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Building a New Platform

Published in the issue.

Long before COVID entered our world, I wanted somewhere to belong—and I suspect that you did too. Scott Galloway of NYU Stern School of Business makes the observation that COVID was only the accelerant for changes already coming. He was speaking specifically about business, but COVID also accelerated the less tangible things in our lives like isolation and loneliness. In the wake of the pandemic, I’ve been left with the question, “What happened to the church?” Most of our churches didn’t (and still don’t) have the digital infrastructure or the expertise to navigate a world that demanded such things for viability. All our programing was oriented around showing up on Sunday, so that when Sunday ceased to be a thing we didn’t have the resources to change our culture quickly. Not to mention that most of our parishes were so understaffed that to attempt such a quick change was like surfing a tidal wave on a 2×4.

I watched all of this unfold as a priest who also happened to be working for a real estate technology startup. While surfing the wave in our own industry, I began to think about the church. I began to think about what I was missing. Particularly, I began to think about small groups.

I’ve often wondered why this program has not been more widely adopted in the Episcopal Church. My sense is that those parishes with strong group ministry before the pandemic rode the wave better than those who didn’t. But beyond just having a small group ministry, I began thinking about a platform whereby all Episcopalians could connect with a small group regardless of their parish size. These groups could be uniquely curated to maximize group cohesion. There could be original content and group mentors for each conversation. It could be a manageable commitment. Lastly, these groups could be oriented around real goals that people have for their personal and spiritual lives!

Let me draw a quick market example. Last year in New York City, mother-daughter duo Edith Cooper and Jordan Taylor started a company called “Medley.” Their idea was simple: People want to make progress in their professional lives, but the environment where this happens is no longer there, i.e. “the office.” The model they developed is very similar to what I’m describing here. It’s been interesting to watch their growth, because initially they thought it would come through individual subscriptions, but instead they’re growing with corporate sponsorships.

Why can’t we do the same for our parishes, particularly our under-resourced and under-staffed parishes? For the past several months, I’ve been experimenting with this idea, talking with church leaders and launching pilot groups. The feedback has been positive and insightful. Yet the question for me remains whether this is something that our church could adopt, support and fund. But what if we could? Could 2021 be the year that we build a new platform for belonging in the Episcopal Church? I’m excited to find out.