are called to partner with other neighbors, churches, businesses, and non-profits.  Does it mean rooting ourselves somewhere else? Is it time to invite others to use our space?  Even in times of seeming decline, God is seeking to do something new.  

Perhaps God’s movement in our midst (our possibility) may not resemble the growth model we have previously envisioned.  Maybe instead it is just a call to take the next step toward a possibility whose outcome we cannot yet see.  What is your next step toward possibility and with whom will you practice?