February 6, 2020

How Do You Measure Trust?

Religious communities frequently lament the decline of attendance. Books have been published, products created, conferences designed and whole careers built upon solving the crisis of church attendance. Yet, I often find myself wondering if church attendance is the place to start.

How do you measure trust?

Seth Godin tells a story about visiting Kenya with Acumen and learning about trust. He visited with an institution that provides micro-finance loans to farmers in East Africa. The qualification for those farmer applying for a loan? Their neighbors vouch for them. In other words, the farmer in need for a loan must be trusted enough by his neighbors that they will tell the lender that the farmer is worth the investment. Kickstarter is based on a similar premise. Jason Coker teaches a similar principle in his fundraising for churches workshops (here's my interview with Jason).

People show up when they know you can be trusted. That is, that you not only have your own well-being in my mind but the goodwill of the other as well. How do people show trust? People show trust with their money, their time, their attention, their presence and when they bring others along--like family, friends and neighbors.

When one considers the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on individuals by Christian leaders from across the spectrum of traditions or the theological gymnastics pulled by religious leaders to justify their political desires ... all well-covered by the media ... is it any wonder that there are diminishing reasons for the public to trust Christian institutions?

I'm not quite sure how we can measure trust but I do not think it is any longer safe to assume that we have the trust of our neighbors. That era has past. We have to earn it. And there are a few things we should think about if we want to earn the trust of those around us enough that they would consider being a part of our faith communities.

1) Practice the greatest commandments before the great commission. Years ago, I spoke with a megachurch pastor who shared with me how upset neighbors were when they made certain building decisions for their new campus. For him, the opportunity to build a platform for the gospel to be declared outweighed concerns of neighbors regarding traffic congestion and loss of open spaces. This sounds to me like putting one's understanding of the great commission before the great commandments. When we put expansion ahead of loving God and neighbor we get our worst moments in Church History. Teach your community how to love God and love your neighbors and you will find your way of making authentic disciples.

2) Loving means listening. Demonstrate an interest in the goodwill of others by listening to them before talking at them. Earn the right to be heard.

3) Be consistent. Whether in the neighborhood, in the social media platform of choice, at the school board meetings or the gathering for prayer ... keep showing up and demonstrate that you are reliable.

In short, we cannot wait within the doors of our places of worship and assume neighbors will think us worthy of their trust; their money, their time, their attention, their presence and their loved ones. We have to get out of the doors and consistently get to know them, hear them and earn their trust.

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