Tops Picks for Growth at General Assembly

uua_ga2016_logoAre you looking for new ideas to grow your congregation? General Assembly is just around the corner, and there are a dozen workshops on growth to choose from.

Here’s a list, sorted by topic for you to mark in your Program Book or Mobile App.

Small Congregations

  • LEGACY OR RENAISSANCE: SMALL CONGREGATIONS ON THE EDGE
    #210 Thursday, 10:45am – 12:00pm E160
    Some small congregations are realizing that the way they’ve been operating is no longer sustainable. What’s next? Is it time to move towards a holy death? Or are you ready to make a vibrant new start with radical re-envisioning? How can you decide which choice is your congregation’s? This workshop will provide a framework and examples for both paths.
    Megan Foley & Rev. Mary Grigolia
  • SUCCESS IN SMALL CHURCHES: HOPE IN UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM’S HEARTLAND
    #410 Saturday 3:00pm – 4:15pm CC C226
    Small churches, the heartbeat of our faith, are uniquely positioned to innovate and experiment with new ways of being healthy, vibrant, and relevant – if they put mission and covenant first. Learn to identify your small congregation’s gifts and plan strategically for innovations to grow new possibilities for our faith.
    Rev. Megan Foley & Karen Bellavance-Grace

Hospitality

  • THE SPIRITUAL PRACTICE OF WELCOMING ALL
    #228 Thursday 1:15pm – 2:30pm CC E162
    Many congregations have mastered the process involved in opening their doors for newcomers but are they opening their hearts? What would that welcome look like in our greeting, programs, and emerging ministries? We will consider together how our spiritual baggage could be preventing us from truly being welcoming to all.
    Marie Blohowiak, Rev. Tandi Rogers & Tina Lewis
  • BRINGING ACCESSIBILITY AND INCLUSION MINISTRY TO YOUR CONGREGATION
    #330 Friday 3:00pm – 4:15pm CC C223-225
    Heard the buzz about the Accessibility & Inclusion Ministry (AIM) Program for congregations? Wondering how to bring this new ministry to your congregation? Learn how to form an AIM Team to widen the welcome to people with disabilities. Become an AIM Congregation – moving ever closer to the beloved community.
    Michelle Avery Ferguson, Rev. Barbara Meyers, Michael Sallwasser & Suzanne Fast
  • WE MET ONLINE! GREAT VISITOR EXPERIENCES START WITH GOOGLE
    #432 Saturday 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC Union Station Ballroom A
    From the first online search to an in-person visit, emotions are a key part of what makes a visitor stay or go. User Experience (UX) approaches uncover the emotions we’re evoking to create positive and integrated experiences. Learn how to apply UX to your congregation to improve the visitor experience.
    Sarah Gibb Millspaugh & Carey McDonald

 Outreach

  • OUTREACH 101: JOIN OUR CAUSE, NOT OUR CLUB
    #317 Friday 1:15pm – 2:30pm CC C223-225
    Religion is changing, and just preaching to the choir ain’t gonna cut it. Learn how to reach out to your community as an extension of your congregation’s mission, get the tools you need to move forward, and hear inspiring outreach stories from congregations like yours.
    Carey McDonald
  • INNOVATING IN COVENANT: EMERGING MINISTRIES REACH OUT
    #422 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC E161
    Emerging ministries are new endeavors that are grounded in our faith and formed by covenant.
    How do some of these innovative ministries fulfill our UU mission in the world? Come learn
    from the stories of a new campus ministry, a network of interdependent communities and a forming congregation.
    Kevin Lowry, Rev. Nathan Hollister &Lori Stone Sirtosky

Innovative Ministries

  • UU MODELS OF PARTNERSHIP AND MULTI-SITE MINISTRIES
    #328 Friday 3:00pm – 4:15pm HR Union E
    We’ve featured various models of congregational Partnership & Multi-site over the years: branches, yoked, mergers, etc. This year we’re highlighting Clusters and Partnerships just starting their covenantal relationships, at the beginning of the continuum of collaboration. Especially useful for lay leaders discerning deeply partnering with other UU communities.
    Joan Van Becelaere & Rev. David Pyle
  • LIVING THE PRINCIPLES: THEME-BASED PROGRAMMING FOR ALL AGES
    #352 Friday 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC Hall E
    Many of us are seeking new ways to support multigenerational faith formation in our congregations. Living the Principles is an engaging full-year, theme-based program for congregation-wide exploration of the Unitarian Universalist Principles. This workshop equips professional and lay leaders to use this program, with free online materials, in your congregation.
    Ellen Quaadgras, Ann Kadlecek & Halcyon Westall
  • INNOVATION AND INSPIRATION FOR UU STEWARDSHIP
    #358 Friday 4:45pm – 6:00pm HR Delaware CD
    This workshop will equip lay and ordained leadership for effective stewardship in our congregations and our Association. This will be a “flash” presentation of the most innovative and successful fundraising ideas. We will close with an inspiring word from Peter Morales.
    Mary Katherine Morn
  • ANNUAL GIVING: THE BACKBONE OF CONGREGATIONAL STEWARDSHIP
    #420 Saturday 3:00pm – 4:15pm HR Delaware CD
    This workshop will equip lay and ordained leadership for effective stewardship in our congregations and our Association. This panel of on-the-ground congregational staff and volunteers will discuss their greatest successes in annual fundraising.
    Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, Rev. Trisha Hart & Rev. Peter Friedrichs

 

ReneeRev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) has served as a Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region since September of 2010. As program manager for Leadership Development, she is responsible for providing consultation, programming and training material (including webinars and videos) on various aspects of congregational growth, leadership and congregational dynamics. She writes for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Blog Growing Vital Leaders and tweets at @Vitalleaders.

4 Things Crowdfunding Can Teach The Church

e-book coverI became a Unitarian Universalist for one reason, and one reason only. You might have many reasons why you became a Unitarian Universalist, or remained one if you grew up within the faith. I have only one reason and her name is Gaby.

 

I became a Unitarian Universalist because my high school friend Gaby invited me to church one springing Sunday morning. It truly is that simple.

 

According to Dr. Thom Rainer, 82% of people who don’t attend church would probably try it out if they were invited by a friend. But only 2% of churchgoers actually invite ANYONE to church.

 

I can’t really remember what Gaby said that convinced me to venture to church for the first time in my life, beyond the odd funeral or wedding. But if I am to be honest, I am the type of person who doesn’t turn down the opportunity to try something new, so it probably was a pretty easy sell.

 

What I never expected was how Unitarian Universalist would change my life. How it connected me to some of the most fabulously creative, intellectually challenging, and compassionate people I have ever met. How I would have my heartbroken by the numerous moments when we fell short of our lofty values and ambitions. How I would fall so in love with our movement that I would go to divinity school and become a minister so I could devote my entire life’s work to our faith.

 

None of this would have occurred, if Gaby had not extended an invitation for that first encounter, and for that I am profoundly grateful.

 

Currently I have the priviledge of working for FAITHIFY.org – our Unitarian Universalist crowdfunding website. Every day I get to help to support individual UUs and congregations to crowdfund their dreams – and each day I am reminded of Gaby.

 

Why? Because the success or failure of crowdfunding campaigns relies on one simple thing: Did You Invite People In?

 

The stats are staggering: successful campaigns on FAITHIFY have been shared an average of 300 times on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. (Unsuccessful campaigns are shared  less than twenty times).

 

People don’t come to church, or to your crowdfunding campaign, if you don’t invite them in. That’s the hard truth.

 

In the last one and a half years FAITHIFY has learned some important lessons that could help our congregations thrive in the 21st century world in which we find ourselves. We decided that we shouldn’t keep our learnings quiet…so we wrote a book (well an e-book!).

 

Four Things Crowdfunding Can Teach the Church explores four practical lessons that can help congregational leaders, like yourself, amplify their impact. Each lesson is accompanied by a set of exercises or questions that can help you implement the lesson in your local context. Better yet, the book is free! Want to get your free copy?

 

Claim your free copy of Four Things Crowdfunding Can Teach the Church here. 
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neil-barron_seanSean Neil-Barron is the project manager of FAITHIFY, who loves the crowd so much he is contemplating spending an entire day crowdsourcing his every movement.

Road Trip! We’re better together!

road-trip-sign-285x190We’re better together.  You’ve heard this before. And often it is in the context of pooling resources to create something larger than we could offer as a separate entity.

I’m hear to tell you that we’re better together also in the opening of imagination that happens when we experience other religious communities.  I was working with a stuck congregation years ago.  Let’s call them UU Society of East Cupcake. Every suggestion I had was met with “we’ve already tried that” or “that just won’t work here.”  Those are signs that people need to get out of their heads and into new experiences, out of their congregation and into the streets.  I gave East Cupcake an assignment to visit a congregation 3 hours away to freshen their views.  I will cut to the chase — they came back fresher and bonded and ready to try some new ideas.

 

Characteristics of a Better Together Road Trip

  • First things first.  Unless you are already the president or minister, pull them into this idea from the get-go. Please don’t surprise them after the fact and say, “Tandi suggested this idea.”  Really.
  • What are we searching for?  Possibilities, my friend.  How do other UU communities do stuff? What do they feel like?  How do they treat each other? How are they alive and awake outside their walls?
  • Pre-Trip Connections.  Call ahead and let your sibling congregation know you’re coming. Arrange to meet with and perhaps share a meal with their leadership. If there is a specific piece of this congregation’s ministry that captures your attention, ask to learn about that while you’re there.  Visit their website ahead of time and start crafting some questions and things to pay attention to.
  • Innovation-adoptionRoad trippers. You know that bellcurve of change? Consider that curve when choosing your road trip mates: “2 Innovators, 3 Early Adopters, and 2 Early Majority”. (This comes from the Diffusion of Innovation Theory.)  You want folks who generally see possibilities and adopt them quickly along with some who are a little slower in convincing and adapting.
  • Magic Vehicle. Borrow a 7 person van.  You want to keep people together.  That van is actually a Fresh idea Incubator on wheels.
  • Van Conversation, there.  What brought you to East Cupcake? What brought you to Unitarian Universalism/ what makes you choose to stay in Unitarian Universalism? When do you feel most Unitarian Universalist?  How does East Cupcake help grow your soul?
  • Paying Attention. Come open and curious. There are various tools from Mystery Greeters programs that may be useful to help you organize your thoughts.  Participate fully. if asked let your siblings in faith know who you are, where you’re from and why you are visiting.
    • What felt familiar?
    • What was new?
    • What was surprising?
    • What was delightful?
    • What gives you holy envy?
    • What challenged you?
    • What grew your soul?
    • What stretched you further into Unitarian Universalism?
    • What might you like to experiment with at home? And who from this congregation might be able to give you some guidance?
  • Van Conversation, back. See questions above.  Make sure someone is recording.  What was challenging? What was sparky? What might you try in your own UU community and who do you need to talk to when you return?
  • Leadership Check In. Gather again over coffee with your leadership to share what you learned.
  • Next Road Trip.  Keep heading out there. Find another congregation to visit. Rotate people so eyes and conversations stay fresh.  Pass around the fun.

My last advice.  Wear your seat belts.  Literally and metaphorically.  Happy travels!

 

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Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers is the Congregational Life’s Innovation & Network Specialist and loves most everything about road trips and visiting new congregations.  She’s usually in charge of games and bad road trip food.

 

Reflection on Moving, Wisdom, Humility, and Reaching Out

Last week I took a quick trip to Boston to attend Terasa Cooley’s good-bye party and to meet, in person, with several colleagues who normally are only in my zoom room on my computer screen.  The weather was beautiful – cold, clear and crisp – which prompted me to spend time doing what I love best to do in Boston, walk around the city.

