Status: Hibernating

We started the Motor City Mission Corps with the desire to connect young adults with the work of the church in Southeast Michigan.

The Presbytery of Detroit sparked this program and it has served as a place for us to grow in our understanding of what it means to work with young adults. While the Presbytery still has a supportive role, we now recognize that our work would fit best in the context of a local congregation.

We’re Moving Out

Our work exploring ways to connect young adults with the work of the Church will continue but, seated in the local context, we will have a better focus on those we serve. Though we will be looking to work with young adults in and around a specific congregation, we will still connect them with the work of the Church taking place in the Detroit Metro area.

We have had initial conversations with a couple of churches about adopting the program. These congregations see Motor City Mission Corps as an opportunity to get to know young adults around their community in a new way. After our new arrangement is established we look forward to continuing the Motor City Mission Fellowship and anticipate other ministry experiments that will rise out of our work with local young adults.

A New Workgroup

While we are relocating the Motor City Mission Corps program out of the Presbytery, we still see a vital place there for that conversation on how to serve young adults to continue.

We are leading the formation of a new workgroup to answer this question: how can the Presbytery best support congregations’ work with young adults? This new workgroup will consist mostly (but not exclusively) of young adults already active in the Presbytery. Their work will be limited to developing answers to that question. When ready, the results will be passed to others in the Presbytery for prayerful consideration.

The Fruit of Our Labor

The fruit of our work the past year is what we have learned about ministry with young adults. If there is one thing that has become very clear it is that ministry with young adults does not fit the mold of anything we have done before. This generation is less willing to accept a frame that doesn’t fit than their predecessors were. We need forms of ministry that are designed to change fluidly, responsive to their immediate context and the present need.

We see these two avenues (MCMC hosted in a church and a new young adult workgroup) as the most faithful response to what we have learned. We don’t have The Answer, but we can continue learning, approaching the young adults in our communities as partners in the process.

Please stay in touch!

As our site coordinator is at the end of his work term, it might seem that the work of the Motor City Mission Corps has ceased. Don’t be deceived, our work continues! Just not at its former pace. In the coming months, we plan on pursuing relationships with congregations and funding to secure the program for a couple of years.

You, our community, make our work possible! If you are interested in being a more involved part of what we are doing, please let us know.

As we settle into our chrysalis to pick up the work of self-transformation, we’ll continue to communicate sporadically through our website and social media. Please take this chance to follow us on Facebook or Twitter if you don’t already.

More on Submitting a Pitch

Generating a new enterprise can be a daunting prospect! The purpose of the Motor City Mission Fellowship is to make it possible for people (age 18-40) with passion (but who maybe don’t know where to start) to lead the way in serving their community.

Where to start?

We have created two avenues to help get you started. First, make sure you check out our partners and the seed ideas they have offered for a young adult to take on.

To explore your own ideas around serving your community, take a movement and think about these three questions:

  • Who do you see as your community?
    Who do you consider to be your people? This is a group that you know well because you identify with them and have shared in their experiences.
  • What is the biggest unmet need in your community?
    This could be a need that others have ignored or not done a good job meeting.
  • If money were not an issue, what could you do about it?
    Just for a moment, consider what you could do if you had access to the resources to really make a difference for the people you care about.

All you need right now is the seed of an idea. And that, in a nutshell, is what we’re looking for in the initial pitch.

What are we looking for in a pitch?

We are asking for pitches to be submitted online through our website. You’ll give us some basic information and then answer a couple questions about your idea. We suggest writing your answers offline and then pasting them into the online form.

The purpose of the initial pitch is to communicate the core of your project. You don’t need to have many of the details worked out. We want to share in your vision and catch just a little bit of your excitement!

First Pitch Deadline – December 4

Pitches submitted by the December 4 deadline will have two weeks to work with us in developing a final proposal. The final deadline to be part of the January 2018 cohort is December 18.

“I won’t be ready to submit an pitch by December 4, am I out of luck?”
No, please get in touch with us anyway! Let us know you’re interested and we can help you think about your idea. Because of the Christmas holiday we will not be able to accept any final proposals for January 2018 after December 18th.

