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Monday, February 6, 2006

Final numbers from annual UUA certification.

I've crunched the numbers just about as much as I'm willing to crunch them. In case you haven't been following, I've been tracking the returns over at the on-line annual membership certification of UU congregations. The deadline to report was February 1.

Here are the results:

2005-2006 Membership totals w/o CLF
Total # of Members Certified: 152,347
Net change in Members: +1308
Percentage Growth: +0.87%

2005-2006 Membership totals w/ CLF
Total # of Members Certified: 155,188
Net change in Members: +1597
Percentage Growth: +1.04%

Let me say what these numbers represent. I count all congregations in the United States, comparing their reported membership in the on-line certification with the membership they reported in the current UUA Directory. "Total # of Members Certified" is the sum. "Net change" is the difference between this year and the number of members those same congregations reported in the previous year. "Percentage Growth" is the rate of growth or loss of members.

A few more methodological comments: The above membership totals do not take into account international UU congregations. One reason for this is that of the 25 international congregations listed in the UUA directory, only 14 reported. Approximately 95% of US congregations reported. I also do not guarantee that the numbers above are 100% accurate. It is possible that I missed a congregation in my count or counted one twice, although such an error would not impact the overall results significantly. There may be a small margin of error.

It is clear that UU growth was less robust this year. In 2004-2005, my tally showed a growth rate of 1.69% (1.30% if you include CLF.)

I plan to return in a week or two and offer some analysis, including the numbers for large churches and special citation for the fastest growing congregations.

Copyright © 2006 by Thom Belote | Posted 6 February 2006 at 10:59 PM

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Pat McLaughlin:

February 7, 2006 04:05 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm looking forward to the analysis, since our congregation posted a 5.7% increase... and has about a 5% increase per year over the past five years.

Ron Robinson:

February 7, 2006 01:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks Thom and Chris.

Does anyone have the percentage rate of growth of population in the U.S. (projected would be fine I guess)during this time period? And is there a link like Larry Ladd used to provide comparing UUA stats with U.S. census stats over the decades?

I am heartened by Pat's comments. I wonder if someone could do an analysis over the past decade or two of some of the growing and/or large churches to see the percentages. In other words, what are the stats for the churches that are leading? And what are the churches that are declining over this period of time, and at what rate? For a congregational association, I think it would be interesting to see the local churches that are becoming the future.

One of my statistical measures (and Chris being a former Mormon you know this) is the one growth estimate provided for the early Jesus movement in Rodney Starks' 2000 book on The Rise of Christianity. Probably mentioned it before when this topic comes up. That scholarly estimate was for 40 percent per decade, around 3.4 percent I think it was per year. The UUA has hit that once or twice since 1961 but it hasn't been sustained. It is being hit by the Mormons among some others I believe in the past few decades. Might be a good standard for churches like Pat's that are tracking above it now. I like Starks' subtitle about how a marginal religious movement became over 300 years a dominant force within the Roman Empire. I also think his analysis of how those figures came about (ruling out divine intervention :)) is helpful for what drives health and growth today too. His latest book The Victory of Reason (Alan Wolfe's objections for another day) also contains some summaries of growth per denomination related to market penetration in the U.S. particularly when one compares today with 1776 in the colonies. We congregationalists ruled the day by far in number of congregations (and at the same time the figures show how much religous pluralism there was in the colonies by then too); so much so that it seems to me that you might compare us then, statistically, to the Roman "pagans" of the Empire; over the past centuries we have lost our place in "our own Empire" in much the same way the pagans lost ground to the Jesus movement. And maybe for many of the same reasons.
Ron Robinson


February 7, 2006 02:06 PM | Permalink for this comment

Too much is wrong with Starks' analysis for me to follow you down that little path, Ron.

Regarding your question about growth rates in the UUA's leading churches, however, see the data I pulled together using Peter Morales's studies in 2002-2003: Sixteen fastest growing churches and Next 20 fastest growing churches.

Pat McLaughlin:

February 8, 2006 12:50 AM | Permalink for this comment

Ron, Chris, Thom...

I'm just recalling the factoids from our building committee (for the new sancuary and office building we break ground on, city engineering staff permitting, in May) and its presentations.

