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In 2004, I met Andre. He was head of a church called God's Design (the irony of the church name is not lost on me) and a manager of a community center called Meteora . Taking the religious aspect of his activity out of the context, Andre was a great leader from whom I learnt a great deal and this post if going to be about it.

A good leader has a community of like minded people

The thing that impressed me most of all was how he was able to put together a community of like-minded people. About two hundred people attended the event of that organization. Many of them were not even believers (in God). However, they all chose to go there on their Fridays or Saturday and spend hours with other people - talking, playing, dancing, listening to music and listening to Andre talk and preach from the stage. I realize now, as I write, that faith was not what made these people come together; I am not talking about that kind of like-mindedness. After all, many of them did not believe or practice the things Andre talked about to us. It was something else - the sense of community, the need to belong somewhere that was met when we all came there. And of course, it was fun. If it were not fun or fulfilling in any way, Meteora would just be like any other church.

Another successful trait of Andre's leadership is that he had relationships with everyone that attended Meteora. Andre and many other senior members of the organization had a habit of meeting, hugging and talking to everyone who came, not in a corporate way, but very naturally. They would know who you are, what you do in life, what you are interested in, how you got involved with the organization. They would even know what your concerns in life are. And they would have these small (sometimes large) talks with your from time to time, making you feel like you actually had a relationship with them individually, and with the organization. Andre shared the same about his life to people individually and from the stage. You would know about about his childhood, his family and their struggles. Almost nothing was off limits. And that allowed us to trust him.

I must also mention that I learnt to hug people there. Every Friday or Saturday I would hug about five or ten people at least. I can't say that in the Moldovan culture hugging or smiling at people was not a common thing but it was certainly scarce, at least in my life. At Meteora, however, it was plentiful. And that made the connections and friendships we made stronger. No wonder 'free hugs' was such a popular and longlasting flashmob.

 

A good leader has a vision and communicates it well

Another thing that Andre shared from stage was the goals of the organization which, I think, was really the ethos of the community. Andre said that the organization existed because it was meant to do two things - one is help people build a growing relationship with God, and second - help people build growing relationships amongst ourselves. He made a point of repeating this as often as possible and putting in into a context so we know what was this all fun for. Many people believed in both goals, however it was perfectly fine to be there for the community if not for God. You were free to choose why you were part of this community. And I must say, from what I've heard, other Protestant churches resented Meteora for it.

Other churches resented God's Design (the church) and Meteora (the greater community around it) because it was different from the other churches not only because it was free spirited but also because it was better equipped. The building was bright and inviting. It was comfortable and modern. The ceremonies and events we held were done professionally. The organization ran because of its employees but also because of its many volunteers. I myself was helping out with the teleprompter. Our musical band used it for their concerts and Andre used it for his presentations (and sermons). All of this cost money and Andre was a great fundraiser. He went to the USA regularly on fundraising missions and managed to raise funds from American benefactors to keep the activities at Meteora going. Sometimes I wonder how he was able to convince people that live very far away in a very different culture to help keep our organization alive.

A good leader has a community of smaller leaders to take on the vision and carry on

Another thing that makes the organization alive is its active members. Meteora was build using a common Evangelical invention of 'home groups', which are, originally, a smaller group of church goers that get together weekly to study the Bible and build a smaller community of friends and peers. The groups have a leader, usually a slightly older peer from the community that is trained to lead such groups. A church would consists of a number of such smaller home groups. Meteora used this model to create a community of smaller communities and strengthen the relationships of the people that attended Meteora's activities. Andre trained a number of younger members (from the community) with leadership potential to lead activities for youngsters (just like in home groups) on Fridays when it was time to just have fun. Based on this model, projects like 'To love, to party and to rock'n'roll' were born.

 

A good leader makes mistakes and acknowledges them

The last lesson I learnt from Andre was when the organization ceased its activity. One day Andre stepped down from his role of Meteora's leader. He made a mistake. A personal one and I will not go into its details. But it shattered his personal life and the life of the organization. A personal choice that Andre made was against many of the things he preached about. In the end, it was impossible to continue with the activities of the organization. It was literally the end. And he was the first person to acknowledge this.

Why didn't it work?

Unfortunately, continuing exactly like before proved impossible. The organization tried to continue with same activities but it didn't work. There was no spiritual leader - one that can go on the stage and tell people how to live their lives, what is wrong and what is right. But even if you take the religious aspect out of it, there also wasn't anyone who can match the same level of agility, engagement and influence as Andre. There were many people who supported Andre in doing what he did; they knew how everything works and that are the elements. But no one was up for the job when they needed to replace him. It the meantime, the organization started to lose people and momentum.

Rebirth

Replacing, however, was not the answer. The organization had to rethink itself considering the new situation and the resources it had left. After several years of healing and rethinking, Meteora got a lot smaller, cancelled some of its activities and started new ones such as regularly going to care homes and hospitals. This way MeteoraACTION was born

I wish I could speak about its goals and accomplishments but I am not a part of it. Something changed for me when it was all over. The goals have stayed the same, but the people changed. My peers stopped coming and i could not relate to the new leadership. It was time to leave the organisation and let other youngsters discover it. Like I did many years ago.

 

 

Links:

Meteora official Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/MeteoraMD/videos

Home groups: https://robertatkin.net/blog/home-groups-what-is-a-home-group/

A social commercial we shot at Meteora: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sU0XwU9fijc

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