By Geoff Holsclaw
Some of you are just beginning to form a cohort, while others have been journeying for a while. But as you all know, life is very interesting as a one hosting an emergent cohort, usually because we are doing it in conjunction with other jobs and interests. As one who started a cohort in Chicago over three years ago, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1) Regeneration: My cohort has had a yearly life cycle, reinventing itself every Fall. It almost feels that every year is a new beginning all over again. There are new participants, new leaders, and new questions. Our first year we met monthly, bringing in discussion leaders from various local seminaries. The second year we did the same, but also started another gathering on the westside of town because a new leader stepped up and offered to lead it. The third year we dissolved the initial monthly gathering (while continuing the new meeting on the westside) and aimed at beginning quarterly gathering that would run longer (5-6 hours) to accommodate those who were coming from a great distance. Now here in the fourth year we are changing leadership quite a bit because new people are stepping up and people who have been around for a while need to back off. All that to say, things are always changing.
2) Level: From the very beginning our cohort desired to be a place where advanced conversation could happen. Whether that has happened is hard to tell. But we have struggled to find an identity and place for both those who are just beginning the conversation, and those who are deeply immersed. The way it played out for us is that our initial gathering was more advanced while the new gathering that met on the westside of town was more for beginners. So we all have to ask what level is this cohort at, or where does it hope to be (which will depend largely on where the leaders are coming from)?
3) Interest vs. Involvement: Let’s just be honest, there will always be more interest than involvement concerning these cohorts. Your email list will probably get larger, but your participation with still only run 10-40 people. And that’s ok. The people who make the time, and enter into tangible, face-to-face relationships are the people you want coming. Don’t plan things around those who won’t come unless Brian McLaren is in town.
4) Geography: For some this will not be a problem, but for others geographic distance becomes daunting. For us in Chicago, it is really difficult to connect with all those who desire to be involved because some people need to drive over an hour to meet up. This is one reason why creating multiple location in large cities might really pay off, but it can be a headache also. For those in smaller cities, God bless you.
5) Motivation: Or lack of motivation. To be totally honest, just about every summer (before the regeneration of the cohort) I would be ready to pack up on the whole cohort thing. It took more time than I had available…It didn’t feel like anything important was happening…The people didn’t seem very committed. But I always hung in there, something new would happen, and I would always be glad to see what was going on among the people. And really above all, I have made incredible relationships with people I would never have know, and been able to walk with people through getting fired from ministry positions to then going off and planting a church. Crazy things will happen through your cohort that will make it all worth it.
Well, that’s enough for now. I hope some of this will aid you all as you begin/continue hosting emergent cohorts.