Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about collective identity. When a group of people think something bad will happen, it usually does. Chicago Cubs fans assume their team will choke in the playoffs. So when a big game comes and something goes wrong, all confidence leaves the building. And lo and behold, the team chokes. The entire city of Philadelphia struggled with this for years: “Of course it will go wrong; it’s Philadelphia.” And the same was true of Ireland for centuries. Collective identity leads to expected results.
In Bristol, where we faithfully try to be the church, there is a crappy narrative. Everyone in Bristol assumes that nothing good will happen in Bristol. They assume all good efforts will end in disappointment. They assume that nothing can really change. I’ve been told that Bristol is a lost cause. I’ve been warned, ‘this place destroys pastors.’ When new and beautiful things happen in Bristol, the town remains distant and skeptical. The narratives of apathy and defeat become self-fulfilling prophecies. Emails don’t get returned. Everyone shows up late. Local businesses don’t get local support.
It’s become my conviction that if we are going to see this town flourish, we need to change the narrative. Unfortunately, this seems easier said than done. And I would love any thoughts as to how to make this happen. My initial thoughts:
- Bathe ourselves in the story of God. We need to know a different narrative ourselves – one of hope, restoration, and the remaking of all things. I always say church planters are those who see a place with ‘new eyes.’
- Be persistent in hope. Even when local businesses fail. Even when first efforts fall apart. I think we need to be almost stupidly hopeful.
- Preach it on the streets. We can’t just preach it on Sundays. We have to get out of our church building and help Bristolians rediscover hope. We need to challenge the reigning despair and be public witnesses of the new life of Christ.
This still needs some work. I would love your thoughts. When a town or an institution is drowning in its own negative narrative, how do you change the script?