We made some radical changes heading into our second year of MERGE (’07-’08). The once-a-month frequency of the first year made it difficult for people to remember to come and for connections to grow. The auditorium was big and cold and worked against us. And we needed to get active every once in awhile.
The second year of MERGE looked like this:
- 1st and 3rd Monday of each month in small groups meeting offsite.
- 2nd and 4th Monday of each month at GCC for a gathering in our atrium.
- 5th Monday (whenever there was one) serving at our Community Center in Monroe Circle, South Bend.
We figured most people live their lives in some sort of weekly routine. Even if MERGE wasn’t meeting on-site for a gathering every Monday, you could plug into some sort of MERGE venue every week.
A couple of things happened. Apparently offering groups was a good idea, because on the first night that we launched them, we had more people show up than were coming to the gathering. This underscored the idea that the 18-25 year olds at GCC are looking for connection. If you want to remain anonymous, the weekend services will suit you just fine. If someone is going to come to MERGE, we’re going to assume they want to be known.
And the atrium felt more like home. (The atrium at GCC, which is now our main lobby, was the original auditorium. It feels really good with 50-200 people in it.) Instead of big, ugly gray round tables that seat 6 or 7, we opted for café tables clustered all around, with candles and acoustic music for worship. We were pushing for something that felt more like a living room than a production. And it seemed to work. Rather than people heading for the door when the worship and teaching was over, the atrium turned into a social space used for games (spoons and cornhole topped the list), conversation, and unstructured connecting. The second year at MERGE took us from awkward and unsure towards something that was starting to feel warm and alive, a place where people would want to be known.