Every week we will offer up a question to our reader.  We hope you will not receive these inquiries rhetorically, but rather jump into lively exchange.

If you were a Unitarian Universalist religious venture capitalist, how would you invest your resources for greatest return?

Let the sparky conversation begin… Please share your thoughts in the Leave a Reply below.

About the Author
Tandi Rogers


  1. Mark Bernstein

    What an interesting question!! I might be compelled to put my money into facilities for greater comfort and additional space. I might use it to provide better compensation for staff. Perhaps funding to upgrade the web site or fund other marketing strategies; or to pay for a library stacked with adult and children’s religious education resources. Most of all, though, I would put my money into leadership development: training, education, field trips, conferences. I believe that the foundation for growth is found in the commitment and investment of the congregations’ lay and ministerial leaders. Strengthen the trunk of the tree and you ensure its health and harvesting of fruit for years to come.

    Mark Bernstein
    Regional Growth Development Consultant
    Central East Regional Group

  2. Dev Nambi

    Well, for starters, what does “greatest return” mean? Greatest return for the planet? For people on this planet? For the venture capitalist? For UUism as a religion? Some balanced combination of the those?

  3. Meck Groot

    What is this “greatest return”? Numbers? Deeper sense of connection and community among congregants? Larger APF contributions? According to my colleague Doug Zelinski, the purpose of religion is to shape the values of society. I’ll go with that.

    So, how would I, as a UU religious venture capitalist, invest resources to increase UU capacity for shaping society’s values? What about social marketing campaigns? I don’t mean marketing to specific social groups, but marketing social concepts intended to change attitudes and behavior (see http://www.social-marketing.org/sm.html). Some examples of social marketing campaigns of this kind include

    – the Charter for Compassion Project (http://charterforcompassion.org/site/)
    – the United Church of Christ’s “Still Speaking” (http://www.ucc.org/god-is-still-speaking/about/)
    – the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love (SSL) (http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/)

    What if, in addition to an online presence, SSL had the money to produce and air television ads that show UUs making choices to stand with immigrants, to stand for economic justice, to choose non-violence and stand for peace, etc. Imagine a SSL talk show that features stories in which people testify to moments of choosing to stand on the side of love. Imagine a SSL video game. Radio show. Comic book series. Maybe we can get more people to come to church, but that’s not the point. Maybe what we do is give people a thought they hadn’t had before, or a new way of seeing something, or even the knowledge that there are people who share their views.

    Of course, this would necessitate/invite robust conversations among UUs about what it means to stand in love – not first of all as a political choice, but as a spiritual/religious one. It’s possible we won’t change others, but as Alice Walker says, “The life you save may be your own.” How much more engaged might we feel to belong to a movement that’s vibrant, visible and daring? And how much more might we choose to stand on the side of love in our daily choices – because it matters to us in both public and private ways.

  4. Mark Bernstein

    What an interesting question!! Perhaps I would invest some money in facilities in order to provide greater comfort and more space to accommodate the needs of the membership. Or perhaps I would provide funding to increase compensation for staff in order to ensure stability and continuity in services. Or I would pay to upgrade the web site and encourage other marketing and outreach efforts. But assuredly I would invest dollars to foster lay and ministerial leadership development through training, conferences, reading materials and field trips. Strong leadership provides the foundation for congregational growth. Ensure the strength of the trunk and you allow for overall health of the tree and harvesting of its fruit.

    Mark Bernstein
    CERG Growth Development Consultant

  5. Rev. Alex Holt

    And what does ‘religious venture capitalist” mean here? Does it mean to capitalize and market religious value? Is this meant to paraphrase or disguise the word “evangelicalize’ that is so sexy and scary a term these days among UU folk?
    My response would be to avoid all the trappings of any economic system or its presumed ways of getting things done. I would go right to the heart of ethical questions and answers about compassion (having been doing some work with the interfaith community) I doubt very seriously that our religious ancestors such as Jesus or the Buddha or Teresa of Avila were concerned about return on investment.
    So this means I am probably avoiding the whole admirable intent of this excellent question so will calm down and eagerly read new postings

  6. Paul Boothby

    The way to get the greatest return for Unitarian Universalism and the common good, in my opinion would be to sponsor a cadre of freelance UU ministers to go out “into the hiways and byways” and inflict good on an unsuspecting world, including community organizing, activism, and gathering UU religious communities such that those communities would have the benefit of skilled leadership without the burden of start-up costs. We have a number of small groups who don’t have enough numbers to support a minister, but would thrive if given effective leadership. Invest in people who can bring the manna of our ministry to a world hungering for hope. IMHO

  7. Katie L.

    I think i get that you are trying to get us to narrow our answers and think about where we should put our time and treasure.

    My worry for UU’sm is that we are always a generation or two even, behind the curve. I have watched, a great neighborhood church nearby (not UU), allow themselves to age into 70’s and 80’s until they had to sell their church to the next wave. I’ve also been reading about the big post-modern change, and watching it happen with my twenty-something sons (they don’t read newspapers for example).

    I would do multiple experiments and data collection with the twenty, thirty and forty somethings. The life stages are gettings so spread out that twenty-somethings are mostly still getting established. The thirty’s and forties are when families are started. What is this mix of generations wanting in community and faith? We should really understand them and then work on our institutions to engage them.

    I don’t think this will be pandering, but survival. And perhaps I will be wrong, and they won’t be so different. They are doing a great job of raising kids. Spiritual needs are a universal — however, to deny the differences between generations when we are such a small denomination could lead to very hard times. Putnam in American Grace points to a wave of generational change rolling through religion in America.

    I like Paul Boothby’s answer also. I am suggesting the focus thing — using research and focused experiment, and he is scattering leaders and seeing which one’s get it right, knowing that some leaders would fail and others would catch, kind of like starting a bunch of small businesses and knowing some would fail. Maybe we should do both of those things.

  8. Bill Clontz

    One of the advantages of being a couple of days behind in posting to something like this is the opportunity to say “yes, what he said.” So it is with Meck Groot’s posting – I think that is just about right. UU’s are about 1% of the population, yet everything says we should be much larger. We are, by and large, educated and technologically savvy congregations, but you would never know it from our adaptation and integration of technology into our services and our outreach.

    Depth and clarity in our thoughts is always welcome, but I could not help but notice how many of the replays spent most of the time wondering (arguing?) about definitions. we do rather like to talk rather than act sometimes, it seems. There are times I think we could do with less discussion, less emphasis on consensus, and less analysis, in favor of trying something – if it fails, move on to another idea.

    This is a most useful conversation in the framework of Peter’s “Congregations and Beyond” challenge.

  9. Christine Robinson

    I would fund the development of a web 2.0 website for Unitarian Universalism, and a template web 2.0 website for congregations to adapt for themselves.

    (Web 2.0 is the interactive type of website, which includes social networking, quizes, video, and courses.

    And I would ditch listserv and get our on-line discussion groups into the 21st century.

    • Walter Greene III

      Inadvertantly attended a committee meeting Sunday working on this at our church.
      Your proposition seems spot on. Have you had any useful responses or
      become aware of resources that would fulfill your proposal/suggestion?

  10. Eleanor Hall

    I would put some of money into green investing. There has been a fine effort to shut down coal mines, get off fossil fuel, etc., but how can we do that? I’d put some of the money in a mutual fund investing in alternative energy and in energy efficiency (insulation, etc.) I’d choose an international fund, so as not to be affected too much by government changes in policy (tax rebates, etc.) Green investing can be risky so I would only put a small percentage (5%?) into green investing.

    I’m not sure if this is what the question intended as others are answering in terms of what they would spend money on, in the church itself.


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