Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What Your Church Needs Are Patrons

I live in a bedroom community of Augusta, Georgia. This first full week in Augusta the region hosts the Masters golf tournament and everything changes in our metro area. The Masters is one of the four major championships in professional golf and is a sight to behold and experience.

Many locals leave town as the world arrives. If you aren't working the tournament, or in the service industry, you might be a family that rents their home out for the week to someone coming into town for the tournament. Traffic picks up substantially in the 5-10 mile area around the Augusta National. Even our language changes.

There is a lot of talk for a few weeks about patrons.

Those who attend the tournament are called patrons. This isn't a word typically used in everyday conversation. It is a different, old word, that speaks of an active, regular supporter of a venture as they give their energy, time, and funds to an effort. In our area it seems to be reserved, almost exclusively, to describe Masters guests. The patrons pay for a ticket and the chance to attend the tournament held by the private club. They have the opportunity to become part of the tradition, of the history, of the current drama and excitement found at this masterpiece of Bobby Jones, Clifford Roberts, and Alister McKenzie (and the score of leaders since it's inception who continue the heritage).

But there are expectations. There are rules. There are traditions that one must personally bring to life and continue.

No cell phones.
No cameras on tournament days.
No large bags or purses.
No collapsible chair with armrests.
No buying, selling, or trading tickets on or near tournament grounds.
And there is more.

Of course, the Masters experience is so much more than just a "do not" list. The patrons, such a strong descriptor that signals they are much more than a spectator, pay for their Masters badges and that allows access to history in the making. The patron becomes part of both the tradition and this exciting chapter of the story.

The patrons know the golfers, the great stories of old, and the best vantage points for the current drama.

The patrons partake of the pimento cheese sandwiches and souvenirs and the people watching.

The patrons certainly know about green jackets.

The patrons urge on the players, and in some intriguing ways, become central to the story as they are pressed up into the action. At times the lines become blurred as there is a Sunday competition for children, a Par 3 contest on Wednesday, and long time volunteers who are characters of the Masters.

The patrons know of Amen Corner and Butler Cabin, of Berckmans Road and on Rae's Creek, and are generally eager to help others experience the wonder of the course and the tournament. You can feel the anticipation in the air, on the grounds, in the crowd.

The Masters golf tournament is often spoken of as "a tradition unlike any other" and the patron is part of that legend. The patron gets swept up in the vital role of the patrons.

This time of the year, in Augusta, Georgia, and perhaps in other places, everything revolves around golf and the patrons. The truth is that the patrons bring the game as much as the golfers do!

As I think about this excitement and tradition, I wonder how other organizations might cultivate their patrons.

This could be a challenging task if transferred from an annual event to a weekly patronage. But, then again, I know Augusta National leadership well enough to know that they work hard at their task 52 weeks a year.

Specifically related to my world of work: I wonder, in this week after Easter, how most churches would be transformed if members became patrons. It would take some effort, expectation, focus, and prioritization. Cultivating patrons is different than cultivating guests or paying members. And I wouldn't think of this narrowly as one or two moneyed individuals who pay the bills. Instead, I'm thinking of the engagement of time, energy, funds, and the whole of the congregation in the life of a church. It certainly seems to me that we can learn some things and create new, exciting realities if we grow a church culture of patrons. In my experience of following Christ, this could be a natural, helpful corrective that enlivens church life as we help folk find their place at this intersection of tradition and history in the making.

So, as you stare at a dogwood, or have occasion to walk the Augusta National or watch on TV, imagine with me what it could mean for a congregation- for your congregation- to cultivate a culture of patrons.

Possible questions for discussion with your church or ministry leadership:

  • What are your expectations- in membership and stewardship- of everyone associated with the church and how do you communicate that?
  • How do you share the tradition while expressing what is happening today? What is your shared language?
  • What are the priorities and associated timeline for your organization? Does everyone have a job/place/relationship in those priorities?
  • How might a culture of cultivating patrons differ from what you are doing now?
  • What helpful changes might you make in developing an action plan to create patrons?

No comments: