By The Numbers: Religious Education Growth Trends

Last week we looked at the numbers reported in February 2015, a snap shot of this past year. “Who are we now?”

Our UU congregations are created by 180,617 adult members and 56,429 enrolled children and youth across the United States for a total of 237,046 UU people. 23.8% of our communities are children and youth.

This week we look at growth trends in Religious Education Enrollment.  I’ve also included Public School trends from the National Center for Education Statistics.  They currently have statistics publicly published through 2012.

Tip: If you have trouble seeing the numbers, try clicking on the graph/picture and enlarge it on your screen.

RE uua 2005-2015



public school 05-12


And now a look at our regions (note that UUA and US Public School regions are different)…

RE by region 2005-2015



public school 05-12 by region


Next week we’ll go deeper into the growth by region and size of congregation.



Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers loves numbers because they help us see ourselves more clearly and break down assumptions.



Partnership across the River

Augusta Bridge Reflections by Gene Bowker
Augusta Bridge Reflections by Gene Bowker

The sister Unitarian Universalist congregations of Augusta, Georgia and Aiken, South Carolina straddle either side of the Savannah River. But the fact that they are in different states hasn’t stopped the spirit of collaboration that has existed since they were formed within months of each other in the early 1950s. The Aiken Unitarian Fellowship was formed first in 1953, and after Unitarians in Augusta decided to start their own fellowship in July of 1954 they carpooled their children to Aiken (18 miles away) for Sunday School until 1956; in 1958 Aiken children began to travel to Augusta for Sunday School.

All the while there was joint participation in cluster and district events, and Liberal Religious Youth retreats; but in 1974 the Aiken Fellowship disbanded and the deed to its property was given to Augusta. The funds were used as collateral to obtain a building loan for the Augusta campus to expand.

In the early 2000s the Rev. Dan King, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta, supported UUs in Aiken in reestablishing their own congregation. The Augusta board facilitated financial arrangements until the Aiken congregation could handle them.

Several years later, the Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church decided to pursue the goal of becoming a minister-led congregation. As a lay leader of the Augusta congregation, I occasionally spoke at Sunday services in Aiken. I then had the honor of serving as a half-time minister of the Aiken church during my internship years. I was ordained by both congregations before being contracted by the Augusta congregation as its full-time Developmental Minister in 2013. My Minister’s Study is in the office block built with the funds donated by the Aiken Fellowship. The 60-plus years of collaboration between Aiken and Augusta has made me the minister I am today.

The Aiken congregation is in its second year without a minister; its leadership felt it needed to do something to further its mission and maintain its energy and credibility in the community. So last year the Aiken board proposed to the Augusta board that the two congregations (Augusta has 150 members, Aiken 60) explore ways to work together in partnership to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of the larger Augusta-Aiken area. Going forward, we have agreed to assist each other internally within our congregations, and to promote our shared values in our communities. Our liaison team met for the first time in July, and our boards had a joint potluck and consultation with our Southern Region Congregational Life Staff member, the Rev. Carlton Elliott-Smith, in September. He challenged us to ask what we can do together that we can’t do separately…and that has opened up lots of possibilities!

In addition to training Worship Associates for both churches, swapping occasional speakers (and me) for Sunday services, and both social justice committees staffing a joint stall at the Augusta Pride festival, we are stepping up collaboration in the coming year to include a joint women’s croning ceremony in December and a new Coffeehouse series, which will be organized by a joint committee and held at the Augusta campus. We also will be off to The Mountain Learning and Retreat Center for a joint congregational retreat in April 2016.

The attitude of respect and the potential for partnership we now share were summed up by a statement both boards composed at the end of their September gathering:

Increasing our level of cooperation, we commit to:

Communicate openly and often through our liaison team;

Identify what we can do together;

Charge the boards to turn those opportunities into action.



gayeRev. Gaye Ortiz, a native of Augusta, Georgia, serves as Developmental Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta. She adores her five grandchildren and great-grandson Oliver, and she believes that the Atlanta Braves will one day again win the World Series.

