Unitarian Universalists are interested in “growth.” Congregations want to know how to “grow” and the Unitarian Universalist Association as a whole wants to “grow.” The facebook page UU Growth Lab expanded exponentially and has over 1,000 members. The Unitarian Universalist Association now has “Growth Specialists” on their national staff. I am a fan of both the UU Growth Lab and our UU Growth Specialists. I’m not a fan because the lab and the specialists deal with “growth.” I am fan of the Lab and the Specialists because they discuss ways to energize, revitalize, and renew Unitarian Universalism. Ironically, or maybe it’s paradoxically, I do not think focussing on “growth” is a particularly good way to do these things. All too frequently the growth discussion is dominated by numerical growth. Numerical growth means increasing membership and growing involves attracting more people to our congregations (and our movement) and better ways to advertise, promote, and brand ourselves. None of this is in and of itself is bad. These are good things for congregations and the UUA to know how to do as effectively as possible. I want there to be many more Unitarian Universalists too. Yet, I wonder if we can be doing more than “growing.”
I’ve begun thinking recently of growth as the Unitarian Universalist version of “saved.” Many evangelical Christians, especially in the bible belt, want to “save” you. They ask if you are “saved” by which they mean they want to know if you have accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and savior so that an angry God won’t send you hell. This is something at which Unitarian Universalists recoil as a general rule. However, I wonder if our fascination with growth amounts to much the same thing. When an Evangelical asks if you are “saved,” they are not concerned with your lived experience, they want to know if you have stated the correct doctrinal formula, accepted Jesus, and believe in the creeds of the church, the inerrancy of the bible and so on. The big concern is not really you, but whether or not you have joined the team; whether or not you have become one of them; whether or not you call yourself a Christian. When Unitarian Universalists speak of growth, they don’t really want to know how much spiritual deepening you’ve done, how much spiritual growth you’ve experienced, or how much service you’ve rendered to your community. What Unitarian Universalists want to know is “are you one of us?” Have you joined the tribe or have you gotten others to join the tribe? Both growth and being saved strike me as being more about increasing the number of people in the fold than anything else.
Christians who are preoccupied with saving souls for Jesus are usually not very involved in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the sick and dying and bereaved, or championing the causes of social, economic and environmental justice. I worry that as Unitarian Universalism gathers steam around “growth,” Unitarian Universalists become no more deeply involved in feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, or Standing on the Side of Love. The mission of those interested in saving souls and the mission of those interested in growth seem to be the same – to increase the numbers of those who claim the faith.
I wonder if Unitarian Universalism puts so much energy into growth is because we lack a driving mission. I get the feeling that the mission and purpose of Unitarian Universalism is to make more Unitarian Universalists. When we have more Unitarian Universalists we will teach them how to make more Unitarian Universalists. Aren’t there better things for us to be doing?
My lack of interest in and my lack of respect for Christians who are interested in saving souls has nothing to do with their passion for their faith. I don’t respect saving souls for saving souls sake. I respect living life in such a way that it reflects the teaching and ministry of Jesus. My lack of interest in growth has nothing to do with the passion and urgency that faith growers, growth-labbers and growth specialists and consultants bring to their task because, as I said earlier, the growth conversation has a lot of energy related to renewal, reinvigoration, and energizing our movement and I love this. My lack of interest in “growth” per se surfaces because I have much more interest in how deeply Unitarian Universalists walk the talk – how are we creating beloved community? How are we standing on the side of love? While powers and systems create hells on earth, what are we doing to love the hell out of the world? What is the driving mission that compels us to change the world, one life at a time?