One morning I walked up to our old UUA headquarters at 25 Beacon Street to see what was going on.  “25” and the other two buildings that the UUA sold on Mt. Vernon Street and the former Eliot-Pickett Houses, were covered with giant “tents” out front, with a back hoe digging dirt and many construction workers scurrying around.  I took a peek inside 25 and saw that the main staircase has been torn down and much of the ground floor, as I remembered it, had been cleared away.  As I walked across town to our new headquarters at 24 Farnsworth Street, I remembered with fondness walking up those stairs to see the MFC in 2000 and imagined all the lives that were touched and changed in the place the UUA used to call home.

24_Farnsworth

It has been less than two years since the UUA headquarters have moved.  The area has changed a lot and the many cranes and construction workers in our new neighborhood predict more change is on the way.  I love the modern feel of our new headquarters and the opportunities they provide for easier collaboration, more productive meetings and new ways to connect today while remembering our yesterdays.

“24” and 25 provide a metaphor for the work we must do as ministers in the future; a future that has virtual cranes digging up many of the practices and foundations of our past, while building up new expressions of community and spiritual practice all around us.   Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that my walk through the streets of Boston and UUA office history prompted my ponderings about the future of our work and our faith.  The weekend before my trip I was at the third intensive of our Beyond the Call – Entrepreneurial Ministry program learning new ways to finance and market innovation; and the importance, practices and “how tos” of cultivating and nurturing the eco-systems to sustain innovators and the organizations they lead.

We’ll be sharing the highlights of our third intensive in a webinar sometime in March.  Our guest speakers inspired and challenged us in many ways but one phrase stuck with me, especially while I was walking around the streets of Boston.  Greg Jones, the former Dean of the Duke Divinity School who worked closely with Greg Dees the “father” of social entrepreneurship, talked about “traditioned innovation” (https://www.faithandleadership.com/content/traditioned-innovation) as a practice for those of us in religious leadership.  The cranes of sociological, cultural and religious change are all around us digging up the old and building the new.  We stand, hopefully, with one foot in tradition and one foot in innovation dancing back and forth as fast as we can.

In these days of change, challenge and opportunity I pray we each have the wisdom and humility to continue to learn how/when to stand in each stream knowing that our spirits and our people need both waters to thrive.  And, most importantly, we reach out to each other so we don’t need to swim in these choppy waters alone.

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DonRev. Don Southworth is the founding Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association. He lived in the corporate world before ministry where he spent ten years in parish life before joining the UUMA in 2009.  He’s a bit on the old side of life but fights through his crumedgeony ways as much as he can looking for pockets of innovation and radical change that provide the main hope for religion in the 21st century.

This Here Is Some Radical Polity

The subject of the email was:  “If we set a date, it will happen”.

 

It was sent to a small group of Canadian Young Adults who’d been talking in pockets and clusters for a while about how to “do Church differently”. This was back in 2012, when I was peripherally aware that the Top People of Unitarian Universalism had started holding big meetings talking about this stuff.

 

We knew we were not Top People of Unitarian Universalism. We were a small group that cared, meeting to hang out for a weekend in a Church basement and talk. No pre-planned agenda, no facilitators, no real plan beyond the basics of food and sleeping space. Funding would be accomplished by “do what you can”. So would cooking and dishes.

 

Friday night, we planned the weekend—we planned any topics or activities or worships that we wanted to make sure happened, and drew up a chore list.  Then, we got on with the stuff.

 

We sang a lot, and joked a lot, and prayed together and sometimes cried. We talked about a lot of things, including the question of what types of sustainable religious communities might thrive in the future. At some point that weekend, something clicked and we realized we were a sustainable religious community ourselves. We met all the criteria—deep connection, meaningful worship, fiscal responsibility (we covered our costs and had lots left over to donate to organizations we were connected with).  Some of us continued meeting by Skype for a couple of years.  There were other smaller retreats, and another larger one again last year.  This community has been a deep and profound part of my spiritual life and my formation as a UU. Connections I created there have nurtured my work and my life in profound ways, and have fed the work of UUism in Canada.

