Now we can Begin

At the last UUA Board meeting, the Board appropriated $100K to do something to resolve the impasse between the Board and the President.

People asked a lot of questions about this.

The President made a statement.

The Moderator made a statement.

The Board made a statement.

Individuals made a wide variety of statements and counter-statements, trying to establish what has happened, what was really said and what was really meant.

The Bottom Line:

There has not been significant growth for UU congregations as a whole in several years, despite growth being the metric we have all agreed on for this whole time.

The strategies we have are not working.

The UUA Board would like to know what is working, what is not working, and a plan to make sure that our money is being spent to pursue strategies that have a good chance of success. They are frustrated because the Administration cannot. will not, or does not want to give them that information.

I am reasonably sure that the Board does not think that the Administration actually knows the answers to all those questions, but is keeping them secret. I am also very sure that the Board does not know the answer to all those questions but wants to see if the Administration can get the right answer on their own.

The most likely scenario is that nobody knows why we are not growing, about what is working and what is not working.

Now we can begin.

I think that we should clear the deck and declare the whole era of "UU Growth" to be over. "Salted with Fire" came out when I was in seminary in the late 90's. We have assumed that the potential for our growth has been very great for decades and it hasn't happened.

We should imagine a new goal and purpose now: a new way to organize our work. Maybe instead of trying to grow our membership, we should think about planting churches, or establishing networks, or evangelism into specific communities, or establishing inter-religious partnerships. Maybe we should try to see how many independent missionary/ministers we can deploy into communities of need. Maybe we should set a goal that every UU church or fellowship helps organize another liberal religious institution that worships in another language. Maybe we should see how many houses modeled after the Catholic Worker houses we can establish.

Maybe we should stop and think. What is the message of liberal religion, of Unitarian Universalism, stripped of all its institutional forms. If a person was plunked down in a strange city that had never been touched by UUism -- how would that person BE a UU.

I think that there are people all over the UUA, lay people, ministers, people on the staff, people on the district and region boards, people of the UUA's board that are ready and willing and able to take up a new start, and a new beginning.

Unitarian Universalism is a baby bird still trapped inside its shell. All this discomfort and wrestling around is going on inside the shell -- it feels awful. But we are wrestling around to get our tiny little soft beak in position to start poking on that shell, to start cracking it open, so we pop out first head and then a foot and then wings to fly. Maybe the shell is too hard; maybe our beak is too soft; maybe we are not ready yet. But someday, we will fly.


  1. Clyde Grubbs5:30 PM

    If you mean "growth" as indicated by increase in APF as reported by congregations is no longer a meaningful way of judging our success, then I agree.

    Since Bill Schultz's adminstration we have doubled our active UU ministers, colleagues actively doing compensated ministries. Most of the colleagues achieving UU fellowship these days are under 40. Women are getting settled at the same rate as men. Gay folks are not having the failed canddacies that happened too often twenty five years ago. The people of color in our ministry was less than 10 and only four in regualr settlemets twenty five years ago, that has changed significantly, seven time or more?

    We have changed qualatatively, and I think that we have grown in ways that APF doesn't measure.

  2. Clyde, those changes are all about ministers, not congregational growth. A younger, more diverse ministry means nothing if the congregations that need it most can't afford it.

    No change in the UUA governance structure is going to create growth in my congregation, and it angers me to see more than our entire annual budget being spent to decide how to measure what can't *be* measured. The changes needed by the UUA are qualitative, not quantitative, and "better" or different numbers still won't tell anything vital about qualitative change.

    Growth comes from small but thriving congregations adding new members. But, as a lay leader in a small congregation in an impoverished county for 8 years, I have seen an ever decreasing level of support and services at the congregational level.

    Until the UUA decides to look at what obstacles it places in the paths of small congregations, all the governance changes in the world are a wasted effort.

    What obstacles am I talking about?

    Broken organizational structures, like clusters that can't even manage to announce their meetings to their members in a timely fashion.

