5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations

by Peter Bowden

This post was first published on Peter Bowden’s UU PLANET blog, and has been  expanded to include recommended resources for Unitarian Universalists.

With approximately seven-in-ten Americans now using at least one social media site (Pew Internet), Unitarian Universalist congregations can’t afford to ignore the impacts of digital culture.

Here are five ways social media is changing how digitally oriented people are trying to connect with and join your congregation.


People research congregations and their faith traditions extensively online.

In our digitally oriented culture, if you are going to buy or choose something, or make an important life decision,  you do your homework.

You do a Google or other search. You watch videos, read reviews, and do everything you can to educate yourself so you can make a well-informed decision. People interested in a congregation default to a similar process.


After their initial research, many people choose to follow the congregation for a time on social media.

Observing and participating remotely through Facebook, Twitter, audio podcasts, and other channels helps to determine if the congregation is a match for them.

Whether it takes weeks, months, or a year, at some point (hopefully) they will learn and experience enough to say, “YES! This is the congregation for me. I belong here.”


This calls us to use social media for more than an outreach.  We need to use it to meet people where they are — online — and to proactively help them with their process.

If we want people to visit,  they need access to information, have questions answered, and receive some affirmation that they are going to fit in.

Once someone is confident that the congregation is likely to be a great match,  then they’ll visit.


After weeks, months, or a year of interacting with a congregation online, it is a big deal to visit onsite and see if people like them.  Will they?  Won’t they?

This isn’t a regular “let me check this place out” visit.  This is the moment of transition from ONLINE participation to ONSITE participation with very high hopes and expectations.

This sort of visitor needs affirmation and to connect with others almost immediately.


How long do you think a visitor will hang around waiting to be affirmed and connect with the community before they give up and leave?

In my trainings, I tell congregational leaders to play it safe and assume they need to offer this affirmation during the first visit.   Because if you don’t, it may very well be the only visit.

Now everyone’s different and you may have more time, but not much more.  It is essential to affirm visitors quickly and offer clear next steps for connecting with your community.

There are many ways we can use social media and online communications to offer this affirmation and start the connecting process before the visit.   If we meet people where they are — online!

If we are to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by social media,  Unitarian Universalists need to track the trends, learn new approaches, and experiment!  

To help, Carey McDonaldAnna Bethea, and I have compiled a list of related resources.  My recommendation is that you use the links below to 1)  subscribe to the Outreach Revolution series,  2) join one of the UU Facebook lab learning communities, and 3) explore the related blog posts and presentations.


Outreach Revolution Series!
I am a huge fan of the UUA Outreach Team’s new email series Outreach Revolution!  It was launched to provide leaders like you with tips, resources, shareable social media graphics, and more!  Want to get the latest from the UUA Outreach Team? Subscribe to the Outreach Revolution Series!

Join the UU Growth Lab on Facebook 
Connect with other Unitarian Universalists interested in Unitarian Universalist growth, outreach, and topics from this blog.  Coordinated by Peter Bowden with regular UUA Outreach Team participation.

Join the UU Social Media Lab on Facebook
A fabulous learning community for Unitarian Universalists working with their congregation’s social media channels.

Related Growing Unitarian Universalism blog posts
Outreach: Do they need us, or we them?
More Like a Marathon than a Sprint
Don’t Panic! The 4×4 Outreach Plan
How to Find Your New Best Friends – Outreach Entry Points
What if membership was a spectrum?

UUA General Assembly Presentations
Reaching “Nones,” Activists, and Spiritual Seekers (2014)
How Congregations Can Deepen Engagement Online (2014)
Creating Content That’s Seen, Liked, and Shared (2015)

UUA Outreach Toolkit (Fall 2017)
Unitarian Universalists are doing wonderful, life-changing ministry in their congregations and faith communities. But is the good word getting out?  The UUA Outreach team and I have developed a series of guides to help us take Unitarian Universalist outreach, event planning, and social media use to the next level!

Subscribe to Outreach Revolution! to be notified when it is published.



Peter Bowden is a Unitarian Universalist speaker, consultant, and coach.  He helps religious professionals and congregations harness the power of social media and adapt their ministry to our changing world.  For more on his work with Unitarian Universalists visit UU PLANET Ministry and Media. This post was adapted from his new online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.