By the Numbers: Religious Education Snap Shot

Happy Friday! It’s time for some numbers. This is the beginning of a series on Religious Education Enrollment. These are self-reporting numbers by UU congregations in the United States representing the number of children and youth enrolled in their religious education programs.


This week we’re looking the numbers reported in February 2015, a snap shot of this past year. “Who are we now?”


Our UU congregations are created by 180,617 adult members and 56,429 enrolled children and youth across the United States for a total of 237,046 UU people. 23.8% of our communities are children and youth.

RE by size 2015

I break down the congregations by 7 different sizes, because I primarily prepare analysis for Congregational Life. I’m a practitioner supporting the work of other practitioners. We recognize that each size category has special needs and characteristics.


RE by region 2015


Next week I will dig deeper into the size differences by region.  This is where similarities and differences are teased out. And after that I’ll begin to shed light on growth trends of Religious Education Enrollment. Stay tuned…



Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers loves numbers because they help us see ourselves more clearly and break down assumptions.

Emerging Ministries: 4 critical formation areas for Emerging Ministries

emerging_ministries_logoOne piece of my job is working with new Unitarian Universalist emerging ministries. There are many ways of becoming a Unitarian Universalist group, including becoming one of the newly formed Covenanting Communities. See


It is an honor and a privilege to work with these folks. Prior to my coming on the the Southern Region’s congregational Life staff, I was a creating a new congregation in upstate New York.


As with any ministry, there is so much work at hand. It is my job to help emerging ministries to focus. I have four areas that are critical in their formation.



The first is spiritual depth. Because there is so much work facing these folks, their own spiritual life will diminish unless they are intentional about tending to it. This involves self-care. I encourage all them to be diligent about their own daily spiritual practices, and pay attention to balancing family and friends, their work, and their congregational commitment. But beyond self-care is going deeper into the Unitarian Universalist faith. If they are going to create a Unitarian Universalist, covenantal faith community, they must know what that means in a deep way. As leaders, they must grow in depth in order for the community to grow in size. They, therefore, must live with each other in a covenantal way.


The second is Unitarian Universalism. In order to be able to grow this wonderful faith, we must understand our theology and heritage. We have values that have stood the test of time. We must know what those are and how others have sacrificed for them in order of us to have the privileges that we enjoy. We have a life saving and giving faith. We must be able to understand that relationships and how we behave (covenant) affects how we interact with the world. Our world is hurting and broken. We must know ourselves so that we can be in relationship with others who are different from us in order to search for wholeness.


The third is purpose. It is critical for new groups to have a sense of coming together for something larger than themselves. It is so easy to create the “church for me.” So many people get seduced into thinking that this is their opportunity to create the congregation that they have always wanted with the kind of worship that they like, etc. This is the thinking that will kill it. There must be a sense of creating a space for those that we have not thought about yet. I like to think that when the martians find us they will say, it’s those UUs that have it going on! But we must be creating something special for others, not ourselves. Having a purpose beyond themselves must stay central. I ask things like how are you changing the world? And I expect real answers.


And, lastly, generosity. While each of the others leads nicely into the next one, generosity needs to be the lens through which they view everything else. Questions I might ask are: How are you being generous with yourselves? How are you being generous with Unitarian Universalism? How are you being generous with your local community, and how is that helping to define your purpose? Many well established congregations ask me how they can become generous. That is much harder to do later, but at the beginning you can tend to generosity and feed it. If you become a generous people from the beginning, it becomes part of your culture and your values.


These are the things that I hope to get into a groups’ DNA as they are forming. If they can get these four things right, what could be more joyous? Really, in one form or another, isn’t this what we want for all of our congregations? How are you doing in these four areas? Let me know. Please add your news in the comment section.



