Traditions: For Now, For Ever, and For Never

rainbow treeI remember the Christmases of my childhood. I remember the tree that my mom always thought was too big, and my dad thought could be a little bit taller. I remember the ginormous colored lights, the clumps of tinsel, the handmade ornaments, and the special glass ones that my mom hung at the top of the tree, far out of my reach. It was a special and magical time of year, but my memories mostly include stories of Frosty, Rudolph and Santa. It was more a celebration of Santa and gifts than anything resembling my family’s faith.

 

This time of year is laden with traditions we must navigate in our homes, families, and congregations. Some of these predate us; others may be newly formed. There are traditions we look forward to which bring us joy, some we practice because “this is the way we’ve always done it,” and some we have such mixed feelings about they set our teeth on edge. We have accumulated traditions over some many years. Ending or changing them can be hard and complicated, especially in community.

 

As a parent, I have held the tension between the over commercialized focus of the season in our culture, and the desire to honor the spiritual and religious aspects of this time. When my kids were small, I felt a strong desire to make this season more for them than the commercialized version I had been brought up with. I had to think hard about the traditions I had been a part of, and the new ones we would establish. I wondered how we could bring more Unitarian Universalism into our traditions.

 

We started with the tree. I told the story of how Christmas trees came to be in our country, and the story of Rev. Charles Follen . We spent time creating ornaments reflecting the 7 principles. We wanted to be able to look at our tree and be reminded of our faith. Using language from the Spirit Play curriculum, each ornament represents:

Kim ornaments

  • Red gift: Respect all
  • Orange heart: Offer love
  • Yellow flame: Yearn to learn about ourselves, each other, and the mystery
  • Green fir tree: Grow in our understanding of what is right and true
  • Blue bell: Believe in our ideas and act on them
  • Indigo dove: Insist on liberty, justice and freedom for all
  • Violet world: Value the earth, our home which we share with so many others

 

We’ve made and shared about 100 sets of these ornaments over the years. I like to imagine families hanging each one and reflecting on their faith as they prepare for the season. I like knowing that this tradition of my childhood has been adapted to feel like an expression of my faith.

 

As Unitarian Universalists, we draw on our many sources, including Christian, Jewish, and earth-centered teachings. Many congregations will honor these teachings in some way this month by celebrating Christmas, lighting the menorah, holding a Winter Solstice service, and more. Of course, our families will have their own time-honored traditions to share as well.

 

Our congregations are helping families to establish traditions and bring their faith into their homes. At First Unitarian Church in Worcester, MA, families are provided with t able tent conversation starters for each day of Advent to encourage dialogue and reflection.

 

Click here for a PDF template of table tents you can print and use for Advent.

table tents

Ralph Roberts created a page a day Advent calendar “offered in the spirit of holding up and delighting in the ways that our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors had a foundational role in many of the winter holidays and the innumerable ways they’re celebrated by people everywhere.”

 

advent boxesIn my own home, our Advent calendar is filled with words from a magnetic poetry kit. On the first day, my teenagers opened the door expecting to find chocolate, but instead were greeted by the word: LOVE. Despite the initial reaction of “Our mom is so weird,” they have been excited each day to see what the word is, take a picture of something that reminds them of that word throughout their day, and then share it and reflect upon it together at the end of the day. (It’s hard being the kid of any religious professional.)

 

These are traditions that work for my family right now.  I invite you to think about the ways in which Unitarian Universalism could play a role in the celebration of your own traditions of celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Solstice.

 

It’s taken some time, but I know that I am getting better at practicing what I preach. When traditions no longer meet your needs the way they once did, it’s okay to say thank you, acknowledge that they were indeed meaningful and important, then move forward and make new ones. This is as true in our homes as it is in our programs and congregations.

 

As you make your way through this season, I hope you are able to find comfort in traditions new or old, and experience the love and grace of Unitarian Universalism.

__________________________

ksKim Sweeney has ruined Thanksgiving by not cooking a turkey, saved Christmas with a $6 magnetic poetry set. And turned the month of March into it’s own holiday (Magical Mail Month).  When she is not busy annoying her teenage daughters, she is serving the New England Region of our UUA as their Faith Formation lead.

When Superman Goes Home: Pastoral Care in A World of Limits

superman-1016318At Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church our pastoral care team, the Caring Circle, was and is an amazing group of people. They get a call and they spring into action. Food. Transportation. Lawn care. Love. Support. When I first met them I wondered where they hid the Superman suits.

 

Our challenge was never doing too little- it was that we weren’t sure of our limits.

 

We wanted to help. We wanted to be equitable. We wanted to be generous, and accessible, and useful and kind.

 

And in order to be all of these things we had to set boundaries. These are our guidelines for pastoral care. They are not set in stone, but they are at least firmly imprinted on hardening clay. We realize that exceptions can happen.