 

As a movement, we talk about thinking big. We also need to think small. We need mini-ministries. We need to encourage and equip people to create communities and experiences where they are and with what they have. We need to make sure our people understand that you don’t need to have a seminary degree or a big budget to make things that are real. The Gathering (as it became called) was sustainable but not self sufficient. It drew on connections created over decades in congregational and regional programming, and on donated church space. It also gave back to those groups in the leadership, connections, and enthusiasm it generated. Also, money. It turned out to be a reasonably effective fund raiser.

 

More than that, it interconnected us. People who were disillusioned with some aspect of their home church got a second wind. People with no home community for their UU identity had a place to explore and worship and grow. People from different groups collaborated and shared ideas. We built trust and connection and foundation. We got out of our silos.

 

This here, I found myself thinking as one group came in from a snowball fight while another sat in deep discussion and a third practiced a song for worship… is some radical polity. This here… this is something we need.

 

Communion Song
Click to hear The Communion Song, one of the many creative, spirit-filling happenings of The Gathering
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Liz jamesLiz James is a seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School, in training to be a Lay Leader Extraordinaire.  She believes that Unitarian Universalism in the future will need a diverse and talented group of us—lay, ordained, and other professionals—passionately serving a variety of calls.  Liz is an animated speaker, a Facebook overlord, and an expert in thinking outside the box. Way outside the box. Sometimes she forgets where she put the box.  Some of Liz’s writing can be found at www.freerangeseminarian.com.

Meaning Makers

“The closest UU congregation is far away and I don’t have a car”

“There’s no UU group at my college”

“I work the brunch shift Sunday mornings but I still need spiritual community”

“I miss the peer connection of youth group.”

“I was raised UU, now I want to go deeper into my faith.”

 

Have you ever heard an 18-24 year old Unitarian Universalist say anything like that?  I know that I have heard, read and seen statements like these time and time again in my role as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Our emerging adults are hungry for connection and faith formation even as they face many obstacles to staying in or finding new UU community.  There are many ways to address this un-met need, from shifting our larger culture toward true multigenerational engagement to helping individual bridgers navigate the transition out of youth culture.

 

One brand new way our office is trying to help is with a program called Meaning Makers. Meaning Makers is a yearlong spiritual development program for emerging adults that combines in-person retreats, virtual small group ministry and mentorship.  The first class of Meaning Makers will meet June 6th-9th at UBarU Ranch in Texas.  From there they’ll meet monthly online to discuss the themes in the young adult meditation manual Becoming and also meet individually with a UU mentor, closing the year off with another retreat in June 2017.  They’ll explore what integrity looks like for them as they move into adulthood; who they are and how they can live their UU faith in the world.  

 

The application to join the program is due February 29th so spread the word!  I am so excited to see how this experiment works and what these emerging adults will bring to the experience. Thanks to the generosity of UUA donors, support from the Southern Region of the UUA and the fundraising work of UBarU this program should be accessible to a wide variety of folks including those with limited financial resources.  I cannot wait to be surprised by what questions and resources bubble up as we embark on this journey together.

 

Meaning Makers

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GonzalezMilliken_AnnieRev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken is a lifelong UU from the midwest and serves our faith as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She currently lives in Boston with her partner Lucas, their baby daughter Moira and two housemates.  A firm believer in both traditional and new ministries, she is a member of First Parish Dorchester, founded in 1630, and The Sanctuary Boston, created a few years ago.

MultiSite Ministries: Economies of Scale

The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA said, “Growth and sharing our faith is a moral obligation.” Beginning with the 2013-2014 church year, the UU Church of Canandaigua NY and First Unitarian Church of Rochester NY began a Partnership of staff and resource sharing to expand and strengthen Unitarian Universalism in north central New York. This Partnership was initially established for five years and will be evaluated for continuation beyond that date.

 

The UU Church of Canandaigua began its life in 1993 as an independent congregation and is proud of its history of supporting itself through the years. It has been able to offer a part time ministerial position, serving the UUCC as well as other congregations in the area.   Like many other small congregations, it struggles to pay for the staff, programs, and building which would increase its attractiveness and visibility.

