Numbers may not lie, but they don’t always tell the whole story, either.
Everything was set for CCC’s inaugural First Tuesday at the Friendship House on Orange. Hundreds of flyers had been hand-delivered to the neighborhood and reminders sent to many. Ideas had been tossed around, a plan made, supplies purchased. Things were perfectly arranged as we waited to greet the neighborhood elementary school children we had invited for food, crafts and games.
We are never sure how many to plan for when we introduce a new gathering in our neighborhood. We are never really even sure what a good number would be – something that would be applaudable on a monthly report, but not overwhelm the space and available hot dogs.
It was unbelievably beautiful for a February evening, and we sat outside at our registration table expectantly. The Friendship House girls, Emma and Abbey, got a game of Scatter Dodgeball going with the Young Leaders of Abilene volunteers who showed up to help with the evening’s activities. A neighbor boy hurried over to join the fray, and before long a new family living nearby drifted over and jumped in the game. It now seemed like a big enough group to fire up the grill and cook a few hotdogs, break open the chips and even pop the seal on the pink-sprinkled cookies.
After dinner, the small group headed inside to rotate through the craft and game stations. When all the fishy valentines were glued together, the room filled with laughter – and plenty of competition – as the group vied for the Minute to Win It Valentine championship. Stacking candy conversation hearts on a tongue depressor while it is actually on your tongue is harder than you think. Try it and see!
In this work, numbers often lead to tension. How much time and energy do we invest in one-on-one relationships, as opposed to big group programs and activities? And when we have those large gatherings, how many does it take to make it worth our while? I can remember when I began working as a community coordinator being worried that no one would show up – and the ensuing disappointment if my fears were realized.
Sometimes big things come in small packages, and sometimes magic happens with small numbers. That was the case with our first “First Tuesday.” Magic. It wasn’t hectic or hurried. It wasn’t crowded or chaotic. The timid new middle schoolers felt comfortable joining the activities. The YLA volunteers had a chance to bond with the young girls over a game of Stackable Cups. The mother got to meet all of us at CCC and observe the environment into which we were inviting her children for monthly activities. We had enough present to proceed with the planned activities, but few enough so as not to overwhelm and prevent good conversation.
We stumbled upon this truth: We have overlooked the value of the “small group.” Rather than just meeting the low numbers with a sigh, and an “Oh, well,” we should intentionally incorporate these intimate gatherings into our plans.
In the end, all of our concerns about having a good crowd faded from our minds.
The perfect crowd had come.