You may say I’m a dreamer…

by Kimberly Sweeney,

UUA New England Region Lead for Faith Formation & Safe Congregations

My love for the Beatles goes back for as long as I can remember. I remember singing songs with my mom and flipping through all of my dad’s records as a child. We sang Beatles songs in our school chorus, and I had posters all over my wall by junior high. In high school, I pored over their lyrics and read them like poetry. As a young adult, I heard a Beatles song being played in the first UU congregation I stepped foot in, and I chose Beatles songs to be played in my wedding. I cannot remember a time in my life that was not influenced by the music of the Beatles.

Child eating at table with Yellow Submarine Beatles poster in backgroundAs a young parent, I introduced my children to the Beatles on the very days they were born. Haelie was wrapped in a blanket designed by drawings John Lennon had sketched for his own son, and she could identify each of the Fab Four by name before she turned two. Her yellow submarine birthday party was a big hit for people of all ages. Abby may have been named after a certain album, and the framed album cover would hang in her room. She would often fall asleep to soft acoustic versions of Beatles songs, and would look at children’s books about these musicians.

The drive to church on Sunday mornings would be timed perfectly with the Beatles Brunch radio show. My children cannot remember a time in their lives when the influence of the Beatles was not present.

I just recently attended an international interfaith conference focused on bringing the generations together in church. One particular workshop was focused on our youngest members, those under the age of three. It was suggested that early childhood ministry is the most important ministry of the church that nobody is talking about. I was reminded of things I had learned in my child development classes in graduate school. I knew that children would learn more in their first six years of life than they would in all the years to follow.

Take language for example. Most of our children will learn to understand and use the language(s) they are exposed to before they ever attend school. In their first four years, the average child will learn up to 45 million words. How many of these words are from the language of our faith?

What would happen if as a congregation, we raised our infants and toddlers to be in worship with us every Sunday, where they were routinely exposed to that language?

What if as a congregation, we developed religious literacy right from the start so that our children never remembered a time when they were not influenced or a part of our community of faith?

Cover page of report "The Death of Sunday School and the Future of Faith Formation," with a picture of a multigenerational chorus of women with young girls at centerI listened to my interfaith colleagues share stories of how they welcomed and ministered to the youngest among them. I heard about the congregation who hired a nursery care provider to sit and interact with the toddlers in worship each Sunday, in a designated space in the front of the sanctuary, replete with quiet activities that were connected to the theme of the service. I heard story after story of what it has meant to have babies, toddlers, and small children not only in worship, but in small group ministry, fellowship, and learning as well.

I’ve been attending these interfaith gatherings for nearly a decade now. We have had so many similar challenges and goals in bringing our generations together more fully in congregational life. But this year, for the first time, I wept. I wept because ten years later, our interfaith colleagues had made marked progress where ours had been minimal at best. I wept because when I shared that our norm was to have our youngest in the nursery, while our school aged children were with us for 10-15 minutes of worship each week, our interfaith partners could not disguise their looks of absolute disbelief.

Our children will absorb and learn from their environment and experiences. My home has two generations of women who cannot remember a time when the Beatles did not provide the soundtrack of their lives. As we consider the future of faith formation, and the future of Unitarian Universalism, I pray that the next two generations will not be able to remember a time in their lives that did not include the music and words of our faith, the scent of flickering candles, the embrace of community, and the experience of being known and loved.




Picture of Kimberly Sweeney with Beatles guitarKimberly Sweeney serves the New England region of our UUA as the lead for Faith Formation and Safe Congregations. She is the author of The Death of Sunday School and the Future of Faith Formation. Kim and her daughters share a home with Lucy the Chihuahua, Eleanor Rigby the Siamese cat, and Finnegan the world’s most loyal dog whose name bears no Beatles related significance.

Welcoming, Whiteness, and Pineapples

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

A friend of mine sarcastically commented the other day that it must be the year of hospitality: you can’t go far in a store without seeing all sorts of pineapple-emblazoned products.  And yet, this is also the year of attempted travel bans, denial of health care, and walls to keep people out.  So what does it mean when seemingly opposing views crop up in our wider U.S. culture?  And what cues can we as UUs take from it in dismantling the obstacles to welcoming more people of color into our congregations and faith movement?  

Things usually keep cropping up until we take care of the root causes.  So, let’s take a look at the roots of the pineapple and its connections to “welcoming.”


Framed vintage dictionary page with a color print overlay: a "coolguy" wearing a blue suit with a pineapple for a head, wearing aviator sunglasses
Used with permission. Rex Ephemera, LiteralPrint Etsy Shop

What’s the Context?

