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Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Next 20 fastest growing churches.

Updated 1.5.05: The information in this year-old entry is based on data collected through early 2003. The 2003 figures, however, may actually reflect the church membership figures from 2001-02. This list should not be interpreted as a reflection of current rates of growth —and, unfortunately, I don't yet have comprehensive updated figures.

We've been discussing the sixteen congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association that have grown by more than 200 members in the last decade. The next twenty churches grew by 150 to 199 new adult members between 1993 and 2003, according to annual membership figures submitted by the congregations to the UUA. (I'll post the 100-to-149 churches sometime later this week.)

This cluster is more interesting to me because the variety seems greater. There are several new congregations in this group, and it becomes apparent that while several large congregations continue to grow rapidly, the phenomenon is by no means limited to the large churches. But I'm eager for your assessment and input.

For each congregation, the first number is the most recent number of members (voting adults), as reported in the 2003-2004 UUA Directory. The number in parentheses is the difference between the 1993 number and the 2003 number. I've added each congregation's founding date — some are very old, and a few are less than a decade old — each congregation's location and district, and the names of its ministers (with the date of installation in parentheses).

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 6 January 2004 at 9:56 PM

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January 7, 2004 10:38 AM | Permalink for this comment

Um...growth leads to ministerial turnover? Or comes from it? There's an awful lot of new ministers, interims, and soon-to-depart ministers on this list!


January 8, 2004 08:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

Growth impacts role expectations and relationships. Having been through this as a layleader, I think growth is harder on the minister. I appreciate the struggles that our minister went through. He knew how to be a good pastor of 200. Could he be a good pastor of 500 -and more importantly did he want to. I'm not sure lay leaders are willing to have this dialogue with their minister - or they have the patience to give him/her the time and space to process change. As board president, I was at times frustrated but I also had a lot of respect for our minister of 20 years. It took a lot time and emotional energy for dialogue and processing. Both lay leaders and the minister have to hang in - something UU's aren't always good at.

Annapolis is a very healthy congregation. I would hope there are other healthy churches on this list. What I would like to know is what factors do they have in common. It isn't just knowing what to do. Heaven knows there have been enough workshops on the topic of how to grow. Perhaps certain congregations have reached 'tipping points' According to Gladwell's book on the subject, small changes can turn into larger movement but it takes three kinds of people - people who are well connected, people with lots of useful knowledge, and enthusiastic, persuasive charmers. I'm having a hard time envisioning this alignment of folks happening very often in a UU congregation.

Chris, you probably don't remember me. I am a former mormon and exchanged emails with you about ten years ago. I think you were on your way to Cambridge. I found your site when I was doing some Internet searching on UU history and theology. I'm in a pilot program for UU Lay Leadership Cerfication sponsored by the UUA, Starr King, and the Mountain Learning Center. I don't know if the certification will mean much, but at least now I can do some theological reflection using UU history and heritage. I'm also co-chair of the new Baltimore-Washington Growth Planning Committee - very interesting she says with a half-smile.

Nancy P.
Annapolis Board President


January 8, 2004 08:52 PM | Permalink for this comment

Nancy, what do you suppose it means that two post-Mormons are discussing growth for Unitarian Universalism? (And how nice to become reacquainted!)

You wrote: [I]t takes three kinds of people - people who are well connected, people with lots of useful knowledge, and enthusiastic, persuasive charmers.

Perhaps it would help a lot of churches simply to cultivate people that show signs of having, say, two of these characteristics already. A lot of our churches take a pretty passive attitude toward church leadership, and sometimes put people in leadership positions who don't have these characteristics.

Lay leadership certification: now that's a good idea. Visionary lay people, connecting across congregations to spread good ideas — and, even more importantly, to spread the attitudes and generosity of spirit that would make our movement as dynamic and vibrant as we know it can be! Come back and share what you learn with us.

Rev. Dr. Daniel Connell:

January 14, 2004 08:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

On the list of churches which have grown over the last 10 years:

1) This list was compiled by Rev. Peter Morales, District Services Director of the UUA. Rev. Morales came up with a list by district, of every church in that district, and showed which ones had shrunk, plateaued, and grew over the last 10 years, from UUA directory data. I'm assuming Chris Walton got a hold of this list from Rev. Morales.

2) Rev. Morales noted to a meeting of the Central Midwest District (CMwD) board of trustees, that there didn't seem to be any one fact that overwhelmingly showed growth. He told us that the one consistency among churches who showed substantial growth seemed to be a consistent leadership message (pulpit & perhaps lay leaders) toward growth.

3) Some congregations of medium size showed a lot of growth only because they came into existence during the 10 year period. Clearly, new congregation starts of 150+ adult members is an interesting way to gain more UUs. Having a successful large church is another.

4) I note that most of the congregations showing substantial growth not due to accounting discrepancies are large congregations. I did a study in Metro New York District (MNY) a few years back, and with a couple of exceptions most of the real church growth was in large congregations.

5) In the CMwD, 1 out of 4 UUs are members of the 4 largest UU churches. You might do the math on your district, to see if this pattern holds true.

6) Over the last 10 years, of the UU churches showing the largest growth, virtually none of them spent much time marketing their congregation. They were usually too busy dealing with the problems of growth.

7) In an internal memo, widely circulated within the UUA, it was pointed out that even taking the most wildly optimistic projections of the techniques used for the fast-large start in the Dallas area or from the experience in the Kansas City Metro area, that there was no way cost effective results could be obtained by these methods. It was suggested that a study be done to determine what actually drove growth over the last 10 years among congregations that achieved significant growth, and to use that information to help more widely drive growth within other UUA congregations. That is the reason Rev. Morales had the research done. For whatever reasons, within the UUA administration, Rev. Morales advice was declined.

8) Rev. Morales has left the UUA for his former pulpit in CO.

Rev. Dr. Daniel Connell
Lead Minister
Eliot Unitarian Chapel
St. Louis, MO


January 20, 2004 09:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

Scott Wells is tracking this year's church growth by analyzing the figures submitted to the UUA's Web site. He identifies a handful that grew by 20% or more in a single year. Here's another post about this year's growth.

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