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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And a decree came from 25 Beacon Street.

We're already a month into the annual certification of congregations, where UUA member congregations report their membership.

While most congregations wait until the second half of January - the deadline is February 1 - a few congregations have already registered. Here are the numbers so far:

U.S. Congregations reporting: 35
Total adult membership: 5940
Net change compared with
last year's statistics: +35
Percent growth: +0.63%

I'll be back over the next seven weeks with the numbers. (Hey, Scott Wells... contact me if you want to get in on the "action.")

Copyright © 2005 by Thom Belote | Posted 14 December 2005 at 9:18 AM

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December 14, 2005 01:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Adam describes how his UCC-UUA affiliated church reports its membership figures. In New England, where many of the UUA's dual-denomination churches are, membership numbers don't always reflect congregational size.


December 14, 2005 06:27 PM | Permalink for this comment

You know I'm in . . . .

Matthew Gatheringwater:

December 15, 2005 12:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

I have a suggestion: Could we have a subset of congregations that have gone through a consultation with Michael Durall? The Almost Church makes some interesting and surprising claims about church growth and it would be nice to have some data to give us an idea of how effective his approach has been in real congregations. Durall has consulted with at least 21 congregations.


December 15, 2005 10:29 AM | Permalink for this comment

Philocrites & Adam: Yes, the inclusion of united and federated churches does complicate the data. Last year, a big boost came from one such church that reported a bunch more UUs. So far this year, the congregation that has "lost" the most is a united church. I have no way of knowing whether the church actually shrunk or just is reporting fewer UUs.

Matthew: If you furnish me with a list of congregations that Michael Durall consults, I will include that data. (It probably is not a simple cause and effect, though.) There's a lot of data that I would like to have: attendance, RE enrollment, etc. However, I can only present the information I'm given.

I try not to "interpret" or draw conclusions from the data.

Matthew Gatheringwater:

December 15, 2005 12:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

Here is a start:

First Parish Church of Groton
First Parish of Sudbury
First Parish, Brewster
First Unitarian Church of Dallas
First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa
First Unitarian Congregation, Toronto
First Unitarian Society of Madison
Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church
Unitarian Church of Evanston
Unitarian Society of Hartford
Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley
Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh
Unity Temple

These are UUA-affiliated congregations with online materials indicating they have consulted Durall. I've sent him a message to ask if he'd confirm the list and send additional names.

I agree that there are many factors that preclude this from being a simple cause-and-effect comparison. Durall's presentation could have changed over time. Congregations may implement his recommendations with varying degrees of exactness, etc. Despite this, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask if congregations who consult with a growth expert generally grow. Whether or not one agrees with Durall's ideas, it would be helpful to know if they are effective. It would also be nice to get this information from an independant source.


December 15, 2005 12:36 PM | Permalink for this comment

Matthew: I have a little bit of discomfort with what you are proposing.

First, while I am comfortable tallying the congregations as they certify, I am generally uncomfortable with the idea of singling out specific congregations and commenting on the growth or non-growth that they report. That crosses a professional boundary for me.

Second, I'm not sure if Michael Durall is primarily focused on numerical growth. He consults, as I understand it, on stewardship, mission, community involvement, leadership, and membership as well as on growth (not that these are unrelated.) The numbers wouldn't paint a picture of the effectiveness of his consulting work, especially in the short time frame of one year to the next.

Finally, it would seem to me that a congregation spending money to bring in Michael Durall would be a congregation where there is buy-in, either across the board or in a powerful sub-section, for change. These congregations are therefore somewhat self-selecting and any analysis would have to attempt to account for that.

Elz Curtiss:

December 18, 2005 06:51 AM | Permalink for this comment

At this point in our history, this focus on measuring our size through membership in congregations is more and more like quantifying the value of one's sex life through measurement of a body part. There is so much more to this religion than showing up on Sunday or calling on one of our clergy when someone dies. This counting of heads is a way of avoiding the real discussion -- are we a support group for political lefties, an airport terminal for spiritual seekers, or an unbroken line of adherents to a preponderance of theological and ethical precepts that come down from the Early Church controversies and the Reformation, with varying impact on political voice and spiritual practice? After all, when I say "I am a Christian," I am not required by other Christians to tell where I worship, but rather to list which parts of the Bible inform my interpretation of our faith.

Please pardon the run-on sentence -- it's time to go serve the faithful!

Elz Curtiss

Steve Caldwell:

December 18, 2005 10:48 AM | Permalink for this comment

Matthew wrote:
"Could we have a subset of congregations that have gone through a consultation with Michael Durall?"

Looking at this subset of data would raise question of correlation vs. causation.

Correlation implies causation (logical fallacy)

I would also recommend reading the chapter on measurements of growth in the UUA's Commission on Appraisal's report on membership:


December 18, 2005 06:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

Elz, I mostly agree with you. I hope this on-going tally becomes a forum for more of these types of conversations. There are so many other things (quantifiable and not) that I could (attempt to) run a tally on. But adult membership is all I'm given.

I think that one of things we need to think about is the way our polity requires us to focus on adult membership. Would shifting the emphasis mean abandoning this form of polity?

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