Pineapples have long been a symbol of hospitality.  As commonplace as they might be today, history is very clear about who the hospitality was meant for and who paid for it with their lives.  Plucked from the Caribbean, the pineapple’s rare, exotic, and evocative image was the envy of upper-class Europeans.  To have it adorn your dining table boasted of the host’s wealth and resourcefulness, and was to be enjoyed only by those who such a host deemed worthy.  And, as is often the case, real people were taken advantage of in every way to make this farce a possibility.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love pineapples.  But every time I see one as a supposed symbol of hospitality, I’m reminded of this history.  Sometimes I can let it go as a simple anachronism.  Sometimes the spirit of the welcomer is strong enough for me to look past it altogether.  But the work of figuring out the host’s intent and its eventual outcome almost always falls on me.  Is this someone I can trust to uphold my inherent worth and dignity in the long run?  Or am I just another pineapple: someone who looks different, interesting, and can be collected to bump up an image of a diversity-welcoming community?  

The very term “welcome” can be problematic, as well.  The way we use it today, there’s a connotation that we wish the “comer” well.  But when we dig into the etymology, we see another questionable history.  “Wilcuma” is the Old English root meaning “one whose coming suits another’s will or wish.”  Here again, we see the will or wish of the host centered.  And a condition placed on the guest.

This is illustrated by our tendency to wrap collection of contact information and self-identification into the welcoming process.  It becomes transactional: you will welcome me if I’ll make it easier for you and agree to receiving more information from you.  This is infinitely more difficult for someone who isn’t sure if they can trust you yet – if you imitate or disrupt the white dominant culture.  And this is where intent has to match outcome, or you will lose that trust and the welcome never truly happened.  This is about being sensitive to the timing.  Just as, when dating, you’d look for signs of interest before trying to get someone’s number (at least, I hope you would)!


From Good Intentions to Good Outcomes

I was recently inspired by Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, the UUA’s Director of Multicultural Ministries & Leadership.  She said, “We’re in a time that invites us to be welcoming in new ways… to find the ways to be more authentically welcoming.”  Authenticity in welcoming relationships requires mutual respect and exchange.  It’s not about the host putting on a show, proving themselves, offering diversity bonafides (I’ve been guilty of this!).  It’s not about letting guests figure out for themselves whether they’ll fit into the existing culture.  It’s all about being aware of the context of systemic oppression that a guest has to endure every day, and doing our work as hosts to make our space not just safer, but also enriching and life-giving.

It’s tricky to formulate what an authentic relationship should or could look like, given the range of cultures, personalities, and communication preferences.  In addition to being aware of how systemic oppression works, it includes leaving space for the person to have and possibly tell you their own experience.  This might look like training your greeters to remember guests and follow up after the service to hear what they thought and felt and get their contact information if they seem interested in more.  It might look like training and reminding your congregants to talk to guests or people they haven’t met yet during coffee hour rather than making guests introduce themselves in the service.

Welcoming versus Othering basic intercultural hospitality tip sheet - two columns of "Say This" and "Instead of"
Handout to use for training and awareness

If you’re a white person who’s speaking with a person of color (especially in a social context that is majority white), let your guest lead the conversation and always check for understanding.  They may have a completely different experience from what you imagine and be seeking a safe space where they can express it and be their own complex, unique selves.  It may involve long-term relationship building rather than expecting someone to trust you immediately.  Or, it might involve being ready and flexible to new ideas if someone wants to “dive in.”  Really, this is no more of a courtesy than we’d extend to people of a perceived “ingroup.”  We need to practice widening this to all guests.

Pineapples can be enjoyed by everyone.  And hosts’ intentions don’t have to be at odds with the outcome their guests experience.  The nuanced but pivotal difference is authentic relationship and a willingness to be transformed.  Dr. Janice Marie Johnson points out that “There’s no common notion of welcome. Wherever we go, it looks different.”  I’m interested to see what images of hospitality look like in the next 500 years – ones that don’t have roots in colonialism and white supremacy.  May we sow new seeds of welcome that bear fruits for our collective liberation.

Check out Multicultural Welcome: a Resource for Greeters for more depth, including workshop activities you can use for training in your congregation.  You can also use the Welcoming versus Othering handout for greeter training and congregational awareness.

