Quitting is not the same as giving up. In fact sometimes you need to give up in order to succeed. Sometimes you need to give up in order to lead. Sometimes you need to get up and walk out in order to walk on, make real progress and affect real change. Have you ever felt that the educational system, the government, society in general, even church is so dysfunctional that it really is time to drop out and start over? Not a sit on the couch and eventually let someone else support you and the fact that you’ve quit on life – yours as well as the world’s kind of dropping out, but a dropping out that takes the courage to start something of your own from the bottom up and make it on your own in a parallel existence. A real in the world, but not of it type of life? Well there’s a name for you and people are already doing it.
According to Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze in their new book, Walk Out, Walk On, you are a “walk out.” What’s a walk out? According to Wheatley and Frieze Walk Outs learn quickly, take greater risks, and support one another in pioneering work. New Systems are born from their efforts. They find each other and connect, such as on UU Growth Lab, or that cluster of people you meet who are ready to chuck it all and start their own new congregation.
(Are you a Walk Out? – find out here.)
Early in Wheatley and Frieze’s book Walk Out, Walk On they present a list from the Harvard Business Review on how to “Scale up” what we call growth in church work:
“There are five steps for successful replication. 1. Make sure you have something that can be copied and that is worth copying. 2. Work from a single template. It provides proof of success, performance measurements, a tactical approach, and a reference for when problems arise. 3. Copy the example exactly. 4. Make changes only after you achieve acceptable results. 5. Don’t throw away the template.”
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Make sure you have something worth copying. Well,dang it, we can stop right there. What are we copying when we do “UU church growth”? Are we copying a particular congregation? Are we copying Unitarian Universalism in general? Our nonexistent creed? Our principles? A vague and mysterious “healthy congregation”? All of the above? Whenever I’ve been at a church growth seminar or workshop it’s usually some combination of the above, that is then presented as if it were #2- a single template that could provide proof of success, performance measurements, and various tactical approaches and just like looking it up in the Alban Institute online search database-a reference for when problems arise. Ordained and lay leaders are asked to copy this mythical congregational example exactly (and of course feel frustrated and discouraged when they can’t come close to it, and this causes more stress and anxiety requiring more workshops and more consultants). Few real adaptive changes are ever made because few congregations ever achieve acceptable results and the feel free to break the template or throw it away. The UU Growth Lab is conversation largely being had by Walk Outs.
Here’s to breaking and throwing away the template because, among other things, it’s no longer seems worth copying and no one seems to be willing to admit it. In the UUA it seems our biggest, healthiest congregations have more in common structurally and/or in style with non-denominational campus churches than they do with traditional UU congregational churches. The old model and system of individual stand alone congregations is dying, dysfunctional and economically unsustainable.
Wheatley and Frieze contrast scaling up with scaling across. Scaling across is being done locally in many types of religious communities today. Emergent communities, missional communities, and new monastic communities, all reach across local boundaries to connect with others doing the same type of work in other locations, but still retain their own specific local focus.
I’m not saying there aren’t best practices and skills and tools that are good to know,but they are not the same for everybody and they can differ, sometimes drastically, given the local situation and culture. What if our mission in each congregation and as an association was not “to grow,” but to develop individuals and communities spiritually? What if our mission was to serve our individual local communities? How would each of our translocal churches do that given the economic, personnel, membership, and spiritual realities in each translocal location? (Remember this is a different question than how can each community be like a bigger successful UU Church?) That would be a new way to be a church community. It sure would make the annual report to the UUA look different. It may even make it completely unnecessary.