Questpost 10: final
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This is from a first draft of the final report I am preparing for Quaker Quest. It is the last section of that report, called “Evaluation.” I hope to post the full report as a download here once the Core group approves it.
Quaker Quest suggests that meetings make no attempt to record the numbers of new members it acquires as a result of Quaker Quest. The wisdom beneath this position is the recognition that the “success” of Quaker Quest cannot be reduced to a “bean counting” exercise. And so, even though we set out to draw new people to us, we may not know for some time whether or not Quaker Quest had any effect in increasing our numbers. But it is worth reporting that some of those who joined us as Seekers at Quaker Quest have been spotted in meeting for worship. We intentionally set out not to promote our own meeting, but rather to speak truthfully about the ways our Quaker faith had influenced our lives through the topics we were presenting. In conversation with several returning Seekers, I learned that they were exploring meetings closer to where they lived.
And so as far as our connection to Seekers, we can only say that we drew them to us in numbers larger than we expected, and that their evaluations of us (see appendix 9) were uniformly positive. And we can say that our interaction with them was deep, joyful and carried with it the sense that we were participating in their journey somehow, a journey which may ultimately lead them somewhere else. But it was not our job to keep them, only to feed them as they travel on their way, and to say something true about the Religious Society of Friends from our experience.
This experience – that of speaking about our faith to Seekers – felt enormously important to us in the Core Group, and to those of us who spoke. My own sense is that we reconnected with the spirit of evangelism, so long an essential aspect our Quaker practice. But evangelism became a dirty word with the rise of the Christian Fundamentalist movement of the late 20th century, and its wide array of intolerant positions. Quaker Quest has returned our gentle evangelism to us, allowing us to share the good news (what evangelize means), and to feel confident and inclusive in doing so.
Speaking about one’s faith to those unfamiliar with it means asking oneself searching questions, and then testing what you have to say with other members of your faith. This is the QQ process in a nutshell. Quaker Quest allowed us to make discoveries about ourselves, our beliefs and convictions, and about our relationships to each other. These are discoveries that may not have happened otherwise. So when we evaluate the “success” of Quaker Quest, I think we must include the success of these inreach aspects too. In our case, they seem quite successful indeed.
More generally, success must be gauged in terms of a Quaker Meeting marshaling its resources to undertake a major project and position itself in the public eye with something attractive and meaningful to say. Our meeting utilized enormous resources in terms of money, property and personnel. We met our deadlines and our budget. The speakers and the Core Group constituted 15 people from our meeting, members and attenders alike. An additional five or so were regular and energetic helpers with the sessions themselves. So 20 of us were directly involved in the implementation of Quaker Quest, in a meeting community in which there may be said to be between 40 and 50 active adult members and attenders. Not a bad percentage at all.
We may know, over the next several months, which of the new faces we have seen in our meetings for worship stay to become vital members of our Quaker meeting. It will be our job to continue to find ways to make our meeting an attractive and dynamic place to Seekers. We must continue to nurture those on the path from Seeker, to Attender, to Member. But we may never know how Quaker Quest has led Seekers to other meetings, or to other faiths, or simply given them spiritual sustenance at a time in their lives when they needed it. And so ultimately, the success of Quaker Quest rests in our ability to have faith: faith that in working together as Quakers in the service of our Society, we are doing good work; faith that in assisting our Friends to speak publicly about their Quakerism, we are spreading good news; faith that we have been a part of something bigger than ourselves. Questpost: final Monday, May 19, 2008