I can say with authority that none of the 52 Breakthrough Congregations developed a strategic plan to become a designated Breakthrough Congregation. They didn’t set out on a mission to become a Breakthrough Congregation. And yet one of the most asked questions I get in the Unitarian Universalist Growth Office is, “how can my congregation become a Breakthrough Congregation?”
This is how I want to answer that question:
- Do “religious community” well.
- Be yourself intentionally, joyfully, and impact-fullly.
- Live your saving message in bold, generous, loving ways inside your walls.
- Live your saving message in bold, generous, loving ways outside your walls.
But you don’t need me to tell you all that. Read their stories in the UU World or watch their videos. It’s all in there. I believe their stories can spark your imagination as to what your work is to become a Breakthrough Congregation.
And yet I know what most people mean by the original question is really, “how are Breakthrough Congregations chosen?” Here’s how…
There is a stellar BTC Advisory:
- Mark Bernstein, Regional Growth Development Consultant serving the Central Eastern Regional Group
- Wayne Clark, Congregational Stewardship Services Director
- Sonja Cohen, Senior Editor, UU World
- Stefan Jonasson, Growth Strategies Director
- Keith Kron, Transitions Director
- Annette Marquis, LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs Director
- Don Skinner, Editor, InterConnections
- Rachel Walden, Public Witness Specialist
- Chris Walton, Executive Editor, UU World
The BTC Advisor watches and “collects” congregations all year. Congregations that have captured our attention go in the hopper. When people like you nominate a particular congregation, they go in the hopper. I’ll ask District and Regional Staff in late spring who they think should be considered. Those congregations go in the hopper.
Then I take all those congregations in the hopper and compile quantitative data on them. The BTC Advisory takes this list and we peruse their websites, newsletters, area news. We ask UUA staff that have worked with them in the last couple of years about their story, their breakthrough and vibrancy.
What we’re looking for is a teaching story about each congregation’s breakthrough. We know we’re on to something when a headlines jumps into our imagination.
In August the Advisory is convened virtually. We make a round of votes and see what patterns arise. Who are the favorites? Which congregations got no votes. And we debrief what that all mean.
Then we talk about what we’ve seen in the last year — what are the stories our (Unitarian Universalist) people need to hear, see, experience? What do our people need to learn? What kinds of growth do we need to hold up in light of all that? And we go back to the list with deeper conversation.
And then more rounds of voting happen, not in the spirit of the most votes “win,” but rather where is the group’s yearning? By then, we’re in a consensus groove. We choose a top 4 with a 5th in the wing in case something happens to one of the 4 that effect the power of the story.
Chris Walton, Executive Editor of the UU World, then assigns the quarter each congregation will most like be featured and a reporter to go spend a chunk of time with the congregation. I give the information from our discernment to the reporter and then let it go. They go find the story they experience. Right before the story goes public, Mark Bernstein creates the study guide, and it all gets posted in the Growing UU blog with links on uua.org. Before it goes live the Public Relations folks at the UUA contact the congregation to see if they need help with press releases and such.
And that is how the Breakthrough Congregations get chosen. … So, what is your breakthrough? What is your teaching story? What is your headline?