Deanery Lunches – Building Relationships

Just doing my job…

When I became an area dean ten years ago, one of the first things I did was take all of the vicars out for lunch – I had an expense account in those days! I quickly developed the habit of meeting key people over coffee or a meal. It was really good to do this, since it gave people a bit of affirmation and helped me to get a better picture of what was going on around the city…

Missing links…

I soon realised that there was a gap in the system. The more I got out and about, the more I learned about the people and congregations of the deanery. This was great on one level and made me a classic networker – spreading ideas and making connections…

But the connections were really limited!

I remember meeting two people on the same day. Each of them had the same idea for a project and also felt they could become the hub for that kind of thing in the area.

I tried to get them to talk to each other but they never did – and both projects fizzled out…


When Citizens MK was launched there was a lot of talk about 121s. It took me a while to get this particular piece of jargon, but it basically means a “one-to-one” conversation in which two people meet see if they can help each other to achieve their own individual agendas.

Looking back I realised that some of the most successful projects I had been involved with had happened because of this kind of meeting.

I remembered visiting all of the PCC members in Slough when we wanted to reorder the building. Those 121s helped build a common vision for the project and enabled each person to shape the final proposal…

I also remembered my time in Watling Valley when I met each member of the team on their own. I was thanked afterwards for being pastoral, but it was through these meetings that the biggest changes were achieved.

I realised that the best leadership happens through 121s!

Relational Organizations

There is a tendency to think that efficient organizations all adopt a 1980s style business model with hierarchical hero leaders barking orders and imposing their vision – a model reinforced all too publicly by Donald Trump, Alan Sugar and their various apprentices…

Whether it works or not is a really good question, but it certainly doesn’t reflect the kind of organization that the Body of Christ is called to be. Our values should be reflected in the structure of our networks, how we make decisions, and the way we operate.

Churches are essentially called to be relational communities in which people come first – rather than production lines churning out products.

Deanery Lunches

I spent a long time reflecting on how to crack this one. There was a problem with our model because leaders weren’t talking to each other, and when they did come together it was at ‘fraternals’ or chapter meetings. At these meetings people might have 30 seconds to share news – followed by an opportunity for the more vocal of our brethren to compete about who has the biggest [insert word here] or the worst horror stories!

It took me a while, but I eventually came up with the idea that became Deanery Lunches. The idea from the beginning was to limit numbers, so people could share more deeply, but also keep the guest list wide, to build new links and increase the richness of our community.

What do we do?

The project launched in Autumn 2013 and we soon developed a rhythm. It took a lot of work to organise in the early days and we needed to experiment with numbers, venues and booking systems.

Fairly soon a pattern became established and we have continued in this way…

Each half term I send out invites to a list of around forty “leaders”. The list includes clergy, lay people, ecumenical partners and a few others.

People then book in (these days we use Doodle which works reasonably well.) We limit meetings to six people at a time because anything larger tends to break down into separate conversations. It also allows a small buffer should participants cancel at last minute.

We meet at a reasonably priced venue and people buy their own food. I try to locate events closer to people who can’t drive.

The conversations vary enormously each time. Often people are meeting for the first time – which still surprises me after three years! Sometimes people discover common concerns or come up with new ideas. Occasionally, everyone knows each other really well, and they can talk about long term plans. Once or twice somebody has needed some serious support…

The Future?

Deanery Lunches have turned out to be a really significant – but seemingly insignificant – innovation. They’re still popular and some people feel they’ve really missed out if they can’t get a place. In general, they have changed the culture of our deanery and helped embed a more relational way of working.

They don’t seem to be a big thing, but the important things seldom do…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.