Contact Adam Delezenne with any questions!

Coming Soon: Motor City Mission Fellowship

I really hate those messages on websites announcing changes (that tend to drag on forever) and here I am creating one. Here’s the deal, we’ve just recently gotten approval to bring people in on our new program. This is something that we’ve been wrestling with for the last couple months and are ready to bring into focus: What does it really mean for us to engage young adults in transformative service? What does a lifetime commitment to service look like for Millennials?

What does Mission mean for Millennials?

We’ve really gone back to our mission and recommitted to the work of connecting young adults with the work of the Church. We’ve asked what mission means to us and what it means to engage young adults. We’ve taken a look at the form of our first program and decided that engaging young adults in mission does not need to look like a year-long volunteer experience. This is a form that has been very meaningful for a lot of people but it isn’t the only way to engage young adults.

 

One thing I’ve learned during this time in conversation with a number of young adults is that many of them care deeply about their religious life even if they are not in churches on Sunday mornings. They care about living out the Gospel and helping the people Jesus helped. I have also learned that they are a very diverse group in their perspectives and preferences. Some many find God in Sunday worship, some may find God in small community gatherings, some may find God in getting their hands dirty in service to others, to name a few.

Create an Opportunity

We want to create an opportunity for those who want their work to be driven by their faith but are unable to abandon all the obligations of life most of us are tied to. This opportunity needs to be flexible enough to fit a variety of ambitions, areas of work and needs to be equally accessible to all regardless of background. And it needs to provide a real shot at starting something new.

The Motor City Mission Fellowship

So, in the next few weeks we’ll be formally opening applications for the Motor City Mission Fellowship. Fellows are young adults living in and around Detroit with an idea to build up and serve their community. It will have two program phases. The first: a three month period where participants work with us to develop and start implementing a plan for their project, spend time together in teaching/learning and mutual support, and benefit from the spiritual, intellectual and networking resources of the Presbytery of Detroit. At the end of this phase they will receive a grant up to $3000 to help get their project off the ground. The second program phase is open ended; fellows become a part of a larger community of innovative ministry leaders in the Detroit area, continuing to meet for mutual support and finding possibilities.

 

So, under construction! Coming soon!

Seriously though, we’re pretty excited to be able to try this out. I can’t wait to see what people come up with!

 

Photo by Tim Evans via Unsplash

What’s Next

Young adults are not a group that the church has done a great job reaching. The often-referenced Pew Research Center study shows a church that has largely failed to keep the attention of the Millennial generation. Even among those who were heavily involved in Christian religious practice, many do not choose to maintain their church membership or to seek new religious communities as they age. The patterns of Christian education have not largely changed during this period. So it is logical to pin responsibility on Millennials.

Moral Therapeutic Deism

The work of scholars like Kenda Creasy Dean suggest otherwise. In Almost Christian, she introduces the concept of Moral Theraputic Deism. My quick quick paraphrase of MTD is that it serves as a no fat, no sugar, caffeine free version of Christianity. This is the version of Christianity that you might see characters on an ABC prime time show espouse, not counting the occasional use of judgmental social-conservativism for dramatic tension. Like the Jesus Project in the ‘70s, MTD gives us a stripped down version of the Gospel. This version features a Jesus that is nice, tolerant and tame in word and deed. Millennials have not invented this version of Jesus on their own, this is the gospel they received from us. We value a Christianity that does not ‘rock the boat.’ Coffee and Fellowship hour after the service are treated as at least as important an aspect of our life together as the worship service that precedes them. Moral Therapeutic Deism is the Christianity that we have communicated to Millennials perhaps more in our actions than our words.
I think this is a big part of why young adults are not in our churches. A Christianity that  doesn’t ask much more of us than basic human kindness and being “good” people also doesn’t offer much in return. There are young adults who know that the Gospel is about much more than being a good person, but why should they look for it in the Church? A place that, by and large, doesn’t like change and that invented the very version of Christianity they are seeking an alternative to?

