Welcome to Growing Unitarian Universalism, a forum for sharing ideas and strategies for growing our liberal religious faith in breadth, depth and numbers. Sponsored by the UUA Office of Growth Strategies, 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.

Established in 2011, the Office of Growth Strategies was initiated to help restore the Unitarian Universalist Association to a position of active evangelism.  Yes, evangelism—sharing the good news we have to offer with hungry, thirsting souls whose lives might be enriched by our unique way in religion and whose labors might be harnessed in service to the world.

It is not the purpose of the Office of Growth Strategies to single-handedly increase the number of Unitarian Universalists.  That’s the collective work of all Unitarian Universalists and it must focus on witnessing to our principles and values in new and compelling ways, not seeking numerical growth for its own sake.  Indeed, while numerical growth may be a useful measure of success, our real goal is changed hearts and transformed lives.  Our office’s role is to inform, equip and inspire Unitarian Universalists in this work.

Over the past several months, my colleague, Tandi Rogers, and I have been surveying the landscape: we’ve reviewed the Unitarian Universalist Association’s previous growth initiatives, identified resources from a wide variety of outside agencies, and consulted broadly with individuals and groups who care about the health and vitality of Unitarian Universalism.  Recognizing that a sustained growth initiative will require the alignment of existing denominational resources in ways that promote evangelism and outreach, we asked UUA staff three questions:

  1. How does what you do contribute to growth?
  2. What would a religious venture capitalist do in your role?
  3. What three things that you currently do, if you stopped doing them, would actually contribute to growth?

Along the way, we’ve discerned that the best programs and initiatives seem to have a “shelf life,” after which they need to be retired, since they begin to produce diminishing returns, however effective they may have been at their peak.  We’ve realized that our institutions reward caution much more than responsible risk-taking.  We’ve seen how technology is outpacing our imagination for its effective use.  And we’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that our regional staff are working with more than 60 emerging congregations or groups of various types.

As this blog unfolds in the coming weeks and months—even years—we will share what we’re learning in greater depth, point to resources you might find useful, offer our best insights and advice, and invite you to participate in the conversation.  We promise to provoke and inspire, challenge and encourage, lead and listen.  Together we can expand the influence of Unitarian Universalism and welcome newcomers to join us on this adventure of faith.  Can we count on you to work with us in growing Unitarian Universalism?

About the Author
Stefan Jonasson

Comments

  1. Rev. Amanda Aikman

    This is terrific and as I prepare to start serving an ambitious “no walls” congregation, am very excited to learn and share ideas here. I guess one of my current questions as a former advertising copywriter is still — “what is our unique selling proposition?” — what do uu’s offer to the world that’s truly irreplaceable? Salutations on your launch!

    Reply
    • Dee DeLauder

      As president of the Board of trustees, as well as webmaster of my congregation, I too am looking for the magic bullet approach to attracting visitors through our doors.
      As religious fundamentalism becomes more visible, not only in the rest of the world, but also in America, people need to realize that it is not the role of religion, any religion, to strictly define one’s politics. Our founding fathers realized that when they wrote into the U.S. Constitution that government could not create a national religion . Defining the role of government in a democratic society should not be decided solely based on religious dogma or narrow ideologies. But rather, the filter of religiosity can define how well people should work with, and for others, to define a common good in a shared democratic society.

      Reply
    • Mitesh

      Thank you for your comments about Dr. Rzepka’s UU World atrlcie. I must say along with others that the work was not her best, and I suspect it was pulled from the archives. Whether that’s true or not, it has become tiresome to me to hear our faith described in counterpoint to our neighbors’. It gives us the excuse for being small we’re too weird for most people and makes us lazy. Keep up the good fight, Vicki, for theological work among UU’s, and know there are plenty of us out here who identify ourselves in more positive, affirming and friendly ways.

      Reply
      • Ysadora

        I’ve been struggling with this same issue. I have no diesre to belong to a church . But I am looking for a community to be part of. I also have outspoken kids, and I want to provide an opportunity for them have a peer group where they can be comfortable without having to shut up about what they think. After checking out several groups in our area, a local UU congregation seems to be the best fit for all of this. I’ve signed up to teach 6th graders, and my 7th grader’s class will be studying other religions and making field trips. There’s a Science and Reason forum, and lots of interesting people to talk to. Recent sermons were on Freud and Jung. Yet, I don’t know that I can ever be a member there. There are too many details that rub me the wrong way. Too much acceptance of woo . Too much emphasis on worship and spirituality , neither of which do I want anything to do with. I’m an atheist. UU suits my purposes for right now, but I don’t think I will ever be a UU.