 

The ministries and programming at First Unitarian Church of Rochester are welcoming and very attractive to people hungering for liberal religion, and have led to continuing growth in membership. This growth has created unique challenges for the congregation and ministries. Growth requires additional staff to maintain excellent programming. Yet, economic challenges make it harder for the congregation to afford the level of staffing needed to support dynamic and dependable programming.

 

Since the beginning of the Partnership,  UUCC and the First Unitarian Rochester have created ministerial and staff sharing arrangements that foster economic efficiencies, allowing the UUCC to remain an independent entity, yet part of a larger faith community, and allowing First Unitarian to develop creative and economical means to staff for growth.

 

Partnerships between churches are thriving in a variety of ways in many denominations, including our own Unitarian Universalism.  The Partnership between First Unitarian and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua is outlined in their joint Vision Statement which reads in part:

 

  1. We believe our congregations are called to share our message of liberal religion to the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. We believe that staff and resource sharing will enable us to fulfill this mission.
  2. We believe that staff and resource sharing is good stewardship. It allows us to take advantage of economies of scale and use our members’ financial contributions more effectively.
  3. We believe that staff and resource sharing will increase our congregations’ ability to attract and retain high quality ministry. By combining resources, our congregations can offer positions that are closer to full-time than either would be able to offer alone.
  4. We believe that staff and resource sharing can be done in a way that preserves each congregation’s unique identity. We believe that shared programming, organizational strategy and staff can be creatively adapted to each congregation’s particular character, history and circumstances.

 

The partnership between First Unitarian Rochester and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua is yet another model for collaboration and sharing within our faith tradition –  a model that is already inspiring other congregations in New York state and beyond to help share and strengthen Unitarian Universalism.

 

 

MSM video KAnderson 016

Click on the picture above to be taken to the 1 1/2  minute video by Rev. Erik Martínez Resly

 

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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.

Faith Forward

Spiritual Practice class photoNewcomers to First Unitarian Church of Dallas arrive at our doors seeking a path. The Unitarian Universalist tendency to tell people they can believe whatever they want and get involved in whatever they want is both overwhelming and insufficient. Visitors from other religious traditions as well as the unchurched want to know how to become part of the congregation, both as members and as leaders. This led us to examine the state of our existing adult membership and ask these questions:

  • Can our adult membership explain what it means to be a church member?
  • Do they have a deep understanding of our church and its role in the community?
  • Are they involved, connected, and excited about church leadership and service?

We learned that we had work to do on how we integrate new people into our church community, and how we develop and deepen the connection of our existing members.

To address this need, we developed the Inquirers Series, 8 rotating sessions about our church and Unitarian Universalist history and practices. Designed for visitors and newcomers looking for a general introduction, these sessions are also appealing to current members who just want to learn more about our church.

Inquirers participants also build connections with each other. They learn that they are not alone in their questions, and many are moved with the realization of all that Unitarian Universalism embodies. It is the first small group a visitor encounters, and serves as a bridge to deeper small-group involvement later. Sharon Thompson, our Director of Membership & Hospitality, says: “I have seen the time between first visit and joining decrease, and our new members are more firmly grounded in the faith, in their convictions and in their support. Prior to Inquirers, we would have 30+ individuals that had indicated they wanted to join, remaining on the list of declared members for over a year without completing the process and joining. Now the membership process is generally complete in 30-60 days.”

Growth in numbers isn’t everything, however, and “signing the book” is not the end of the membership process. We’ve seen these new members connect more quickly and easily at church, becoming engaged within our walls and in the wider community. They understand what it means to be a member of a community. And many find their first service opportunity as a greeter, offering a friendly face for other newcomers.