Our First Program Missed the Mark

It was into this environment that we sought to introduce a new program. One where we asked young adults to live sacrificially, work in service and commit a year of their lives to the Church. We had chosen to subscribe to a model that, if we were seeking to establish it five or ten years ago, might have been successful. We still believe in the value of living in an intentional community and committing to service as a means of self discovery (it is worth noting though that none of us were going to sign up for this program). Unfortunatly, Moral Theraputic Deism and trend toward consumerism did not prepare young adults to hear us and we failed to communicate our vision in a compelling way (plus all the reasons previously discussed for difficulty in getting started).
In light of all we’ve found regarding our program it is clear that some changes need to be made. In the simplest terms, we have the choice of fixing our current program or doing something new. We looked at what it would take to fix those things which can be fixed and several things become clear pretty quickly. It can be very expensive to fully account for the needs of 3-6 people for a year. Even brining our current program up to be competitive with other programs places us among a large group of similar options, all competing for the same group of people. There are also just some structural barriers that are inherent in the nature of the program.

Connecting Young Adults with the Work of the Church

We’re working on something very different than version one of Motor City Mission Corps. We are part of the Presbytery of Detroit and honoring the community to which we are accountable means that there is not a whole lot I can say at this point about where we are going.
I can say that we are seeking to be faithful both to the churches and organizations that support us, who have joined in our mission as well as to the young adults in our community. We see our purpose as connecting young adults to the work of the Church in the world and we want to make it possible for young adults to pursue the call of God on their lives. We believe in their ability to lift up their communities and want to help enable them to do so.
Photot by Marc Wieland via unsplash.com

Part 5: Assumptions Made

In some ways I think this may have been the hardest aspect for us to wrap our minds around. We look at the program we were offering and think some variation on, “I wish I would have done something like this right after college” or “Young adults need direction, our program will help them find it.” Such is the nature of the generational divide.

The first statement is based on memories of our own experiences and what we think we might have needed at the time. I myself have said that if I had done a program like this I might have found the same development in a year that ended up taking four years. Taking our own experiences, motivations and wishes for what we might have done and pasting it onto young adults today is problematic to say the least. We reduce complicated individuals with their own motivations and ambitions into a neat picture that we feel comfortable with and understand. Unfortunately, the picture we have created of who young adults are and what they want doesn’t look anything like the real people it is supposed to represent.

The second statement takes this even further, assuming we know what young adults need and how they should receive it. In our society it is expected that children have their needs defined for them, reaching adulthood means you get to define your own needs and are responsible for fulfilling them in a healthy way. Young adults are adults! Some may not feel confident in their newfound adulthood yet but many will bristle if they feel they are still being treated like children.

At the same time, our program model gave us an example of the kind of impact that we could have for our participants and community. The things we had hoped to accomplish for and through them are legitimately good things! But there is a degree to which these benefits are more about what we want than how young understand their own challenges. We used an existing program structure that has served others well for a long time but did not pause to ask any young adults if it was sufficiently compelling to earn their participation.

Next: What’s Next

Photo by Davidson Luna on Unsplash

Parts 3 and 4: Costs and Barriers

Indirect Costs

Almost any choice has a cost associated with it. If you do X, you cannot do Y. Our program initially carried an up front cost of $3000 which we expected volunteers would provide out of their own resources or fundraise for. We quickly recognized that this presented a barrier to many who did not have the funds and did not have experience fundraising. We didn’t want this to be a reason not to apply so we reallocated those funds to the in-program fundraising goal. Participants would still raise the funds, but during the program year when we could work on it as a team. We could not run the program without those funds but we also did not need them up front.

We thought we had it under control but we may have underestimated the other, non-financial costs associated with our program. While we removed the fee for participation there was still significant perceived cost in lost job prospects and leaving behind supportive networks for a year. Regardless of the actual likelihood of finding a well-paying job the perception of that loss drove prospects to make another choice.

