This post is about the philosophy of personal buy-in — the idea that, unless one has invested into something in some way, the commitment and “buy-in” will not be significant enough to make a difference.

In communities, this means that each individual member should invest into the community, or have a previous investment into it before ‘joining’. Using my involvement with the LoveBristol Community as an example, their ethos or vision paralleled with my own in some areas. The fact they’re focused on local social regeneration in a practical and spiritual way was something into which I already had a deep personal investment. I also shared the desire to be a part of growing a new community through action, as well as the journey of learning together.

Personal investment / buy-in could be one or more of the following things, for example:

  • Financial investment
    There is an accepted value of money, and when it’s parted with, it hurts. When individuals tithe or invest into a community, that individual creates in themselves a personal interest in seeing it flourish and be healthy.
  • Friendship investment
    If you have invested into a person as a friend or otherwise, and that person is a part of a particular community, you inadvertently have an investment into the community itself.
  • Time investment
    For example, I have invested a lot of time into LoveBristol, and the more I invest the more ‘invested’ I feel.

These are not complex methodologies or principles, these are simple human nature. It’s just the that, if you purchase a Ferrari worth two years of your income, you’re more likely to care for it than if you purchased a Diahatsu off Ebay with a week’s wages. You’ve spent more money, it hurts more, therefore you’re more likely to value it more. When you value something, you take care of it.

Personal investment in community

I’m highlighting this principle because, though it’s simple, it is powerful. As I mentioned in my last post in this series, each community member must be important – their investment and presence must matter. If it doesn’t they will have no reason to care for the rest of the community members or the entity of the community itself. I believe that this is a common problem in modern faith-based communities, and here’s a couple of ways I think it effects them:

  1. Hierarchy saps member initiative
    Having an explicit hierarchy is fine, but it must be fluid. Leaders must be servants, not dictators or even the sole visionary. If one or a few leaders in the community assume control over vision, teaching, learning, worship, prayer, projects etc, there is no room left for members to input and invest. If all those interesting parts of community are ‘sewn-up’, there is nothing left to be interested in.
  2. Low investment demand caps member involvement
    Members should not only be allowed to input, their input should be almost as crucial to the health of the community as a leader’s input. If leaders are controlling everything and telling everyone what to do (this can be as subtle as simply leading a service), everyone assumes the plan is complete and needs no further development. But this notion is inherently non-communal.

When community becomes company

If there is no every-member involvement apart from participation and attendance, there is no community. If there is no shared value system that can be challenged and developed, there is no community. If there is no room for suggestions, sharing and real member power-to-influence, there is no community.

Communities must be fluid. It helps if there’s some sort of order. Leadership is a service role. But these things must be constantly checked and made sure their not overpowering the members’ personal investment. Leadership, schedules, vision and ideas must be held loosely, not controlled.

When community is controlled, it becomes company.

The wisdom of releasing control

Each member of a community is as essential as the next. The leader, pastor, worship leader or outspoken member is not more important than the quiet member who sits in the corner. Each member must be able to influence the whole, and each member must be free to engage with the whole without fear of retribution.

It is not about balance

This is not about marketing. People need to actually have influence, not just think they have it. The community must be flexible enough to be changed in order to avoid stagnation. Maintenance is not progress, it is retrogression. There is no balance between leadership and members – everyone is a member, but each may have different roles. If each member’s role / strength is not valued by the whole, the community will miss out on the myriad gifts brought by all members, and in-turn, stagnate.

In a word, if a leader wants their community to be healthy, they should consider themselves little more than an important member of the community with a specific role and strength which is a service, rather than its leader. After all, the community does not belong to its leaders, it belongs to God, and control of a community results in its stagnation and eventual retrogression and finally death.

What should the “buy-in” be?

I believe several levels of ‘buy-in’ can be useful, but there is a core buy-in which is crucial to all communities. This is simply the ability to influence. The ability to influence is a reason to invest, and eventually creates the ‘buy-in’.