Quakers are more than oat-makers

Posted Jul 27, 2012 | New Media Project

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By J. Brent Bill, guest blogger


One hundred twenty-five people or fewer. That’s the description of a small church. By that definition, I belong to a … um … “micro-church.” Our little band of Quakers usually consists of 25 or 30 of us on a Sunday morning.

That’s not unusual for many Friends (our formal name) congregations. We tend toward the small. I’ve heard of some Friends mega-churches, but they’re mostly in southern California where everything seems to be mega. Few of the Friends churches in my area make it out of the “small” category.

Our little group, though, wouldn’t mind being a little bigger.

So we undertook an outreach program called Quaker Quest. Developed by Quakers in Britain and sponsored by Friends General Conference in the US and Canada, “Quaker Quest” is a series of free sessions that gives people a chance to learn about Quakers today. Quaker Quest features personal presentations about a particular faith aspect by two or three local Friends, small group discussions, time for questions and answers, and an opportunity to experience a bit of Quaker worship. Refreshments and childcare are provided as well.

Quaker Quest isn’t about Quaker history or even Quakers in general. It’s about how faith is lived out in our particular Quaker congregation—West Newton Friends Meeting outside of Indianapolis. When we undertook this program, the topics we chose included Quakers and Everyday Life, Quakers and Jesus, and Quakers and Worship.

Our Quaker Quest coach kept reminding us that it wouldn’t do any good to have public sessions if we didn’t let anybody know that we were having them. So we put together a publicity committee—my friend Dale and me.

Dale and I planned a variety of things to get the word out. Some were traditional media: newspaper news releases (which we distributed via email), a banner in our Meetinghouse yard (with a "stand" that said "Meeting tonight" that we put out every meeting evening), and flyers/postcards mailed to visitors and distributed in neighborhoods around the Meeting.

We did other things that were less traditional—some of which poked a little fun at the popular image of Quakers as vaguely Amish or oat-makers. We sent emails to professors of religion departments at all the colleges in the area letting them know that their students would be welcome to come. We updated our website and Facebook page and listed every program as a Facebook event. We joined Meetup and put announcements there. We took out Facebook and Google ads. We rented space on an electronic billboard on a major highway close to our building. One of our billboard ads showed a bowl of oatmeal and announced “Quakers are more than….” The billboard ran our ads once every half hour for two weeks.

We also made YouTube videos. The videos were short (30 seconds), quirky, and easy to make with PowerPoint and Windows Live Movie Maker.

Finally, we rented a blimp to fly-over and flash electronic announcements on its side. Just kidding (though that was the premise of 1967 comedy film on outreach, "The Gospel Blimp").

So did any of these pay off? Well, the first night we had four new people attend. And every evening thereafter, we had four to six visitors. That may not seem like very many, but added to our little band, it felt significant to us. Some folks came week after week. Some only came once.

Not everybody who came began attending worship. Four or five, though, have become regular attendees. Other folks continue to contact us through our website, Facebook page, and YouTube videos. And everything is in place for us to do this series again soon.

Who knows—maybe next time we will get the blimp. Then we can make it to “mini-church” size!

J. Brent Bill
J. Brent Bill is a Quaker minister, retreat leader, author, and photographer. His books include Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God (with Beth Booram), Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment, and many more. He lives on Ploughshares Farm, 50 acres in exurban Indiana being reclaimed as native hardwood forest and tall grass prairie.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

3 Comments

  1. 1 Pat Pope 31 Jan
    Can you provide the link to your You Tube videos?
  2. 2 Brent Bill 31 Jan
    Hi Pat -- Here they are. Just remember, please, that these were very simple videos made w/ PowerPoint slides (converted to JPGs) and Windows Live MovieMaker -- and by a fellow who has no claim of being a great animator!

    Quaker Life http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obxu5In0oCU&feature=plcp

    Who Is Jesus? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4098C_yCTFE&feature=context-cha

    Quaker Quest -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MPONGEnbbI&feature=context-cha

    And here's one of our "Burma Shave" knock-off videos -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uujsE01A-ws&feature=plcp
  3. 3 Pat Pope 31 Jan
    Those were good, Brent. Thanks for sharing.

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