Invisible intent vs visible intent.

You may have already read my wife Alycia’s post about her experience at a recent high tea event she attended, musing on how we execute our vision. If you haven’t you can here. The truth is, it’s caused me to think a little more on how we execute vision as well.

Recently we had a conversation with a very good friend of ours who shared shared the pros an cons of a recent ‘get connected in to a small group/ministry’ event a large Perth Church. I thought here outlook was entirely reasonable, not unrelentingly negative, but not naively positive either. Therefore, I listened.

As she shared her experiences of being a new person in a new atmosphere, full of unwritten assumptions about what people can, should and would do in a certain social setting, something of a penny dropped regarding how we can more effectively run social and event based ministries.

I call this idea, invisible intent vs visible intent. What is it? This:

Invisible intent is being so clear about, and focused on the desired outcome of the given ministry/activity/program that there’s no need to ‘advertise’ it to the target audience beyond a certain point.

In any ministry, visible and invisible intent is vitally important. BUT there must be the correct balance.

Let me start with what we often tend to overdo; Visible intent.

Visible intent is to put the emphasis on advertising exactly what is happening in an exciting way in the hope that people will not only turn up, but engage fully in the way you want them to.

The risk is that we can over advertise the desired outcomes and in doing so, place upon them a sense of responsibility to achieve them, when in fact it is us who are responsible for what folks get out of it. For example, if our publicity for a ‘connect/small group event’ starts to sound like: “By the end of this night you should be connected into a small-group bible study near you” then folks are going to feel pretty disappointed when that fails to happen.

Over-visible intent often happens because, it’s easier just to come up with some snappy publicity than it is to do invisible intent well. Or, we as leaders don’t really have confidence that everyone involved in actually running the event knows what it’s for and it’s desired outcomes.

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So what is Invisible intent then?

Invisible intent is all the training, practice and preparation that goes into an event that the target audience never sees. (Hence the ‘invisible’ part of the phrase.) This takes a lot more time and a lot more effort and planning but I believe it is the key to a really effective outreach. (Assuming of course that we have done the basics like: prayer!)

Possibly the most effective way in which I have seen this happen is the ‘green team’ leaver’s program every year which provides a safe place for high school leavers to party, safe from sexual predators, illicit drugs and frankly; being left alone on the side of the road. All the advertising to leavers is essentially: “come here to have fun.” But whenever I have been a part of it, I  have always had kids come up to me and say “thank you for keeping us safe.”

In other words they have been so overwhelmed by the team commitment to the vision that without being told it, they have sensed it. This leads me to good diagnosis question for invisible intent:

If we didn’t say a word about why we are doing this, would someone who has had no hand in the planning of it be able to tell us why we did it in one sentence?

Let’s return to the ‘Connect into a bible study night’ example from earlier. What if instead of advertising it as such, it is was merely advertised as a social night? However, in the midst of the event there were folks who had been trained up prior to the event to identify people of similar interests and similar stages of the faith journey and deliberately introduce them to each other through out the night. Heck, why not go one step further and have a ‘pastoral care team’ mingling amongst the group throughout the night identifying people that may need serious pastoral care.

I am always surprised on how little time we devote in churches to serious training on how to have good and fruitful conversations. Instead we just expect people to often automatically know. That’s why the word ‘fellowship’ has come to sort of mean the 25 mins after the service on Sunday morning when we talk about the weather and football over a cup of tea.

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I guess what I am trying to do here is applying Jesus’ words in Luke 13:20-21: “What shall I compare the Kingdom of God to?” It is like yeast that a woman and mixed it into about 60 pounds of flour until it worked through all the dough.”

The thing is though; this doesn’t just automatically happen. Especially when the ‘leaven’ spreads the other 140 something hours a week breathing a secular atmosphere. It is the task of good leadership to make those running the event/outreach aware of who they are as leaven and how to be the most ‘effective leaven’ they can be!

This is where feedback comes in. An openness to feedback acknowledges that our experience of a particular method/ministry may in fact not give us insight as much as it contributes to our blindness. Hence the reception of feedback helps us to avoid the mistake of thinking that we’re doing a great job engaging people when in fact they are dazed and confused!

C.S. Lewis was noted as saying: “If you were ever put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Perhaps we could adopt that question for our Churches, for our ministries:

If we were ever put on trial for running a Christian outreach event (hey, it may happen one day) would there be enough evidence to convict us? Even if they never saw the flier?

Bless ya:)

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