Kathy this oneKathy McGowan, Congregational Life Staff, is one of seven field staff on the Southern Region team. She lives in the triangle area of North Carolina with her son and two cats. She has been a Unitarian Universalist since the mid-eighties and has a deep love of this faith tradition. In addition to her work with new and emerging congregations, she focuses on intercultural sensitivity and is the primary contact for the congregations in Virginia and North Carolina in the Southern Region of the UUA. She is excited to be coaching groups on how to live out their Unitarian Universalist faith in a deep and covenantal way.

Multi-Site Ministries: contrasts merging, moving forward together

Partnerships sometimes emerge in strange but exciting ways.     The Partnership of the UU congregations in Binghamton NY and Cortland NY is a mix of contrasting sizes, ages and histories.  But these contrasts bring strength to the relationship.


The very small,  historic UU Church of Cortland and the mid-sized UU Congregation of Binghamton, founded in the mid-20th century,  are forming a Partnership of shared preaching, teaching, ministry and social justice work.   And they are seeking funding from FAITHIFY donors to help them get things off the ground this year.


The Cortland church is over 200 years old.  In its long history, the church has hosted great figures like Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Thomas Starr King, Theodore Parker, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Martin Luther King Jr.    The Binghamton church is a thriving mid-sized congregation with a vision of becoming a beacon in the larger community and demonstrating UU values and principles in action.   Their mission is to Explore, Encourage and Act.


When the Leadership of the two congregations met in person to start to create their Covenant of Partnership,  it was uncertain if they could find common ground to work together.  But during discussions, each group developed a deep appreciation of the gifts that the other congregation had to offer.   Binghamton was drawn to the historic depth and sense of community rootedness found in the Cortland church.  And the Cortland leaders were thrilled by the energy for ministry in the Binghamton congregation and it sense of mission.


Both congregations found they shared a deep call to reach out to their larger communities to share the good news of Unitarian Universalism.  And they are now moving forward together in new ways.


And they need help from the larger UU community to help jump start this important new work and realize their joint potential.   Please consider giving to their efforts through Faithify.




joansmallRev. Joan Van Becelaere is the Central East Regional Lead and lives in “partnership” in Columbus Ohio with her spouse, Jerry, and three cats – all named after different Hebrew Bible prophets.


Deepening Faith: How Can We Reverse The Trend?

This past year, we’ve been busy looking at ways that youth engage with their congregations, Unitarian Universalism and new trends in youth ministry. We surveyed over 350 youth about their favorite parts of church and how their congregations could better serve them. At General Assembly, our Youth Media Volunteers interviewed their fellow youth. This is what we’ve learned:


Youth want to connect with their congregations

Our survey showed that youth want greater ways to connect with their congregation. We know that one of the major markers of future religious participation is increased connections between adults and youth. The National Study of Youth and Religion tells us that 81% of youth have never shared a personal problem with a member of their ministry team. Anecdotes from Unitarian Universalism lead us to believe that the vast majority of pastoral care for youth in our congregations is provided by other youth.


Youth invest in their congregations

At General Assembly, our Youth Media Volunteers asked their peers to share their personal UU history. Almost every response began with some form of “I have been a member of my church since I was two” or, “My family has been members since before I was born.” For those who grow up in a congregation, who grow up in Unitarian Universalism, they are innately invested in their congregation. A large number of our youth go through intensive UU identity curricula like Coming of Age and Our Whole Lives. They claim membership because they are invested deeply in their congregation.


Youth want their congregations to invest in them

From Almost Christian, “The more available religiously grounded relationships, activities, programs, opportunities, and challenges are for teenagers, the more likely they will be religiously engaged and invested…Stated negatively, churches that do not invest in their youth find that youth are unlikely to invest in them” (203). From our survey, youth want “more opportunity for youth leadership” and “[more] teen-based sermons.” Youth are members of your congregation just like any other and they have needs that need to be met as well. If you invest in your youth and their leadership, there will be an exponential growth in volunteer capacity.


Youth want their congregation visible in the world

For a large majority of our youth, when they tell someone they are UU they get this look. A great way to break that trend is for your congregation to show up in your community. Your youth will join you on the frontlines because challenging racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and ableism is important to them. They and/or their friends face oppression every single day. Already doing justice work in your community? A service trip is a great way to deepen youth’s faith.