Look for the Unbuilders

by Natalie Briscoe,

Congregational Life Field Staff for the UUA serving the Southern Region

One of my favorite teaching stories is “The Carpenter and The Unbuilder.” The main character of the story is the Carpenter, who is the most skilled tradesperson in the whole country. The Ruler hears of the Carpenter’s accomplishments and sends an invitation to come to the palace for dinner. The Carpenter, who is used to construction, spends a long time – years even – preparing for the journey. Etiquette lessons, new clothing, and classes in politics and current affairs all must be acquired before the journey can even begin. Once the trip is underway, the Carpenter finds many reasons to stop along the way: building elaborate, beautiful, and – most importantly – comfortable houses to stay in. The Carpenter often allows fear of the unknown and of their own inadequacy stall the journey. These detours keep happening until one day, the Carpenter meets the Unbuilder. The Unbuilder shows the Carpenter how to dismantle, take apart, and “unbuild” the structures around them so the journey can continue. The Undbuilder teaches the Carpenter that it is impossible to reach the Kingdom if these things we have built – no matter how beautiful – keep distracting us. Sometimes we aren’t building homes; we are building prisons.

This story is a metaphorical telling of our journey through Faith Development.  We begin at home, learning what we can trust, what we can rely on. We hear the stories of who we are, and we learn to tell those stories to others. We come to know these stories as part of our history, our identity, and our legacy. We build lots of structures – churches, curricula, pedagogy, programs, worship services, polity, governance – around the truths we hear in these stories. Our love of the story, the story that informs who we are, transfers to a love of these structures we’ve built. They are comfortable to the Carpenters. The Carpenters learn to recognize other Carpenters, the people who are skilled at building like they are. They tell them the stories, and together, they make something bigger than themselves. Individuals spend a lot of time in this building stage as Carpenters and often leave a great legacy of structures behind them. James T. Fower, the author of “Stages of Faith Development,” calls this stage “Synthetic-Conventional.” It is a community-based stage, where building a community of those who know our stories is important to us.

Eventually, on our Journey of Faith Development, we meet the Unbuilder.  The Unbuilders can be inside our UUA and outside; inside of our member congregations and outside; inside our own souls, and outside. Meeting the Unbuilder, in the metaphorical sense, ushers in the stage Fowler would call the “Individuative-Reflexive Stage” of Faith Development. The things we built with such care and time must be deconstructed. Where once they were vehicles to bringing the story to life, they are now the things which stand in the way of our journey. We must take them apart in order to remember what about them was so important to begin with. This part of the story – this Stage of Faith – is scary and often very painful. We have worked so hard to build these structures. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to see them torn down. And yet, if we don’t do this, we are stuck. Our stories and the values they represent are held captive to the structures, and we become unable to move forward on our Journey to a deeper Faith.

The moral of the story is this (and it is more true this very second than ever before):

Unitarian Universalists have long misunderstood themselves in the context of religious mission.

The purpose of the church is not to have the church.

Unitarian Universalism can save the world, but we don’t let it. We lock it away in scaffolds and structures. We confine it to process and systems. We build walls to hold it prisoner. We keep our mouths closed when we should scream. We keep our hands still when they should work. We let fear guide us instead of love.

That is wrong. This structure, this church, this building, this person – none of that can contain the whole of Unitarian Universalism. The purpose of the church is not to keep its structures in place. The purpose of the church is to be the institutional incarnation of Love on earth. And it grows organically out of the needs of the people who are transforming the world through active, forceful, and fearless creation of love and justice. Saving the world leads to the need to feed the souls of those who are DOING it. The work comes FIRST, the structure comes SECOND – if at all.

Tearing down the structure only destroys the mission if the mission wasn’t there to begin with. If the work is clear, and we understand ourselves to truly be the builders of the beloved community, then this process won’t destroy us. It will set us free.



by Natalie Briscoe,

Congregational Life Field Staff for the UUA serving the Southern Region

Natalie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000 where her focus was on learning and perception across the lifespan. She received her Master’s Degree in counseling and human development from the University of North Texas in 2002. She has amassed over a decade as a Religious Educator, serving first as a Children’s Program Coordinator and then as a Director of Religious Education for two churches, one in North Texas and one in Seattle, Washington. In 2012 Natalie received both the Ruth Clark Award for Service to Unitarian Universalism and the Norma Veridan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Religious Education. She has served on the Congregational Life Field Staff for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association since 2013. Natalie is married to her best friend Sean Briscoe, and the couple have two children, Ian and Ayla.


Show, don’t tell, your values in the world

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

Is there such a thing as being too public about your values? The world today can feel like a hard time to reach out, given the uncertainty in the news, on social media, and in our hearts.

But the truth is, it’s never been more important to get out there and be our progressively faithful selves, even when that’s imperfect. Yes, that takes courage. You bet it requires risk. Just remember that inaction carries its own risk in this historic time in American public life. Attendance is up at many churches, a sure sign that our message is a needed one. How can we honor that need and answer its call?