Staying in shared housing may have been perceived as a cost as well. This might have been a matter of how we presented it but most likely prospects are either coming from a school housing situation that they have chosen or a predictable (even if not ideal) housing situation with family. Sharing housing with strangers, though fundamental to the intentional community, might not be perceived as a benefit by all.

Unintentional Barriers

This was a surprise to us and was especially disappointing to realize given our emphasis on breaking down racism. We found that the structure of our program made it much easier for people of privilege to participate than it did for people of color.

We made some assumptions that asked participants to come with a level of privilege. For example, we did not provide health care for volunteers. This assumes they will have access to their parents’ plan or have the resources to supply their own coverage or (unrealistically) that they just won’t get sick during the year. We did not fully provide for local transportation. Public transportation in Detroit is… not the best. Volunteers need to get to their placements on time, we did not offer to cover the cost of fuel beyond the monthly stipend. We assumed that they will come with a well-maintained car and the ability to pay for fuel and insurance or that they would trust us to help them figure these things out during the year.

Not providing for relocation expense assumes they can afford to travel across the country to do the program. Requiring volunteers live on site assumes that they don’t have other family obligations which would require them to share duties at home. The $250 per month stipend quickly erodes when you consider paying for transportation, occasional health needs, food and (of course) a cell phone.

For some prospects these are aspects of the program that define who is eligible for it. Those with some privilege who are able to provide these things for themselves by their own means (or their parents’ means) might have been more comfortable applying. For those without those means, we asked them to trust us that they would take care of them while we only committed to provide $250 per month for their expenses. This made the decision to apply much easier for someone with privilege than without. This kind of privilege and access to resources is strongly correlated with being white.

We were convicted that we had designed a program to focus on anti-racism that favored white people over people of color. As we go forward we continue to be committed to breaking down racism as a part of our program and are recommitted to anti-racism in how we structure and conduct our ministry.

Next: Assumptions Made

Parts 1 and 2: Time and Competition

Time was not on our side

One factor stands out as a creating the greatest challenge in how we implemented our recruiting: time. This kind of program involves a high degree of trust. We were asking young adults to spend a year of their lives with us, a program with no reputation and no past participants to speak on our behalf.

Creating this trust meant building relationships with young adults and with those who could recommend our program to them. When building relationships there is no substitute for time and face to face contact. Since we did not have as much time to build face to face relationships in as many places as we would have liked I intentionally focused on meeting as many people as possible in the Detroit area, both prospective young adults and those who are already working with them. We also invested in the means to get our program in front of the greatest number of people as possible: the internet. We used search advertising, social media, and job postings on an array of listing boards. This is a lower quality means of communicating compared to face to face meetings but gave us a greater reach by far.

Starting our active recruiting efforts in March also meant that we were ramping up just as academic centers are turning their attention to finishing the academic year. Graduating seniors were our prime candidates for the program, for them this time of year means a focus on finishing academics and on final social hurrahs. Many graduates already had plans or at least intentions for what they were doing in the Fall. Starting in March meant that we were not even an option when prime candidates were looking for Fall programs.

Competitive Advantage

There are many options for a year long volunteer or gap year experience. In a crowded marketplace I wonder how well we stand out compared to other programs. The appeal of Detroit and breaking down racism/building equitable community might not be as compelling as we thought. These are also something that can be found with other programs, in Detroit and else where. In many areas we are up against other programs that offer more and are better known.

Most other programs also invest more in their volunteers throughout the year. Our $250 a month stipend was by no means the lowest but other programs with lower-end stipends had other benefits to offset other expenses. We found it was fairly common for a program to offer health insurance, a food budget, local transportation allowance and often an end of service bonus.

Next: Costs and Unintentional Barriers

Above photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Recruiting Results and What’s Next

Motor City Mission Corps has been quiet for a little bit and here’s why: after four months of active recruiting we failed to secure the three participants we needed in order to run the program. Needless to say, we are a bit disappointed. This project has been more than two years in the making. I was hired in April but conversations that eventually turned into the Motor City Mission Corps started in the spring of 2015.