Since our founding in the early 1960s... an average of about 3% growth. For the last 15 (20?) years, about 4%. The last 5-6, 5%. Much as I will admit to lusting after a 20-30% growth spurt (is that evidence of masochism?), I wouldn't trade that fairly steady set of numbers and their gentle upward arc (though I'd like to hear that we're looking at five years with an average of 6% or more...). Not that the year-to-year numbers are so smooth; there was a distinct problem period in the 1970s (a brief, terminal splinter congregation) and a plateau in the late 80s and early 90s.

Having had an intake of 18 new members in the period from early November to early January, with a couple more already seeking membership and more visible beyond... and plenty of visitors coming every week (and the sanctuary full to bursting -- I counted 177 people in the building last Sunday, and having squeezed every imaginable chair into the sanctuary, there are only 147 seats...), I see lots of growth coming.

My suspicion is that our new space will suffice for... maybe three years, by which time we'll have to go to two services (something that's been recoiled from for fear it would sunder our warm, fuzzy, familial-feeling community), since even opening up the potential overflow space only means 325 seats. I've learned the 80% rule, and so have enough others that we won't be at 90% full and still listening to the folks who insist that we ought to be "full" before we fix the problem. Once burnt....

My real regret is that the mad (but divine madness, really!) scheme a friend and I cooked up, trapped in El Paso on the way back from GA, wasn't something I could commit to. We were talking about trying to create a "small" UU megachurch targeting a younger (older youth/young adults) community, out of some unoccupied big box space.

The association is, I think, due for new models--not abandoning all the old ones, mind--but in need of some new ones.

It would have been so much fun to create a pop-up community of--our target, anyway--3,000. Freak GA with all the delegates from one place.... (I did say we were trapped in El Paso, and it was summer, recall... and we were still on the GA buzz. But I still wish we'd been able to try it. Being committed to another 2.5 years on the board where I am, well...)

Elz Curtiss:

February 8, 2006 01:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

"Membership" in this association is a fuzzy concept -- not at its worst, but at its best. The New UU curriculum, a single morning or series of evenings, covers only the barest bones of who we are at the congregational level, and virtually no real information theologically or historically, beyond the knowledge of the presenters.

This contrasts sadly with the many faiths which require months of weekly preparation and several weekends of retreat -- more akin to what we offer to/ask of our Coming of Age youth. Nor do we assign our inquirers a reading list: it is left to the aspirants to our formal professional clergy.

Coupled with our emphasis on preaching and worship, and our lack of structural pastoral care, I see far too many cases of "large audience-small to medium congregation." Certainly, we need to shift our definition of inclusiveness from the glib symbolic inclusion of all categories to the much more challenging process of weaving each aspirant into our interdependent web.


February 8, 2006 03:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

Not only is it fuzzy though, but sometimes vital members (like youth and young adults) of congregations, can't be either because of law or finacial situations.
Part of the reason I left my congregation is they removed the youth waiver for contributions and refused to acknowledge the time I put into building the youth group and the time I had put into the congregation BEFORE I was officially a member as a contribution. And I understand my congregation's need for money, but I don't think it's fair to base that on an amount of money. They handed out little cards with suggested annual contributions based on income.
Just because some of us don't contribute with money, doesn't mean we aren't members.


February 8, 2006 05:16 PM | Permalink for this comment


You've described the reason that my congregation holds onto the phrase "an identifiable financial contribution". $1 counts.

It's also mildly discouraged--which is fair. It costs $85 or so from the congregation's pockets for each member, for UUA and district dues. Plus the costs of just keeping the doors open and the lights on. Someone IS paying for that.

The only thing that membership grants (for us, anyway) that various forms of formal association don't is a vote in congregational meetings, and the ability to be on the board. Some of our founders are still not members; they're pledging friends, or pledging associate members.

UUs. Go figure.

And just because some of us are raising kids and paying 3-5% of our incomes in pledges doesn't mean that we're not spending huge amounts of time, too. I figure--if my wife lets me get away with the low estimate--that I've effectively had at least a half-time job equivalent for the last five years as a volunteer. It's cost me money to do that, too.

I've been poor. I've been homeless, too. I don't agree that membership should have a very high financial threshold... but I don't have any beef with there being a very modest one.

We've waived precisely *one* person's financial contribution, in the history of the fellowship (I should note that we've got one 80 year old founder who not only pledges, he is here doing active landscape work at least 4 days a week, not to mention spending every Sunday morning helping run the nursery, and has done so for going on ten years now...). That person's a professional musician, and his donation of time is something I can point to the value of, and say "He's donating cash-equivalent worth at least four times what anyone is pledging annually, already."

Is membership a right? If so... what's the responsibility that goes with it?

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