Yet we found that once people completed the 8 sessions, they wanted more. “What’s next?” they asked. Our answer is “Faith Forward: From Visitor to Leader.” Faith Forward is a comprehensive program for member integration, faith development, and leadership development which helps congregants strengthen their Unitarian Universalist identity, deepen commitment to the church, encourages spiritual growth, and develops church leaders. It is not adult religious education, nor is it a curriculum. It is a path of modular sessions designed for faith development and connection-building and is facilitated by lay leaders with staff support.

One facilitator, church member Rev. Lyssa Jenkens, says: “Faith Forward provides a very intentional and well-developed process of faith development for any member or friend. It fills a yawning gap in UU adult religious education where we often provide a beautiful buffet of classes and activities with little or no guidance regarding what constitutes a healthy meal as opposed to one that is tasty but has rather limited spiritual-nutritional value.”

In addition to the Inquirers Series, we now offer:

  • Inquirers Series (8 weeks)
  • Roots (1 class)
  • Beyond Inquirers (5 weeks)
  • Spiritual Practice (13 weeks)
  • UU History 101 (5 weeks)
  • UU Theology 101 (5 weeks)
  • UU Elevator Speech (3 weeks)

More sessions will be developed around UU history and theology, leadership, polity, and evangelism (sharing the good news of our faith!).

Do these issues around adult faith development and connection sound familiar? At the same time that our members were looking for more, other congregations began contacting us about sharing our membership process, so we decided to pilot the program with a few of them during the 2015-2016 church year. We look forward to learning how Faith Forward works in other Unitarian Universalist congregations, and adapting it for wider use in the coming years.

If you’d like to receive updates about Faith Forward—to find out what we learn from the pilot, gather tips on faith development and hospitality, and stay updated on how to get program materials for your congregation—visit this site, where you can share your interest and contact information.

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headshot cropped largeRev. Beth Dana is the Minister of Congregational Life at First Unitarian Church of Dallas, TX, where she works with a great team of ministers, staff and lay leaders on this exciting new path for adult faith development and membership. She is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, originally from Albany, NY. After bouncing from coast to coast, she landed in the middle! She has crossed the thresholds of many UU congregations over the years, learning lots about welcome and hospitality in the process.

Becoming a Multi-Everything Faith

multi ballWhen I was asked to do a presentation for my start-up at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu in 2011, I immediately thought of a growth strategy that didn’t just involve numbers and finances (the typical holy grail for most congregations), but a deeper and more sustainable spiritual growth that may eventually lead to growth in membership and financial generosity. I called it my “multi-everything” strategy. Here are my top three:

 

  1. Multicultural Growth. When I was pre-candidating, I heard the typical desire to attract more people of color into our predominantly white congregations. Most “technical fixes” have been tried and I told them calling a minister of color will not magically solve their problems! I talked about a shift in culture by becoming more welcoming to all cultures. Not just to those who have a different skin tone, but to younger families, to those serving in the military, to those who may be houseless. Shifting congregational culture is about learning to speak languages and crossing borders until we experience holy discomfort.  

 

True confession time. Yesterday, I went to a megachurch (over 9,500 worshippers) that was diverse in every sense of the word. To be honest, I was turning green with envy that their play, their singers, AND the folks sitting next to me represented every color under the rainbow. While we may differ theologically, I found myself nodding when one of the associate pastors said that “Here in this place, we practice radical acceptance because we are family and we are a community.” Their pastor had an especially profound experience he shared openly during the sermon about being in recovery and it’s OK to be who you are and belong to the church. Not once did he mention multiculturalism. It just was. This is when I realized we Unitarian Universalists need to stop chasing after multiculturalism as if it were an idol. What we ought to focus on instead like this megachurch is a common mission that we can all connect with and relationships that are genuine instead of a superficial window-dressing to make ourselves feel good as liberals. Stop talking about people of color and forget the curriculum. Just be and think about why you’re there to begin with.

