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Focusing on the Whole: How to Set Attainable Goals Through Reflection, Speaking and Listening

How Congregations Can Set Attainable Goals, Part 2

Sometimes it can be tough to bring a group together in support of common goals. It is especially difficult when a church, synagogue, temple or other religious organization is experiencing strive and tension.

I’ve been a part of meetings with 10 people present and at least 15 different opinions expressed, many of them contradicting each other. These kind of meetings are chaotic and dissonant. How can one bring a group like this together to accomplish anything?

I start by envisioning religious organizations like musical groups. Some organizations function like jazz bands. Individual, creative voices sound loud and clear, but there are common tunes, harmonies, forms and expectations.

Other religious groups are more like symphony orchestras. Each section plays its part with clarity, precision and a predetermined order. A conductor brings it all together, directing and shaping the music.

Others function more like a soloist with enthusiastic back-up singers. One voice is more prominent, but all voices contribute to the quality and impact of each song.

In all kinds of musical groups, just like in all congregations, there is some form and structure that holds the organization together. Individuals, sections and leaders have specific expectations and roles to play.

When I work with congregations in conflict, I focus on both individuals and on the organization as a whole. First I encourage individuals to reflect on personal perspectives about what is going on including both strengths and challenges.

Then it is important for everyone who participates in the process to have a chance to express their personal perceptions out loud, while others listen attentively before responding.

The big picture perspective comes as people listen to each other and look for common patterns and themes.

When we arrive at goal setting, I encourage people to engage in personal reflection on goals first. When people aren’t clear about their own priorities, it’s difficult to be productive working with a group.

Then we move to naming common themes. Everyone’s perspective is valid, but, a religious organization is communal. Individual perspectives are important, but not central.

What is central is the mission and vision of this particular church, synagogue, mosque, meeting, temple or congregation. What is central is the community as a whole.

Common themes lead to attainable goals, but true themes only become clear after individuals have had a chance to reflect, speak and listen to others.

What are the perspectives that most people in this congregation share? What can most people agree is important right now? Can people imagine goals that come out of shared values and perceptions?

For example, members may hold conflicting theological views but both sides generally want unity and stability. One goal that encompasses both sides is to work towards greater understanding and appreciation of each other’s values.

A goal that would not honor both sides is to expand programming aimed at one subgroup and not the other. This might be a valid and unifying goal later on after greater understanding has developed. But if there is lot of conflict, it helps to starts with a goal that a majority of people can support.

If you can’t agree on what to focus on as a group, organization or congregation, than take a step back and look at a bigger perspective. What is the style and form of your congregation? How are decisions made? What are people’s individual roles?

Is there something beyond the particular conflictual issue that everyone can agree on or at least support? How can you use this larger understanding to create a goal that will benefit the whole group and help people in your organization to move forward together in productive ways?

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