Next steps:

Read: Five Ways to Support Youth In Your Congregation

Check out: Youth Ministry at its Best

Share: Our more in-depth Youth Ministry Survey with the youth in your congregation! This time, we are more interested in how youth connect with UU theology and values.



Bart FrostBart Frost serves as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the UUA. As a raised UU, Bart’s passion is creating opportunities for younger leaders in our faith to share their skills with the world. When not at 24 Farnworth St working for the UUA, he is usually in New Orleans (where his partner Amelia resides) snuggling his two cats (and being harassed by the third) while watching hockey.

By the Numbers: where’s the growth?

Last week I posted the global growth numbers. This week let’s look at UU membership growth trends by congregational size breakdown…


(Edited to explain size catagories)  In the following graphs I use 7 different catagories instead of the traditional 4 or 5. The reason is that congregations behave differently and have different needs depending on their size (and other variables.)  The primary audience I prepare data analysis for are practitioners in the field, mostly Congregational Life staff.  And those front-line growth experts that serve and support our congregations use the following size catagories:


Fellowship/Tiny (0-60)
Small Pastoral Congregations (61-160)
Midsize Pastoral Congregations (161-300)
Awkward/Transition Congregations (301-400)
Program Congregations (401-600)
Large Program Congregations (601-800)
Corporate Congregations (800+)


Yes, you read that correctly. There is a category I call “Awkward” — it’s the hardest size to breakthrough. A couple years ago I asked leaders of congregation in that 301-400 bracket if the name was offensive. Most laughed and said, “no, it’s actually pretty accurate.”  There is a Facebook group for the two smallest categories called “Small & Mighty.”  There are just somethings that only congregational leaders in your size category will understand.  It’s good to compare notes, share ideas, learn from the challenges and celebrate the blessings.

UUA Growth Trends ten years

This is a ten year span we’re looking at.  Here’s the raw data:

Fellowship/Tiny: -12.6% (13,991-12,223)

Small Pastoral Congregations: -2% (36,729-36,007)

Midsize Pastoral Congregations: -3.3% (43,894-42,451)

Awkward/Transition Congregations: -6.5% (19,907-18,609)

Program Congregations: 4% (17,578-18,286)

Large Program Congregations: 11.3% (11,205-12,471)

Corporate Congregations: 20.7% (13,726-16,565)


Now watch what happens when we look at a three year span:

UUA Growth Trends three years

Here’s the raw data:

Fellowship/Tiny: Small Pastoral Congregations: (13,170 – 12,223)

Midsize Pastoral Congregations: (43,059 – 42,451)

Awkward/Transition Congregations: (19,188 -18,609)

Program Congregations: (17,855 – 18,286)

Large Program Congregations: (12,241 – 12,471)

Corporate Congregations: (18,283 – 16,565)

Don’t panic about our largest congregations.  The majority of them got real about what it means to be a member of their congregation and “cleaned the membership books.”  I see this as a strong sign of organizational maturity.


These two graphs really hit home what a difference the time span you’re looking at can make.



Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

Blessing the Backpacks

Blessing Backpack Sandwich SignInspired by Full-Week Faith, created by Karen Bellavance Grace through the Fahs Collaborative, First Parish Church of Groton decided to hold a Blessing of the Backpacks. Here are some nuts & bolts, in case you don’t want to reinvent the wheel:
Don’t Do It the Night Before School Starts: We scheduled it for two nights before. Many families hadn’t seen each other since June. We had at least one new family who came so that their child could meet peers and have them be familiar faces on the first day of school.


Include Dinner: We planned it so that folks could eat (pizza; we asked for donations, but the church covered some of the cost) and then go home in time for the littlests’ bedtimes. We did ours 4:45 – 6:00pm. This may need to be adjusted based on your community’s rhythms.