 

  1. Multifaith Growth. What the shooting in San Bernardino taught us and what Islamophobic statements by certain political candidates have shown is our country’s fear of what we perceive as the “other.” Some still think America is a “Christian nation” and the only place we can find people of other faiths is by hopping on a plane. How about walking next door? Religious pluralism exists in our own backyard. As a community organizer (interfaith organizer to be exact for the UU Legislative Ministry of California), I’ve come to realize that if we are to build Beloved Community, we need to use the materials we can find on our own turf. Neighboring faiths is not just a curriculum our children go through as part of their religious exploration, but it’s a way of life our adults need to learn as well. In Hawaii, we won marriage equality in large part due to the efforts of Unitarian Universalists reaching out the progressive Christians, who reached out to Buddhists who reached out to the Jewish community. We are in this together, and our values bind us together to create a larger ripple in the community we live in.

 

  1. Multisite Growth. The concept of satellites, mergers, and covenantal communities that extend beyond the walls of brick-and-mortar congregations are at least a couple of decades old now. They’re no longer part of the “emerging church” movement, but an emerged reality we all have to contend with in the ever-shifting landscape of American religious life. Yet, when we UUs talk about establishing another site, our reason more often than not has to do with either a split from congregants we don’t get along with or we don’t want to be bothered driving 45 minutes to church on Sundays. We love being with like-minded people and the kind of community we want to build seems more insular rather than inclusive.

 

A more compelling reason for me is because there is a hurting world out there and someone has to save our environment and heal the lovelessness and injustices that we all face. The more we focus on simply conducting insular worship “serve-us-es,” the less we are able to live out our “services” to our community. It’s really not about our needs and what’s in it for me, but what’s in it for the common good. Becoming multisite (in the broadest sense of the word) allows the church to fulfill its call to transform lives.

 

I think this three-prong multi-layered approach is still a pretty darn good recipe to spread our Unitarian Universalist faith. I call it the architecture of “multidependence.” Tune in to a future blog to find out what this structure looks like.

 

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JonipherThe Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong proudly serves as a Congregational Life Staff for the Pacific Western Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Part of his key area of ministry (though by no means is he an expert) is to be a coach (or more like a cheerleader with pom-poms on) for innovative, experimental ministries. He is an entrepreneur by heart and an out-and-proud Unitarian Universalist Evangelist.

Gingerbread and Engaging Space

Boston Towers Gingerbread Boston Society of Architechture Imagine No traffic Boston Small

On my way to work in Boston I walk past the Boston Society of Architecture.  Its storefront is attractive, but hasn’t been overtly noticeable to me until this holiday season.  I do see people through their big windows meeting or gathering on their ground floor during mornings or evenings. They make this room available for free for use by the public. And people seem to take them up on their offer. And in the process learn a bit about the Boston Society of Architecture.

 

One night on my way home, I noticed a line forming down the block to get in to an event there. The event was the 4th Annual Gingerbread House Design Competition.

 

Every year the Boston Society of Architecture develops a theme, a competition, a reception, opportunity for positive press, and new traffic through their public space on the ground floor. Do you see where I’m going with this?… What if your congregation opened up your public space during the holiday season–

 

Oh, what?  You don’t have a space made available to the public to drop in?  Let’s start there. What if your congregation had a public space where people could drop in for quiet sanctuary from the bustling world?  You know, like other traditions do. Especially in these violent times, people crave a designated holy place to go and light a candle and just “be” in a space where other people of faith gather. I just ask that you consider this. If this makes you nervous, I encourage you to engage your local Catholic church and ask them how they do it.

 

Back to gingerbread competitions. The connection to architecture and gingerbread is playful and relevant. What could that be for your UU community? And maybe it’s not for winter holidays. Perhaps a celebration featuring Peeps sculptures in spring is your thing.

  • Playful, idea-connecting, values-promoting competition
  • Reception for the public
  • Press releases that weave in the mission of your UU community
  • Intentional community engagement

Bottom line, reimagine space you have access to and how it can be in proactive, relevant engagement with your wider community while promoting your values and mission.  Be playful, playful is so attractive! If you need a thought partner for this kind of adventure, count me in!

 

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Tandi red shinglesRev. Tandi Rogers is the Innovative & Network Specialist for the UUA. Exploring the streets of Boston during the winter holiday season has been an unexpected joy.