Here We Grow, Again

Here We Grow is part of a UUA pilot program on congregational growth and vitality – don’t forget the vitality part – taking place here in the Clara Barton District and in a few other districts around the country. In each district, a small number of congregations are working with district staff, UUA consultants and congregational mentors on growing their congregations – and it’s not just about numbers in the pews – and making their churches vibrant, exciting places to be. I am serving as mentor to one of the congregations. We are having a retreat this weekend to check in on this year’s progress and learn more about congregational growth and vitatlity.

Sheperding this project is UU consultant Stan Crow, whose work on mentoring I know from my work with Coming of Age programs. Stan has been nothing short of spectacular. He’s a great guy and wonderful facilitator.

Here are some of the great tidbits from Stan this weekend. I believe this first one is something he said came from UU minister Robert Latham, author of Moving on From Church Folly Lane.

All religious organizations have the same religious mission:
1. to transform human lives – bring people to a sense of people not living full lives to people who are living full lives.
2. to make the world a better place to live for all

The difference is how we enact our values. How we live out our values.

Where Stan went next was the heart of the entire issue behind congregational growth in my opinion – lack of religious mission; the tendency of Unitarian Universalists to see church activity as just another social involvement and not as a religious or spiritual calling or ministry.

To be a UU is to be in ministry. We don’t talk about this.

Stan then went on to tell a fascinating story about a conversation he had with an LDS leader at an event their congregations did together. Stan asked on average how many converts Mormon young people made on their required mission trips, undertaken in paired teams. This woman’s response: Two – themselves. The process of telling their faith story over and over helps them internalize it.

What is our faith story? How do we tell it? Not what are our principles and purposes, but what is our faith story and how do we tell it? Who are its heroes and heroines and champions and what great deeds and what distant times have brought us to here and how are we a part of it?

Do our congregations have a mission to continue this faith story? Do our congregations have a mission to serve the community and each other?

Stan then said something I had actually mentioned in a sermon this year.

What if all committees were no longer committees but ministries?

Shared ministry objective: To retell the story of ministry in our congregation, so that everyone could see their church engagement as ministry.

People don’t like to join committees, but they do like to get involved in things that feed their spirit. Combine committees, reduce their number. Don’t meet on Sundays before or after service. Replace committees with small group ministries.

One my favorite pieces of the presentation was this breakdown of ministry that Stan shared from his home congregation:

Ministry of lifelong spiritual exploration and growth: Lifespan learning (Family ministry), Gathered community worship (including music ministry), Small Group ministry.

Ministries of service and action:
Peace and justice, congregational leadership, welcoming and outreach ministry.

Here are some of my other favorite tidbits.

Functional characteristics of a vital congregation:

1.Several competent programs and activities
2.Open accessiblitiy
3.High visibility

Barriers to growth

1.We have a weak sense of calling to reach out beyond our current members.
Translation of what this statement actually means:

We are not too confident about our chosen faith being acceptable to our friends and neighbors.
We don’t have a strong story about why others should be become UU’s.
We haven’t decided to rehears our Good News. We haven’t decided what our good news is or why to proclaim it.
We really feel more comfortable being small and knowing everybody.

2. We are not educated about size dynamics and growth plateaus.

3. Our physical space is limiting our growth.

What is the endowment for?
Each congregation has to decided, but what difference does it make if the endowment survives and the congregation dies?

Where do visitor’s come from to UU congregations? 2006 UUCB source of visitors.

Friends 39%
Internet 30%

I continue to be amazed how behind UU’s are, technologically speaking. When I asked how many people regularly read UU blogs and listen to UU podcasts, only two other people in the room of almost 20 people raised their hands. There are people doing church well in the twenty-first century, but by and large, they are not those of us with liberal religious values. There are not a lot of thriving liberal congregations and I don’t believe it’s not because there are not a lot of people out there who don’t share our values and believes. I think it’s because we insist on “doing church” like it’s 1957 when it’s 2008 and inward focussed, multiple committee layered, delayed decision making structures that emphasize process over mission are not seen as welcoming, exciting places that nourish the spirit even by liberal religious seekers looking for a place to be nourished and connect with others who want to put their values into action.

Some must resources for today’s post:

The Almost Church by Michael Durall

Micah’s Porch – Rev. David Owen O’Quill meets with UU’s in a Chicago Bar

More on Micah’s Porch by Arbitrary Remarks

Emergent Church sermon by Ron Robinson

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