We want to highlight two opportunities to help frame and support the work you are doing in your community – the Love Resists campaign and the UU White Supremacy Teach-In. These are two ways that the UU faith tradition is finding traction in these days of churn and change.  

Love Resists

Started as a joint initiative between the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Association, Love Resists offers tools, tips and connections to help expand the notion of sanctuary in our communities, grow our solidarity with oppressed communities, and raise our voices for justice. The campaign models partnership and collaboration from the bottom up, drawing heavily on the framing and guidance of our community organizing partners.

This month’s social media graphics come from Love Resists, and are a great way to show your support for expanded sanctuary policies, rapid response networks, physical shelter, and more. Download all eight graphics.

We hope you’ll share them! And when you do, it’s a great opportunity to talk about what commitments you’ve made to help expand sanctuary and create safe spaces for those most under threat. Perhaps you’re advocating for your local school district to refuse to cooperate with immigration orders, or members of your congregation are accompanying undocumented folks at their regular check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or maybe you’re part of an interfaith coalition offering physical sanctuary in one of your congregations. Regardless, it is so important to be public in our work for justice right now, to show that people of faith and conscience are invested in a different vision for our communities. Visit loveresists.org for more information.

UU White Supremacy Teach-In

You may also know about the grassroots UU White Supremacy Teach-In, just wrapping up its two weekends of disrupting “church as usual” to focus on the racial injustice and cultural whiteness of our faith. With nearly two-thirds of UU congregations participating, the Teach-In is a powerful testament to Unitarian Universalists’ shared desire to build a new way forward and reach new audiences (and kudos to religious educators and event organizers Aisha Hauser, Christina Rivera and Kenny Wiley!). If you didn’t sign up for the Teach-In, remember it’s never too late to talk about decentering whiteness :). If you’ve completed the Teach-In, find a next activity for your congregation (see the “next ask” recommendation from our Entry Points post) to show how you’re carrying its lessons forward.

I’ve heard some people wonder if a focus on examining our internal white supremacy will turn off spiritual seekers. I feel pretty sure we aren’t going to turn people off with heartfelt internal discussion; instead we will help outsiders understand how seriously we take our values. In a time when trust of institutions like church is weak, especially for younger folks, it’s critical that we show we’re serious about practicing what we preach.

There is no more distinction between what happens backstage and what is thrust into the spotlight, this is the era of leadership in the round.

Both Love Resists and the White Supremacy Teach-In are an opportunity to “show, don’t tell.” Instead of just talking about our principles and commitments, we are embodying them with clear action. It can’t be overstated how important this is in the era of 24/7 social media transparency. Make sure you’re Tweeting, Facebook-ing, and talking about the work you’re doing, so that your light may inspire others to let theirs burn bright.  

I am committed to Unitarian Universalism because of its aspirations for a just, compassionate, beloved community for all. If you believe that more people hunger for this vision, show them you mean it. There’s no such thing as being too public about your values days.
How are you showing your values these days? Add your thoughts to the comments below.

Whiteness’ Supremacy and Reaching Out

White supremacy. Patriarchy. These are hard words to hear fully, even more difficult forces to challenge, and yet we cannot be the Unitarian Universalist faith that we want to be without confronting them. Our liberal religious tradition — proud, historic, vibrant, ever-evolving, and deeply flawed — is right now wrestling with the roots of white supremacy and patriarchy in our faith. On that, our tradition is surely not alone. Yet the power of our faith’s principles also calls each of us, and particularly those who are religious leaders and those who identify as white, to not flinch from that reality. In this time in the United States, we can only be a beacon for hope and justice if we demonstrate the integrity of our principles through our actions. Inspired by our friends in the UUA Youth and Young Adult Ministry office, our team wants to tell you the ways we have fallen short of this integrity so that we can act differently in the future.

Our team is three Unitarian Universalists – two people of color: one man who is the staff supervisor, and one woman who is a religious educator; and one white woman who is an ordained minister. We help Unitarian Universalists build new relationships with people, and make it as easy possible to share the gifts of our faith in the wider world. Some of our jobs include overseeing the content and design of UUA.org, curating the site’s WorshipWeb section, editing the weekly Braver/Wiser message, managing creative and digital strategies at the UUA, leading workshops and trainings for congregational leaders through our Outreach Revolution network, and publishing this blog.

