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Saturday, January 21, 2006

UU growth update.

I've been following the progress over at the annual UUA certification of congregations. With about one quarter of all UU congregations having certified, it looks like growth is slower this year. Let's compare:

2005-2006 through January 19
Number of congregations: 267
Number of adult members: 42,177
Net Change: +301 Members
Percentage Growth: +0.72%

Compare this with last year through the first 267 congregations:

2004-2005 (first 267 congregations only)
Number of Congregations: 267
Number of Adult Members: 42,133
Net Change: +849
Percentage Growth: +2.02%

There is one thing I may note about these numbers. The growth in 2005-2006 is lower because two Federated congregations reported a combined loss of 199 members. Interestingly, these two same congregations reported a gain of exactly 199 members in 2004-2005. However, even if we don't consider these two congregations, growth is still about half what it was in the previous year.

A methodological note: My tally consists only of UU congregations in the United States. I do not count the UU congregations in Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, or the Phillipines. I also do not include in my tally the Church of the Larger (Largest?) Fellowship. (If anyone wants to argue that I should, I'd be willing to listen to that argument.)

Copyright © 2006 by Thom Belote | Posted 21 January 2006 at 10:04 AM

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January 21, 2006 11:56 AM | Permalink for this comment

I wonder if you could explain why you do not include the Church of the Larger Fellowship? I was just having a discussion yesterday about the stance of the UUA that this is a congregationally-based movement. Which it may very well be, but I was thinking about it in terms of Buddhists who, for instance, are not a part of a sangha but still understand themselves to be quite Buddhist and most certainly practicing. I imagine that there are UUs like this too and I would think we would at least want to count self-identified UUs who make the effort to join CLF. Do we want to count (even if it were possible) those not affiliated with any sort of structure but who might be free-floating UUs? Probably not, but I see no reason not to count CLF folks. Just a thought.


January 21, 2006 12:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think you should count all congregations in the UUA. Of course that includes CLF. And why making distinctions if you are American or non-American? If you are American, you're in, and if you are not American, you're out? Somebody might just conclude that non-American UUs are considered second-class UUs...


January 21, 2006 01:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'll defend Thom's choice to exclude CLF figures. The growth dynamics that congregational leaders need to understand are those that apply directly to local congregations; CLF is a one-of-a-kind congregation without a geographical location. If Thom were looking at the growth of religious liberalism as a phenomenon rather than at the membership dynamics of Unitarian Universalist congregations, CLF would obviously be relevant.

I think it's a technical definition of congregation that puts CLF in the same category as a neighborhood church, but functionally it behaves like a very different sort of membership organization.

Julie B:

January 21, 2006 02:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

I am a member of CLF it is a congregation, I signed up as a member, I pledge, I receive the UU World. I travel full time and do not usually have access to a UU congregation housed in a building. We have ministers, we are providing Covenant Groups. I fail to follow the reasoning for excluding the CLF. I would be free floating if I did not join a congregation but the CLF is my congregation.
The CLF provides some additional services but I believe is treated like a congregation by the UUA.


January 21, 2006 02:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, this is my tally, so I'll count the numbers how I want to count them.

It would be wrong to think of my exclusion of non-US congregations and the CLF as disrespecting those groups. Actually, what I am most interested in is the power of the UUA and religious sociological trends in the United States. To say that the UU church in the Philippines gained 500 members means something different than if the UU church in Kansas City gained that many.

My decision not to count CLF is based on a different criteria. CLF, if I understand correctly, contains members who 1) live in areas of the US or world where there is no UU church; 2) live in areas where there is a UU church they do not like and so belong to the CLF; or 3) hold membership at another UU church but enjoy CLF resources as well. How many members are duplicate members? Again, I'm willing to listen to other views here.

At the end of the day, however, I should remind people that membership numbers do not accurately paint a picture of the vitality of our movement. What are our attendance figures? How many people do we serve in ministry? What's our impact in the communities in which our congregations are situated? How many campus ministries, youth centers, regional groups, camps, seminaries, mission trips, affiliate organizations, etc. are there and what are they doing and how many people are involved in them? Until these are listed, I will only track adult membership.

Julie B:

January 21, 2006 04:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

I could understand not wanting to count CLF because some members live in places other than the US. People who join CLF do so because they are UU's. If you want to know the growth rate of UU congregations than I think the CLF figures need to be considered. Also many people belong to two congregations. Before I started living full time in my motorhome I lived in a community with 3 congregations and several people I know belonged to two congregations. For isolated people the CLF is their church so I don't understand why living in an area with no church would exclude them from your count. Perhaps I don't understand what you are counting. People served by "bricks and motar" churchs with a minister inside the US?


January 21, 2006 05:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

Julie, here are your numbers.

2004-2005 w/o CLF:
# of congregations certified by deadline: 889
# of Adult Members: 143,387
Net Growth: +2,397
Percentage Growth: +1.69%

2004-2005 w/ CLF:
# of congregations certified by deadline: 890
# of Adult Members: 146,439
Net Growth: +1,877
Percentage Growth: +1.30%

2005-2006 w/o CLF:
# of congregations certified so far: 267
# of Adult Members: 42,177
Net Growth: +301
Percentage Growth: +0.72%

2005-2006 w/ CLF:
# of congregations certified so far: 268
# of Adult Members: 45,024
Net Growth: +596
Percentage Growth: +1.34%

Julie B:

January 21, 2006 07:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks for the numbers, Rev. Thom. It would appear CLF lost members in 2004-2005 to bring the percentage down to 1.01 from 1.69 without them or did the numbers get reversed. I'm not sure of the statistical significance of the difference in percentages both seem much lower than we would like in terms of growth.

I'm now wondering if the UUA had more growth during the years they encouraged the fellowship movement. Most of the recent grown in the CLF has come from the internet I believe but I don't think that is where property based congregations would achieve growth.


January 21, 2006 09:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

Math problems I think. Fixed some of the numbers above.


January 22, 2006 05:10 AM | Permalink for this comment

Philocrites and Thom, if you want to look at the "growth dynamics" of US congregations, you don't need to take the total figures. Take a sample that is sociologically sound and make an estimation of general trends. I'm sure that the UUA has people capable of running this kind of analysis (or they have this service externalized). OTOH the idea that the UUA is only concerned about how they are doing in the USA and is increasingly ignoring the rest of the Unitarian world as if it was alien to them is worrying me more and more these days. I can only hope that this is temporary, and that the UUA will be again in the future a denomination that cares about the world and not just about America.

Scott Wells:

January 22, 2006 01:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

Since Philo doesn't have trackbacks, I'll note here that I've written on the UUA stats on my blog:

Julie B:

January 22, 2006 04:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

The best that these numbers can represent is a trend. Each congregation has its own policy regarding membership and when to take someone off the membership roles. I think congregations do their best to give an accurate representation of their membership but I suspect what we get is an approximation.

I think what we do know is that congregations over a certain size continue to grow. For example the First U Church in my home town spun off two congregations and still had a crowding problem and three services a week. Under a certain size congregations tend to wither. Are we concerned that the size of the UUA overall is not at a sufficient size to encourage growth.

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