Outreach – Early and Often: We had a save the date in June, but knew few would remember. Article in summer newsletter. Public Facebook event. We specifically asked some congregants to talk it up on their Facebook profiles, both to increase knowledge about the event and excitement. In the last two weeks, we upped activity on Facebook around the event. Use of visuals on social media is a must. For us, the most widely shared visual was a photo of our Main Street sandwich board, which ended up being shared over 1,700 times on Facebook! Go figure.

Inclusive Language:
Since we were using school as a reference (“school is just about to start”) we were sure to reference those who are homeschooling. We also decided that to invite as much multi-generational participation as possible, we also included the School of Life – thus making it clear that anyone could receive a blessing.Welcome


The Actual Thing

  • We did it outdoors. Sidewalk chalk to keep kids and adults busy as we prepared to start. Kept kids joyfully occupied, parents happy.
  • Marked the end
    of the summer by singing a silly camp song — enough of the kids knew it so they took over leading it.
  • Asked youth to sing and we assigned official blessing duties to the Coming of Age class.
  • We blessed not only backpacks, but all sorts of items including invisible (AKA forgotten at home) backpacks, briefcases, gym bags, cell phones, wallets, and shoulder of humans standing with us.
  • We handed out talismans — a HUGE hit: combining symbols of peace, or beads that said “UU” or the name of our church (our church initials, “FPCOG”).













These are the words of our blessing:

Even when you are away from First Parish, you carry the heart of Unitarian Universalism with you wherever you go.

May you feel curiosity all your days.

May your imagination catch fire.

May you find courage when it is necessary.

May confusion lead to better questions.

May you feel compassion toward those around you, and they towards you.

May you feel heard and seen; may you hear and see others.

May you speak up for those who are not heard, who are not seen.

As your spirit’s home, we are made stronger when you share what you learn. We ask you to bring what you learn of the world back to this place. If you agree, say – “we will.”

Table for backpacks

You are welcome and encouraged to borrow any part of this –change it up to make it your own. My only request is that if you are going to use the words of our blessing in print (hard copy or online) that you attribute them to me, Karen Johnston.



Karen G. Johnston is the Intern Minister at First Parish Church of Groton from 2014–2016, serving in a part-time capacity as she finishes her Master of Divinity studies at Andover Newton Theological School.

By The Numbers: but are we growing?

it’s Friday!  Time to snack on data. I’ve been deluged with the question — But are we growing?!


Now, dear ones, you know that there are many indicators to growth. Impact is really the growth I’m most interested in.  We’re working at fine tuning some data collection at the UUA to better measure impact. Until then, we classically measure by membership.


Most other traditions count Average Sunday Attendance, but for us that’s still soft data. Why? Because we’re still getting the hang of it. About ten years ago Religious Education Enrollment was also soft.  Today, it’s much more reliable.  In a couple years I think the majority of our congregations will be sending a solid count of everyone in the building on Sunday (or your other main day of all-gathered worship–whatever worship means to your community.)


So, are we growing?

15 year trend

Don’t get distracted with the squiggly line – On a larger scale it looks like a flat line growing by 1% over 15 years.


Interesting fact — Currently we have 1043 active congregations world-wide. 2% of our member congregation and 2% of our adult membership are abroad.

member RE ASA


This represents active congregations for the year indicated belonging to US regions and CLF.


Religious Education is dropping significantly. And this is a ministry we are known to do well. Your Congregational Life staff and the Liberal Religious Educators Association are alarmed, too and trying to figure out what this means for us. When I was with my research counterparts in August we were all wringing our hands about the decline in children and youth.  It’s everywhere.

compared to other religions

The yearbook with the above data only comes out every-so-often. This is the most current data we have available.


I see opportunity.  Many folks are leaving main-line Protestant traditions because of their behind-the-times stance on gay marriage and other liberal issues.  We’ve got that. In spades.  My question is how welcoming will we be to folks coming from other religions who don’t want to leave all their religious language and practices at the door? Will we make room? Will we be open to be transformed ourselves by expanded community and increased diversity in beliefs?  May we make it so!



red glassesRev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

What if membership was a spectrum?

Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President
Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President


As Unitarian Universalists, we have a traditionally operated under a model of church that doesn’t acknowledge the changing social norms about religion. Historically, we’ve only kept track of one aspect of involvement in church life, “membership”, which typically means signing a congregation’s membership book and making an annual pledge. But in reality, people interact with faith communities in dozens of different ways beyond the traditional notion of membership, often deepening and stepping back over the course of their lives. If we truly believe that everyone in our faith movement matters, whether they are official members or not, it is clear we need to re-conceive what it means to be connected to Unitarian Universalism.

We created a spectrum to help congregations see that there are distinct levels of belonging to our faith communities. Together, as leaders in the UU Association of Membership Professionals and as UUA staff working on outreach, we offered a workshop at 2015 General Assembly about how to engage the whole spectrum.


Curious Individual

These are the people who know us and are in sync with our values, but not involved in our programs or ministries. Some examples would include those who participate in community activities related to a UU group, follow UUs on social media, share UU content, read UU books, see and/or support UU social justice actions.

Welcomed Visitor

Those who are involved with UU programs or ministries at a basic or fluid level, and may or may not identify as UU, are at this stage. They may attend events hosted by UU congregations, go to Sunday services occasionally or participate in UU community-oriented ministries and programs (e.g. day care, lecture series). Sometimes they have a friend or family member who serves as a tie to the congregation.

Succeeding in the first two stages (outreach)
  • Pay attention to how you show up virtually (website, social media, Yelp/Google/search functions, news media), so you look as beautiful from the outside as you do from the inside.
  • Create multiple entry points that don’t revolve around Sunday morning (get creative! Get passionate!) AND pay attention to visitor experience at all of these entry points.
  • One transition between welcomed visitor and connected friend is the traditional “pathway to membership,” but support is needed for all transitions.
Connected Friend

After attending services several times, those who attend a one time or low commitment activity outside of services have become a connected individual. This gives them better opportunities to meet people and start building relationships. Having several easy opportunities, like a Circle Dinner, one time small group, helping set up at an event or serving coffee give new folks a way to meet others without making a big commitment.

Engaged Individual

When a person gets involved in a regular activity, such as an affinity group, small group ministry, religious education teacher or serving on a committee, they have engaged with the community. All of these programs require ownership in one way or another, an expectations of regular participation and, in many cases, opportunities to share spiritual journeys with each other.

Integrated Leader

At the final stage in the spectrum, individuals emerge as leaders. We have found that as someone steps into the role of a leader they are more than simply engaged with a community, but they are also integrated. And by being integrated they are changing the community. They put their own personal twist on the programs they lead and that is a deeper level in involvement then just showing up, even on a regular basis. You become an integrated leader when you are willing to put your efforts into making the community better. Some examples would be a committee chair, small group leader or religious professional.

Succeeding along the spectrum (welcoming and membership development)
  • Make sure facilitators and leaders of groups know how to welcome newcomers at each stage as people enter the spectrum at different points.
  • Have training in place for leaders to ensure they have healthy boundaries and motives consistent with the mission of your congregation.
  • Have a tracking system in place to know where people fall on the spectrum. This will be an invaluable resource for recruiting for programs and volunteer opportunities, discovering emerging leaders, as well as those who need assistance in connecting.
  • We need to understand that there will be people who move both directions on the spectrum, and even leave our path. We want to support them in their journey and leave room for them to comfortably return should their path bring them back.


Looking at these stages calls us to pay attention to how we help people move from one stage to another. Again, most of us will move up and down the spectrum over time, but transitions between stages will always be important for religious leaders to support (the transition of “bridging” from youth to young adulthood is a great example). We hope this model will inspire UUs to think differently about their faith, from outreach to curious individuals all the way to spiritual enrichment for our integrated leaders. It can even include non-congregational groups, conferences or ministries. Embrace the full spectrum!

Additional Resources

Notes from 2015 General Assembly Workshop

Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals


Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President