The face of Unitarian Universalism

In many ways, we are responsible for defining the face of Unitarian Universalism. Who do you see when you land on the UUA homepage? What text do you read? What information do you encounter? We try to balance the reality of who we are as UU’s – older, whiter, more liberal and more educated than our neighbors – with our aspiration for who we want to be – multicultural, multigenerational faith communities. We neither want to whitewash the diversity we do have, nor do we want to fall into the “college brochure” trap of showcasing a diversity that exists only in our fantasies.

We know we get this balance wrong sometimes. We’d like to hear from you when we do. But more importantly, we have been making these decisions in a vacuum, relying on our own best judgement. In the future, we commit to working in ways to do this more honestly, openly, and accountably.

The voices of worship and inspiration

Sunday morning worship is at the heart of our faith, and it is interwoven with a culture of white supremacy — not only its content, but its shape, its patterns, its sights and sounds, and its unstated rules. Our theology compels us to create experiences in which, to quote Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout,  “there’s a larger ‘we’ each time we worship,” but few worship services live up to that standard. Our congregations are filled with white folks who, despite their best intentions, often fail to recognize that when they approach people of color, they are attempting, again quoting Dr. Rideout, “to partner with people for whom love is not an automatic privilege.”

WorshipWeb and Braver/Wiser are widely-used tools for planning worshipful spaces, and we can and will do more to use them to de-center whiteness in Unitarian Universalist worship life, lifting up the voices of people of color and reconsidering our basic assumptions about what feels most spiritual and profound.

The “growth” mindset

We describe our work as helping Unitarian Universalists build relationships with new audiences, to help our saving message reach more people. We are careful to say that, yes, this relationship does not necessarily translate into membership, that it may take place outside your congregation, and that we can do ministry at many levels no matter who we are. But the truth is that we have also allowed the UU’s we train and advise to believe that, really, it’s about getting more members on the books and more pledges in the bank. We need more of “them” to join “us,” more brown and young people in the pews. We as a team sidestep this assumption which separates “us” and “them” even before we welcome newcomers through our doors. We allow it to persist, choosing to believe in good intentions rather than leaning into our discomfort and the higher calling of our covenants.  We have avoided interrupting conversations that perpetuate both conscious and unconscious beliefs in the white experience as primary, normative, “better than,” and dominant (just look at the title of this blog).

Our churches often hide the best parts of our faith inside our congregations, and use it as a lure to become a member. We do this knowing that, as a predominantly and culturally white faith, people of color must make ourselves uncomfortable and endure our own marginalization to access the Unitarian Universalist spiritual wellspring. The UU need to grow, to prove our value by claiming others, can be traced to a Puritanical, colonial impulse to control.

Do we have the spiritual strength to give away the best that we have? At the recent Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism gathering, all main events were livestreamed for everyone. How many UU spaces and congregations would be willing to do the same? How many would be able to liberate their principles from the membership growth mindset? We as the outreach team have failed to bring this multicultural strength and value forward, fearing being seen as “too radical” or feeling that such changes were beyond the realm of possibility.  We can and will name this truth in our work going forward.


Who do we serve: our mission and our principles, or our institutions? This is not an intellectual exercise for our team. It is physical and emotional and visceral, and our livelihoods are connected to it. When we whitespeak to pass as educated, competent and respectable, and center white audiences in our writing, we are not living up to our calling. And we say now, publicly, that we are committed to doing better, because we believe our faith depends on it.

We applaud and support the work Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) and Diverse & Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) are doing for our collective liberation. We urge you to support the #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn by signing up here and donating to BLUU and DRUUMM.


With love,

Anna Bethea, Erika Hewitt & Carey McDonald

Outreach: Do they need us, or we them?

by AJ van Tine

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

The current social and political climate presents Unitarian Universalists with an opportunity, as well as a challenge. We are overwhelmed by the need to reach out to support those affected by recent racist, heterosexist, transphobic, and Islamophobic policies, and counter with our Unitarian Universalist message of radical love and beloved community. In times like these, how do we stay grounded in our core purposes for reaching out and not get swept up in the latest news cycle, as relevant as it may be. Why do Unitarian Universalists want to reach out?

girl looking out from door
Photo via Pixabay

One reason to reach out is to be loud about our values of love and justice – to evangelize. Evangelism isn’t about recruiting; it says that we have good news for the world, and that we should spread it! We have a truth to share because it may benefit others. Unitarian Universalism may not have a single creed that we want others to adopt, but we do have a message of hope. Our principles describe a vision of an equitable, peaceful, and justice-filled world. We can call this the “they need us” approach, although we know more accurately that they do not need you and me as individuals, but they need the message that we share.