    UUMF Rules that highly favor the ministers, while ignoring the needs of the people, such as the rules that say once a minister leaves us, we may not have contact for 3 years, and that seem to discourage our outgoing and incoming ministers from ever speaking to each other.

    Revolving door ministry forced on us by a system that does not support our need for permanent ministry unless it is full time: we will hire our 5th minister in 7 years next month. We spend as much or more time training them to our needs than they do training us, which is very expensive for us.

    Failure to recognize, support and credential lay ministers. We exist. If you do ministry 60 hours a week as a lay person, you are a lay minister, our society has no other name for this. Yet, if we call ourselves what we are,lay ministers, we are (often rudely) informed by our UU ministers that, while lay people "do lay ministry", we are not "lay ministers."

    So we get no recognition, no support, no training, because the credentialed ministers view lay ministers as competitors, instead of coworkers, and the UUA allows these employees to make their own rules that do not well serve the people.

    Leadership training that requires Floridians to travel to N Georgia or Texas, making it impossible for us to send more than one or two leaders to training each year, and then only if we can afford hundreds of dollars per leader in transportation, lodging and registration fees.

    I could continue, but I think you get the idea. If the UUA wants growth there is really only one way to get there: HELP the small growing congregations. Help us connect. Help us gain access to ministry. Help us gain access to training.

    Please don't use our money, so hard to raise, so hard to share, funding consultants to show new ways to measure why we don't grow.

    We *are* growing, despite all the obstacles. Imagine how much we could do if we could get continuous ministry, support from our neighboring congregations, and affordable, accessible training.

  3. Hi Tericay- Lay Ministers do get a bad press in Unitarian Universalism, and are often not welcomed by the parish clergy. I am the President of the Unitarian Universalist Society for Community Ministries ( and we have a healthy membership that includes Lay Community Ministers. But they have to fight too hard for recognition.

    On another topic--I think we do know the approaches that contribute to numerical growth. Sociologists like T. M. Luhrmann have done careful research on the factors that contribute to growth in religious community. Additionally, consultants in the liberal community such as Mike Durall have show consistently that congregations can grow if they follow certain rules. The problem isn't that we don't know how to grow. I think the problem is that as a denomination we are not willing to embrace the changes we would have to make in order to be able to grow.

  4. Anonymous2:25 AM


    Your posts and the equal space you have provided for discussion has been absolutely amazing.

    I've truly enjoyed following these recent blog posts even when we don't always agree on the topic.

    Recently, my congregation had visioning sessions and someone said that they wanted a "charismatic, youthful minister" and an elder of the congregation was offended that "not only are the young charismatic". This is a congregation that sees multiple young adult visitors each Sunday but can't keep them. Our younger ministers are the voice of the future of Unitarian Universalism, for the most part they grew up UU and hold UU values in the deepest part of their being.

    Our faith guides my life and fulfills my soul, it is why I became a DRE. If we want to grow, we need to keep our young adults.

  5. Anonymous9:45 PM

    The pieces are fitting together. The UUA ministerial placement office once said of our congregation in a happy tone "And you guys even LIKE ministers!". I had no idea what he meant, thinking of course we are a church, we like ministers. But after 4 years in church leadership with interaction with the UUA I agree with what tericay said: "those changes are all about ministers" In fact, my experience was that the UUA's priorities were heavily minister-centric. I don't believe this $100K will change that. It is not better metrics needed, it is a wholesale reduction (50% would not be overstated from this past-president's view) in the staff. And by the way, I'd suggest no architectural drawings be started on the new facility til there's a better sense of how big (small)the UUA is going to be 10 years from now.

  6. Tom--
    as one of last Sunday's new MDiv's from Meadville, I would be thrilled to be able to work in practically any of the groundbreaking suggestions you made. The needs of our communities are so great, and honestly--the disagreements we waste time on are so puny--I believe we would be far better served by focusing on the former rather than the latter.

  7. Congratulations to you, Diggit, Homegirl!


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