Seedbed | The World Cafe: How to Collaborate in Congregational Ministry

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radical wesley sliderThe World Café is a practice that bridges the teachings of the Scripture and the need for more collaborative models in congregational ministry. Frances Baldwin shares how engagement leads to positive feelings of ownership in congregations.

The art and science of leading any organization includes planning and marshaling resources for their most efficient and effective use. As Christians we look, discerningly, for collaborative approaches that speak to our values as we attempt to lead congregations and communities through this season of challenge and opportunities.

Thirteen years ago I was introduced to The World Café, a simple but powerful method for engaging any number of people in meaningful conversation. I had used The World Café as a business tool internationally, at interdenominational forums, and in many organizational settings for years before considering how well the underlying principles resonate with my own spiritual grounding in the belief that God is love.

Eugene Peterson, longtime Professor of Theology and author of The Message states in the epilogue to his book A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, the convictions of his pastoral work: “Everything in the gospel is livable and my pastoral task was to get it lived.” What an incredible vocational quest for each of us!

Juanita Brown, co-creator of The World Café, in citing the foundational underpinnings of The World Café quotes Humberto Maturana (the Chilean biologist, who summarizes the findings of his scientific explorations of knowledge and humanness) with these words: “We have only the world that we bring forth with others, and only love helps us bring it forth.”

This combination of a vocational quest to help others live the gospel by way of loving them into it (Matthew 22:36-40) is foundational to this understanding of collaboration in congregational ministry. The cohering quality is love. One must first love others to practice the type of inclusion, respect, openness, heart and will that demonstrates true collaboration in the church as an organization.

What is the World Café and how does it work?

The World Café is a conversational process, based on a set of integrated principles from the behavioral sciences. The process and principles create dynamic networks of conversation and knowledge sharing that is related to real needs, real work and critical questions. As the network of new connections increases collective and shared wisdom become more accessible and innovative possibilities for action emerge.

The World Café is conducted in a hospitable space that mimics the informality and intimacy of a welcoming café with small tables and tablecloths. The design accommodates small and very large groups equally. Participants are given questions related to an issue that is important to the organization. They move from table to table discussing the same question with new groups in a series of movements called rounds.

After several rounds on several questions the essence of what emerges, fresh insights, the fruits of thinking together in these multiple rounds, is captured. Hidden assumptions are brought into question while deeper understandings and possibilities often surface. These themes and ideas are the product that is then translated into more informed actions going forward. This information may feed into a strategic planning process; a new project or any type of change initiative.

Since its discovery The World Café has become a global phenomenon. Unique to the popularity of this process is its simplicity, the spirit of discovery, the connection between people thinking together on questions and topics that are important to them. It is a dynamic, enjoyable and beneficial process that breaks through some of the entrenched challenges for change and problem solving that are often accepted as just a part of the culture. Ideally the practice of true inquiry and the crafting of better questions transcend the café experience as people recognize these practices as reliable methods of creativity.

I find the most sustainable results when the leader intentionally engages the thinking of as many people and diverse perspectives as possible early in the process. This creates within a congregation a sense of ownership and deeper resonance with where the organization is headed; which may also facilitate alignment within specific ministries and specializations in the church.

For specific information see theworldcafe.com. Click on Tools to see “Café-to-Go,” a simple and detailed guide to creating and facilitating Café Conversations and learn more about the principles and applications (free download). Or pick up the the book from our store.

Have fun as you access the untapped and often transforming wisdom of your congregation for strategic planning or any project that requires fresh ideas.

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