Thursday, March 5, 2009

Growth

Like every small church, we spend a fair amount of time talking about growth, and have for years... and have not grown. We've gone to growth workshops, brought in growth consultants, sermonized and read on growth... and have not grown. We are not, at the moment, a breakthrough congregation. And yet... and yet...

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.

3 comments:

Red Sphynx said...

Cyn

I'm in a growing UU church > 10%/yr. We have the wind at our back -- very good local demographics, a local economy that will probably weather the recession better than most, a very good minister.

But I look around my metro area and see at least 4 UU congregations that are dying. Five years ago, all five had part time ministers. Now none of them do.

Do you recommend some readings or some wisdom for turning the tide in those congregations?

hugh said...

I am curious to know if there are any figures available as to other congregation sizes in relationship to the population of the area ie: Laning and Ann Arbor. I attended Lansing once and thought sort of expected a bigger congregation. I also believe that I have seen the congregation size of A2 and thought at the time that for the area it was low. I don't know how we measure up but that would be interesting to know the demographic numbers.

I know that for me, it is about the same distance from home to East Liberty as it is to Lansing. Either is too far for me to make it every Sunday. How much does location affect the size of our congregation? Especially today when time is so important to people. Again, for me, it really breaks up my day so much that it is difficult to do much of anything else.

Just a couple of thoughts.....
Great topic,
Hugh

YesMike said...

Somehow a church community experience has to be so compelling that people can't wait for the next worship service and don't question the time, rather than feeling that "it really breaks up my day so much that it is difficult to do much of anything else". If church feels like an interruption in life rather than life-giving, there is definitely a problem.