A Crossroads

At this point we’ve reached a crossroads, do we continue with the same program or do something different? Do we make adjustments to our previous model or try something new? What is it that anchors us, what is our purpose? Does this defeat mean we throw in the towel?

Faced with an array of choices I wanted to put some context both behind what happened in our first active recruiting cycle and how we talk about what we are going to do next. The full report, 17 Recruiting Results Analysis, turned into quite a document. You can download and read it if you are so moved but I’m going to pull out my conclusions and talk about them in more detail in a series of posts.

Embracing Risk

I feel it is important to be transparent about the choices we made and the results that they yielded. Our leadership took a risk in starting a new program. That this first iteration did not succeed does mean that our work was for nothing or that we have ultimately failed to engage young adults in mission. We have only failed if, at this point, we give up.

I have come to believe that this sort of risk is most necessary in the Church right now. Risk carries with it both the possibility of failure and of success. Either way, we can learn in the process. In hopes that what we have learned from this first failure might be instructive to someone else, I am happy to share where we have been and where we are going.

Five Factors that determined our recruiting results

After our first round of active recruiting I found that five factors lead us to receive less than the response we had hoped for. In the next several posts I will address each in more detail:

  1. Time was not on our side
  2. Our program did not have a significant competitive advantage
  3. There were more indirect costs than we may have thought
  4. The structure of our program created some unintentional barriers
  5. We made assumptions about what young adults want and need

There is not one factor that can be completely blamed for the program not running, rather it was all of them working against us. In order for the program to be successful in the future (keeping this same format) there is not one of these factors we could address that would massively change our outcome, we would need to address each of them in degrees.

What comes next?

In addition to writing this report I also had the opportunity to talk to a number of the young adults who make up the summer staff of Camp Westminster and Camp Greenwood. I also received some responses to an online survey of young adults. It was interesting to actually speak with young adults about how they could see themselves engaging with the Church in serving the world rather than making assumptions. I will also share some of my observations as they will have some bearing on where we go next.

As of this writing, the working group is still considering options for what we do next. We’re balancing the need to keep going with the need to have a thorough discussion on the matter. Through all our discussions we have been able to clearly affirm two things: first, our purpose is to connect young adults with the work of the Church and second, that we’re not done yet.

Come see me at Great Lakes Coffee, Wednesday afternoon!

I’ll be setting up shop at Great Lakes Coffee in Midtown next Wednesday from noon to five PM to talk to anyone interested in the program. Bring any questions you have about the program or the application process. I’ll buy anyone who comes by to talk a cup of coffee.

Look for the Motor City Mission Corps Logo on my table.

Wedesday, June 28, 12PM – 5PM

Great Lakes Coffee
3965 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Come to talk, meet me or just for the free coffee (no judgement).

What are you doing in the fall?

This has been something I’ve been thinking on a lot lately. I’ve been thinking on the some of the most meaningful experiences of my life, when I’ve come to see just a bit more of who God was calling me to be. This is exactly the kind of experience we are setting the stage for this fall.

For me, those times never came when I was following my own plan, but rather chose to step out in faith and up to, what for me was, a big challenge.

  • Study engineering or go to Bible school?
  • Spend summer painting houses or stretching my boundaries working with kids?
  • Stay at a well-paid job in Chicago or move to rural Texas to direct a summer camp?

The opportunity to choose meaning over money is fleeting. Not everybody has that chance. I had the opportunity to choose meaning and it has taken me down a challenging path where I have learned about myself and who God is calling me to be.

The Motor City Mission Corps might be that opportunity for you. This could be a year of trying something new, testing your boundaries and discovering just a bit more of who God is calling you to be. Our program is designed to be challenging. We want participants to see that with a supportive community and the help of the Holy Spirit, they can do more than they thought possible.

But time is running out, you’ve got less than a month before the application for this program year is due. Applications and references need to be in by July 1.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the program or application process. I’m always up for a chat.

I hope to see you in the fall.

Cover photo by Caleb Jones via Unsplash