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Monday, December 29, 2003

The church of Utne readers.

Matthew Gatheringwater condemns the talk of building a Unitarian Universalist growth campaign on marketing efforts targeted to "cultural creatives" (otherwise known as Utne readers). There's some devastating further commentary at Paula's House of Toast about the cultural creatives Web site.

I recently attended a day-long session on Unitarian Universalist growth strategies — more on this in the next week — and my impression is that a marketing-based approach simply won't work. Plus, it's much more expensive than the methods that already do work. Peter Morales studied Unitarian Universalist growth patterns over the last ten years, congregation by congregation, and his findings suggested a few important conclusions:

  • The rate of growth of the UUA's adult membership is one new member per congregation per year. One way to look at this is that we could double our rate of growth simply by doing a better job of welcoming one additional visitor in each church. We don't have to go out looking for these people — every church has visitors. We just have to be more welcoming when they show up. Morales put it more directly: If we could simply stop repelling visitors, we'd double or triple our rate of growth. But that's not the suprising conclusion.

  • Almost all the membership growth in UUA congregations over the last ten years has been concentrated in a fraction of congregations. Sixteen congregations account for 24% of the UUA's growth. (These 16 churches grew by 200 or more members over the last decade.) Forty-six other churches added between 100 and 199 members each, and are responsible for 40% of the UUA's growth. In other words, 62 churches account for 64% of the UUA's growth over the last decade. The remaining 950 or so congregations accounted for only 36% of the Association's membership growth.

In a followup post, I'll list the fastest growing churches. I suspect that these congregations did not grow by self-consciously pursuing Whole Foods shoppers and ecotourists, but by being excellent and welcoming churches.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 29 December 2003 at 11:04 AM

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4 comments:

Melanie:

December 29, 2003 02:52 PM | Permalink for this comment

How about meeting people's spiritual needs as a growth strategy, Philo?

Philocrites:

December 29, 2003 03:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

I assume that a congregation of warm, thoughtful, honest people will meet more of people's "spiritual needs" than they could expect. But a congregation that thinks it knows what these needs are and comes up with a plan to effectively "meet" them just sounds manipulative to me. I really would settle for a warm and nonjudgmental welcome in most UU congregations.

Melanie:

December 30, 2003 02:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

What I mean (in addition to a warm and non-judgemental welcome) is a Sunday morning experience which is meaningful, even worshipful, and RE that has some content for both children and adults. Quality matters.

Philocrites:

January 2, 2004 05:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

Here's a story about the new Dallas-area Unitarian Universalist congregation that self-consciously targets "cultural creatives" (reg req'd):

At Pathways, people don't have to believe that Jesus is the son of God, but they can if they want to. They can believe in the Buddha, heaven and hell, and they can express their beliefs, no matter how controversial.

The Rev. Anthony David, Pathways' lead pastor, wants to give a voice to those with "progressive" religious values and provide a home to those who feel lost in their places of worship.

"We're probably the most progressive church in the area," he said. "We're trying to reach out to all the cultural creatives out there."

He said people should love three things: God, humanity and the planet. As he pointed to a picture of two children standing in a forest under a redwood tree, he explained his goal: to build spiritual redwoods in people, with deep roots and a strong foundation.

"Everyone has a gift and a passion, and we want to help people to find that and live it out," he said.

Pathways has about 75 participants Mr. David doesn't want to call them members until the church is formally organized and holds sporadic worship services on Sunday evenings. . . .

The Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Boston-based association, said the organization was not satisfied with church growth in the last 20 years. Consequently, a new initiative started to create churches and recruit members.

"Our hope is to accelerate the growth of Unitarian Universalism by ... finding a voice for liberal religion and making liberal religion available for those who are yearning for that kind of faith," he said. "In an era where religion has become so individualistic and pluralistic with a great variety of faiths in our culture, the notion of having a church that centers on the individual has some considerable power."

("One church, many beliefs," Kathryn Yegge, Dallas Morning News 12.25.03, reg req'd)



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