There is still hope, there is still trying, there is still desire for growth.
We have our obstacles. We are at a natural plateau in size, where to grow we would have to move out of family style church and into the next size group: pastoral. We have a small sanctuary, small parking lot, and small religious education spaces, each of which is a limiting factor on growth. We're in a rural location in a community that may not have much potential for growth.
The Rev. Peter Morales, one of the candidates for president of the UUA, once said this:
Why does a movement that says it wants to grow and that has hundreds of thousands of people ready to join it stay so small?
What are the barriers between us and the future we say we want? What can we do to make that future of vital, welcoming, growing churches a reality?
The answer is religion. Really.
Religion. And more specifically, religious community. We have tried all kinds of things, mostly to little or no avail. Ironically, and tragically, we have never tried religion as a growth strategy.
Interesting perspective, yes?
When someone asks you what Unitarian Universalists believe, do you ever answer, "We don't believe anything. You can believe anything you want."? Have you ever described us as a place only of seekers, but not a place where what we seek is found?
We do have a religion. Maybe it's time to try it as a growth strategy. I do believe we have a message that our (yes, conservative, small) city is longing for. I do believe we have a saving message for the world. I wouldn't be devoting my life to this otherwise.
A board member told me recently that she used to feel compelled to share Unitarian Universalism with everyone, becuase it was so important, but now that the message is being spread in so many other ways in our society, it has become less urgent. This same member is responsible for more new members coming to our church than just about any other member.
I don't want her to lose that message. There is still something about Unitarian Universalism that is unique, that is special, that is important to be shared. Yes, our new president used inclusive religious language in his inauguration address; yes, many Christian churches are becoming welcoming; yes, there is a new excitement among political progressives and religious liberals.
But there is still something we have to give our community and the world.
Stay tuned. I'm not done talking about this yet.