On the other hand, there is a “we need them” approach. This is the seventh principle kind of “we need them.” More than the practical logic that we can accomplish more together than separately, it is the recognition that we have always been inherently interconnected to one another. When we try to achieve our vision of diverse and equitable community with only the people we already know, through networks and methods we are already familiar with, we fall short that very vision which calls us on. The act of outreach is not merely a means to the beloved community, but it is actively how we create it.

Of course, the truth is that these two approaches are not opposites. They are deeply intertwined aspects of outreach. I strongly believe Unitarian Universalism proclaims a saving message that our country is in dire need of today.  If we are to stay true to the content of this message and spread it far and wide, we have to be on guard against talking only to ourselves. Opening our hearts and doors to create vibrant relationships with new people and their communities is both the method and the message.

This isn’t easy. It requires being brave and putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable, and we always want to articulate our message as clearly and powerfully as possible. The good news is you are not left on your own! Here are some social media graphics you can use to spread the good word.

Why outreach? Because it is by building relationships and diverse community that we can transform ourselves and the world. If it is true that we should be the change we wish to see in the world, then our congregations can start the process by practicing radical hospitality within our walls and by preaching love outward into the larger society.


AJ van TineAJ van Tine is a field education student completing an internship at the UUA. He is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist from Virginia with an aspiration for ministry, and in his second year at Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife Ada, who is also a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.

More Like a Marathon than a Sprint

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

Growth isn’t always about numbers and getting more people in the door, as has been the premise of this blog all along.  But there’s no denying that the act of growing Unitarian Universalism will always require us to focus outward while simultaneously nurturing capacity and spirit inward.  As more UUs ramp up the exercise of living their values in the political world, the Rev. Dr. James Kubal-Komoto shares the results of some studies that will train us for a marathon.


Unitarian Universalists by the hundreds and perhaps by the thousands participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and in sister marches in cities across the United States to stand up for our shared values of compassion and justice for all people. I suspect this was the largest Unitarian Universalist public witness since the 1963 March on Washington. A weekend later, Unitarian Universalists across the country participated in demonstrations again at our nation’s airports.

Will this level of participation continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead, or will it fizzle? It may depend on three things:


Let’s Roll – Reaching out like never before in the age of Trump

The 2012 inauguration of President Obama

From the Outreach Revolution Series:

What if this moment, this time in American history, is the reason we’re here as Unitarian Universalists? That’s the thought that popped into my head with the dawn of 2017, on the heels of a very rough 2016. Religious leaders have been put on notice by the decline in church attendance and the rise of the “spiritual but not religious,” yet in many ways our engagement with these trends as Unitarian Universalists has been about us – what we want, what we hope for, what we feel. Right now, the world needs us in a different way, as the fear-filled national election and the incoming administration’s political agenda are sure to demonstrate. It’s why attendance has spiked at UU congregations across the country. We have to push outside the four walls of our congregation because the call to ministry has never been stronger, and it’s happening in the streets. I, for one, feel that this call to action has started to, er, trump our other ideas about the future. Over the last few years we’ve also started waking up our activism with the movements for black lives, immigration reform and gender equity. And now it’s time to level up.

Are you doing something for the Week of Action, January 14-21st? I hope you are. It includes a National Day of Action for Immigrants, Muslims and Refugees, the week-long #Fast4Power, the Women’s March on Washington with sister marches nationwide, the J21 Teach-In on voting rights at All Souls Church Unitarian in DC, and the beginning of our own 30 Days of Love. Here are four ways to maximize your outreach that week, wherever you are:

Be loud
Resist the pressure to normalize the Trump administration’s agenda and the way it will target people of color, queer people, women, and anyone with minority status. The whole world will be paying attention, and it matters that we as a denomination with historic stature begin to resist this agenda. Proclaim your values from the rooftops. People are starting to hear us, so don’t stop now.

With this month’s Outreach Revolution virtual care package, you can download four customizable images to promote the themes of 30 Days of Love. Share them on your personal or congregational Facebook page to show what relationship, covenant, transformation and sustenance mean to UUs who join social movements.

Find friends
Have you reached out to your community partner groups? Interfaith groups and neighbor churches? You’re going to need one another for what’s coming next. You may even need to reach out to each other as members within your congregation, to break down some silos and just make sure your fellow congregants are doing ok. Who in your community will be on the frontline of harassment from the Trump administration and its allies? You may be targeted, or you may know others who will, but in either case you will need friends in a whole new way.

