Intentional Engagement Powers Innovation and Growth

Every few years a word floats to the top of the leadership literature that provides a knothole through which to judge the current landscape. Transparency, authenticity, relationships - all have driven and framed recent conversations.

Now, “engagement” seems to be joining the group.

Businesses work diligently to find ways to engage their customers. Professionals seek to engage the key concerns of their clients.

The cashier at the grocery store checkout asks, “Do you have any plans for the rest of the day?” Done well this is not just a stock phrase from a recent training session but reveals the desire to be connected to a larger part of my life than just ringing up the grapes and tortilla wraps. The phone representative asks about my life and how a phone fits into my lifestyle before recommending a phone or advising upon a particular plan.

Engagement implies more than simply waiting for the right moment to sell or to tell.

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The discipline of listening runs deeper.

What are the needs? What are the core concerns?

Today a leader looks not primarily to the “how to get people to do what I want” question but to the larger matter of alignment. In what ways do the deep needs and aspirations of those who work with me align? How can we work together to identify and engage the opportunities and challenges which are of concern to each of us individually and to the organisation?

The recent announcement by Facebook that it plans to modify its news feed ranking system to give greater weight to content from friends and family over posts by news companies and other organisations reflects a commitment to listen more deeply to its prime relationships.

Adam Mosseri, the Facebook manager in charge of the news feed, said in a recent interview that while informing and entertaining users was part of the company’s mission,news and entertainment were secondary pursuits.

“We think more, spend more time and work on more projects that try to help people express themselves with their friends or learn about their friends or have conversations with their friends,” he said. 

Part of the critique of much of the current church is that it has been so long in the business of telling people what they should be, think or do that it has forgotten how to truly listen and engage the concerns of the world God loves.

The church has forgotten how to truly listen and engage the concerns of the world God loves.

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Engagement is a two-way street. The consumer mentality, “What can you offer me today at what price?” is a very low form of engagement.

Relationships that are vital and growing extend beyond transactions.

At the family level relationships defined by conversations solely about who does which household chores at what time or consisting of updates about the children do not necessarily engage the partners. For engagement requires some measure of honest discovery and disclosure about what really does matter, about what should get on the calendar.

Effective leaders depend upon people in their organisation to tell them the truth; a company of “yes men” does not make a strong organisation. Healthy couples require times apart, as a couple, to explore frustrations, hopes and dreams. As they engage the joys and struggles of each other they are better able to engage each other and their life together.

It is one of the great, sad ironies of our time that we live in the midst of, by all accounts, an explosion of interest in questions about the meaning and purpose of life by the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd. And those concerns are often just easily mocked or dismissed by the church.

The questions of the SBNR are often mocked or dismissed by religious professionals.

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Engagement provides an opportunity for the church to engage the fundamental questions about which we say we yearn to be in conversation. Deeper relationships become the bonus.

This is one reason for the meteoric rise of coaching in our society. Those interested in developing their personal and professional lives seek assistance in helping them identify their deep dreams and obstacles and in formulating strategies to engage those challenges so that lives will be marked by a sense of joy and satisfaction.

As Captain Pickard said aboard the Starship Enterprise, “Engage!” Only then was the Enterprise able to pursue its mission: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

(Cue music)

I wonder: What are the prime concerns of the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious group?


  1. On my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/KeithHowardDD/ – Ryan Slifka asks: “But what would be an example of said engagement? What does it look like on the ground? Any particular examples from your own ministry you would highlight?”

    Beth Walker gives one example.

    A number of things come to mind ranging from the more intentional to the more usual informal.

    1. More formal engagement can often look like market research in the beginning. When in Emerging Spirit we urged congregations to gather, by invitation, a group of 8-10 people in the age group/interest area, for which they had concern. Then ask them something like: We, as a congregation, are interested i having a good relationship with you. Could you help us understand more about your life – the joys and challenges that you face etc.

    The initial part was listening.

    The second was then to ENGAGE by saying something like – Thank you. From a Christian perspective, here are some of the things that come to mind. (could be a theological response, a practical suggestion for partnership, an “us too,” etc)

    2. The more informal stuff can just flow out of conversation.

    Young parents: Scheduling is such a huge issue for parents of young children. Could you help us understand what kind of things about the church might lead you to consider putting the church on your schedule? Or, how do you deal with the spiritual challenges of your children’s lives? Times of death, anxiety about being left out, fear, etc…?

    Deb Bowman was always good at the informal stuff. In fact, I think she made an art form out of it by hanging out at the rugby games of her boys and just interacting with the parents and young men. Over time – and that is often the key – she, in effect, became the rugby chaplain. 🙂

  2. The sermon is one of those places of deep, public engagement, I think… not in and of itself but as part of that long process of listening, discernment, reflecting, and articulation to both God and the world (best represented by that very present and concrete part of the world of congregation and neighbours).

    I like how Karl Barth talks about it: the gospel needs to be treated as a “living” Word, that is, fresh each time, responding to specific times and situations and contexts that can only be known through active listening and participation. But it is also a “constant” Word which actually has something to add and say (“good news”) to those times and places, something that does not simply mimic or baptize all that it encounters.

    There are surely lots of other opportunities for “engagement” in many different ways other than the sermon, but I have a feeling if we could get this one right it would be a good start. I know it is important to engage those who do not know they want to be engaged by us… but let’s make sure we do our very best to engage with those who come purposely and eagerly to engage time after time, too.

    1. It should come as no surprise that I do agree with Barth on this!

      Also, my own bias with respect to sermons does run along the line of “if we could get this one right it would be a good start.”

      For engagement, incredibly necessary but not exhaustive.

      Thanks Doug.

  3. This from Joanna at Copy Hackers (copyhackers.com). Relates, don’t you think?

    “No matter what you’re selling, you need to connect to your buyers’ deepest wants. The wants that are tied to being a better version of themselves. And chances are, they’ll never give them to you right out of the gate.

    So dig until you get the answer and then use THEIR language in your copy.”

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