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        • Sandra

          Yes, it’s that spiritual but not rieoglius thing that’s grating on me. I’m not rieoglius. I’m not freaking spiritual either, whatever the heck that’s supposed to mean.I kind of get the feeling that a lot of UU’s have gotten as far as questioning religion, and perhaps questioning the existence of a god, but they still have underlying assumptions that they are not questioning. I think that aside from their dogma, most xian churches also work very hard to instill the basic messages of it’s important to be spiritual , and it’s necessary to have faith in something . Those assumptions still seem to be operating in the UU congregations.

          Reply
        • Ersin

          Hi, Ron. I’m curious as to your oponniis on my posts on UUism, but you’ve left me just a short blurb and I have a lot of questions. You say neither a congregation nor a church, but you talk about a place devoted to the religious and spiritual, and the sermon videos you link to do talk about atheists coming to church. Which is it? Is Unitarian Universalism religious, or not? That’s the identity crisis I was talking about in this post.

          Reply
  2. Molly Housh Gordon

    Three thumbs up, Stefan. Amen to evangelism, risk, and the entrepreneurial spirit! Looking forward to seeing what this becomes!

    Reply
  3. Rev. Roger Mohr

    As a minister and an MBA, two words: Product Differentiation. What makes us different, and dare I say BETTER than other religious brands? As a venture capitalist, stop investing in the past. Invest in the future. What do we need to do to make the world better? What can we offer that the world needs now. Get specific, know what you are talking about, don’t resort to vague ideals like Tolerance, Democracy, Openness. Know what PRODUCT you are selling that makes you DIFFERENT from other religious traditions. (Hint: I don’t think “We just love everybody” is the answer here). Think pragmatically.Three things to lose: The old hymnal. Jesus. Piety. Three things to add: Contemporary music. Contemporary philosophy. Laughter. I admit, my commitment to this is still fresh, and I have not run trials yet. But I do know this: the old postmodernist universal ambivalence is not working. Time to move forward with something to believe in.

    In my humble opinion, of course. Reverend Roger Mohr, First UU, Detroit MI

    Reply
  4. Jim Mason

    To what Roger said, I would add MARKETING.

    Let’s stop communicating in any way the nonsensical idea that “You can believe what you want and still be a UU”. This is not true and never has been. Let’s instead say clearly to the world “Here is what we believe and here is what we are doing about it right now. If you believe these things, too, then please join us.”

    The things that we believe together makes us unique. We can and should clearly express those beliefs and energetically market them without apology and without equivocation.

    It is misleading to say to non-UUs that we are a religion without a creed. “A creed is a statement of belief—usually a statement of faith that describes the beliefs shared by a religious community.” So of course we have a UU creed, and it is expressed clearly in our principles. And I would guess that UUs share our beliefs more strongly than most other religious communities share their beliefs.

    Reply
  5. Rev. Deborah Holder

    If I understand pragmatism, Unitarian Universalism would be meaningful and true because its Way contributes to the growth of a spiritual culture, right? Instead of materialism, individualism, and dominance, we’d be lured by a sense of the whole which can be called God. Seen this way, as a venture capitalist, I’d be investing in increased UU piety; more religious discipline and transformative practices?

    I would put my money into local infrastructure for training, credentialing, and support of lay ministers; a UU discipleship called to serve who can’t afford or don’t want formal seminary education. Lots of Boomers are/will be retiring in the next 10 years. Let’s start with applied relational theologies – teaching art and practice of empathy, train spiritual directors for small group justice ministries, create new types of restorative justice circles in our communities. Really live out our covenantal obligations to one another. Become intentional midwives and models of Beloved Community.

    Reply
    • Amanda Aikman

      Dear Deborah, I LOVE this. Before I became a UU, I was in the Unity church and they have, or had, a wonderful middle ground between laity and ordained clergy — it was called “Licensed Teacher.” as I recall, Licensed Teachers not only taught Adult RE, but also did rites of passage, preaching, and the like. It was great training wheels for ministry. Our Canadian churches’ “chaplains” are much along the same lines. I think this would give a strong sense of purpose to many laypeople, and they would develop a deeper sense of our faith than is now common. Not all that many people know that the UU Society for Community Ministries has many non-ordained members who are doing all sorts of amazing work — as prison chaplains, grant administrators, anti-poverty activists, etc. — no doubt UUSCM could play a role in helping to develop standards, training, etc. for lay ministers.

      Reply
  6. Cathy Senecal

    Our strongest selling point is staring us right in the face. We are the ONLY faith community that doesn’t require members to adapt a specific creed or dogma. We take the best from all religions and secular writings. We are the WORLD’S religion. That’s as good as it gets!

    Reply
    • Kim Hampton

      This is not true and never has been. We are NOT the only group that doesn’t require members to adapt (or adopt) a specific creed or dogma; a small list of others include the Society of Friends (the Quakers), the Disciples of Christ, the American Baptists and Reconstructionist Judaism. As long as too many of us act as if creedlessness is something unique to us, we will continue to spout the garbage that “you can believe anything you want and you’ll be welcome in UUism.”

      Selling ourselves need not tell something factually untrue.

      Reply

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