Do stuff
Be out in public this week. Follow the Week of Action links to find an event near you, or maybe you already know of one! Wear t-shirts, carry banners, find a way to express your hopes and fears for the country, your community and the world. Help people who are reconnecting with your community get plugged into these actions. Remember, we need to show the love, not just say the love.

Do more stuff
Keep it up, there will be plenty of opportunities and needs. For all the people who you turn out for the Week of Action and 30 Days of Love, have a next event ready in the coming weeks or months that you can invite them to. Get in that “next ask”! Show your involvement during the Week of Action isn’t a one-off event.

Stay strong, friends. We’re headed towards tougher times, things will get worse. But maybe that’s what we’re here for, and the calling of our times will help us as UU’s become who we were meant to be. As nonprofits, religious organizations are allowed to talk about political issues and needs,* so let’s make the most of it! I believe that if we answer this call, it will lead us to the purposeful and faithful future we’ve hoped for. We’re just getting started.

Let’s roll.


*See the UUA’s Real Rules for more information on the actual limits of political activity by religious nonprofits. You may be surprised how much we can do!

Passing the Flame

Ignite the Moment by Stuart Williams

In this darkest time of year it is my pleasure to pass the flame that is the Growing Unitarian Universalism blog to my good colleague Carey McDonald.   I know his added breath and vision will fan the flames even brighter.


I started this blog in January 2012 as a platform for the UUA’s Growth Office. Back then Rev. Stefan Jonasson was the head of Growth Office, and the two of us were pretty much given carte blanche to think outside the box regarding UU growth.


The blog’s original mission read:

We will use this blog to share research, review resources, articulate strategies, identify good practices, present guest commentaries, and share stories from the field—all in an effort to stimulate Unitarian Universalists’ passion for sharing our faith and growing its congregations.


The first blog post explained our framework for growth, taken from Loren Mead’s book More than Numbers: the Way Churches Grow:

  • Organizational Maturity
  • Spiritual Vitality
  • Faith in Action
  • Associational (addition made by Jan Gartner)
  • Numerical Indicators


It’s worth stating (over and over) again that the numerical indicators are only important in checking your perception and assumptions. It helps you see what’s really going on. Misused, numerical indicators can distract or induce shame. When congregations and Covenanting Communities focus on the other four kinds of growth, their vitality grows. What the world needs are more UU groups alive and awake in the world. Perhaps the most important blog post I ever wrote offered a tool for congregations to discern their Call in the world.


Getting up on the balcony and looking at the last four years of Growing Unitarian Universalism blog, we see some trends in writers, types of posts and topics of posts.


Over the years we invited colleagues from other UUA departments as well as leaders from the field to guest blog.



Readers craved tools, examples, and stories.



Growth and data topped the topic chart.



No more blogs about the 12th Man, Seahawks, and football. Those brought the most ire from readers.


My top 10 favorites (in no order):

  1. Curious Facebook Phenomena & Thanksgiving Assignment
  2. Holy Envy: #DunkintheDark
  3. Dog Poop and Congregational Adaptive Change
  4. Beauty and Play as a Growth Strategy
  5. An Innovative Learning Circle of Your Own…
  6. The Magic of Empty Chairs
  7. “What now?” What’s next?”
  8. On Wholeness and Worship
  9. Road Tip! We’re better together!
  10. Holy Coffee Making


I’m stepping down from Growing Unitarian Universalism for two reasons:

  • This fall I joined the Pacific Western Regional staff team.  I honestly don’t have time for the Growing Unitarian Universalism blog. My plate is full.
  • I am also a fervent believer in leadership succession planning and not hogging the potential. Religious work is a spiritual practice. When we claim a position for too long we rob others from the experience and those the position serves of refreshed perspective.

Carey McDonald, my colleague and sibling in faith and good friend, I officially pass the flame. I know you will tend it well and guide us on our way. I am thrilled and grateful you said, “yes!”


Over 100,000,000 views of 228 posts about growing our Unitarian Universalist tradition and amplifying love and goodness in the world. I’d say that’s a good run.


Happy New Year!


Rev. Tandi Rogers now serves the UUA as the primary contact for congregations in Alaska, Washington, and Idaho as well as shepherding the emerging ministries and the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministries program throughout the Pacific Western Region. She is also adjunct faculty with Meadville Lombard Theological School, teaching Religious Education for a Changing World. Tandi’s personal blog is Putting Religious Education in Its Place.