 

Parish based pastoral care is there for an emergency. We can’t replace paid care givers. We aren’t there to be doctors or nurses or therapists, even though some of us are licensed in daily life. We can’t repair years of neglect, fix lifelong patterns of behavior, or provide long-term solutions.

 

But we can be there to let someone breath. To have a day or a week or a month to figure out “What do I do now?”

 

We can make sure that life goes on while you try to figure out how to keep life going on.

 

Requests for help must come from the person; they can speak privately to any member of the Caring Circle or to me. If someone says they no longer want help, we stop helping. No triangulation. No drama.

 

We simply help, or not, based on request. We say yes whenever possible. We are clear about what we can’t do, and we try to do the rest.

 

(For legal reasons we will not assume the risk of lifting more than 20 pounds, engaging in any action which requires skin to skin contact (and could be sexualized), or transporting an unaccompanied minor.)

 

These are our Caring Circle Guidelines.

 

Another excellent resource for Creating and Sustaining Lay Pastoral Care Teams comes out of our New England region.

 

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amyRev. Amy Shaw is the senior minister at Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland, WI. Amy is also a mixed media artist, runs with scissors, and spends her spare time lurking about with her co-conspirator Brian and her feline minions Nike the Great and the Dippy Cat. Amy tried to be sophisticated once, but a raccoon ate her opera glasses.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Lost, But I’m Making Record Time

I heard the quote in the title of this blog as a young pilot many years ago. A World War II pilot radioed that report in –he had no idea StewDev Blogwhere he was, but he was making great progress somewhere. As a stewardship consultant working with our congregations, I sometimes feel as though that quote is with us. Numbers can seem dry, but they can tell important stories about our our communities. It’s hard to know where you are going if you don’t know where you are.

 

There are statistics that I believe leaders should know if they are to understand their congregations. 18 data points and 1 more to ignore. I know what you are thinking “18! Is he nuts? Who has all that data and what would we do with it, anyway?” Bear with me – this is a conversation worth having.

 

The first 10 of these data points almost every congregation has readily accessible. Not enough leaders and members consult them sometimes, but they are easy to generate. The next 7 take a little effort to generate, but the returns can be impressive for congregations of just about every size.

 

In the interest of brevity, this blog will only list the 19 – you can read the expanded version on the Stewardship for Us blog that provides key aspects on each data point, for those interested in knowing more and seeing how these work to make a whole picture. The only data point discussed here is one to be ignored.

 

  1. Membership
  2. Sunday attendance, RE Attendance (Adult and children’s RE).
  3. Percentage of budget provided by pledges.
  4. “Average cost per household” to run your church.
  5. Percentage of members pledging, if your bylaws do not ask that of all members.
  6. Mean (average) and Median (1/2 of pledges are larger, ½ are less) pledge.
  7. Number of households that have a pledge/contribution waiver.
  8. Percentage of households/members that are not pledging, only making a Contribution of Record (COR); mean and median COR.
  9. Percentage of pledging friends; mean and median of these commitments
  10. Pledges that have not increased or have decreased over the past 2 years
  11. Number of pledging units self-declared as Fair Share donors
  12. What is the Quartile distribution (see last month’s Stewardship for Us blog)
  13. How many are new pledgers (first 2 years)? Mean and median of new pledges?
  14. Families active in RE and their distribution among pledges and COR population?
  15. Where is your Board in Fair Share Giving and quartile distribution?
  16. Percentage increase/decrease in total pledges/mean/median on last 3-5 years?
  17. When was the last time you employed Visiting Stewards, with good training?
  18. NO-How much of a pledge goes to “UUA dues?” This pops up often, and its harmful. We do not pay “dues;” clubs and fraternities do that. We make contributions to resource the work the Regions and the UUA do in our name. Congregations sometimes ask that a pledge be at least at the level of their per member contribution to the UUA. This makes our contributions to the UUA into an outside burden. Being a member of this association is an integral part of being a UU – don’t treat it as something outside our community. Encouraging pledges at this low level also assures that whatever funds are contributed do not support the congregation locally in any way.

 

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BillBill Clontz, Stewardship Consultant with the Stewardship for Us Team. has been a stewardship consultant supporting the UUA for over five years. He brings over forty years in leadership development and coaching, organizational effectiveness, and strategic planning to this work. He has over 25 years of active participation in UU church leadership and stewardship and 15 years of business development and portfolio management as a corporate officer, including working with nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations. Bill has served in his own congregation in a wide range of positions and he is a regular presenter at UU Regional conferences and the UUA Annual General Assembly. His focus as a stewardship consultant over the last five years has been empowering congregations to have successful stewardship environments, leadership development, and the growth of our movement.

By The Numbers: Religious Education Growth Trends

Last week we looked at the numbers reported in February 2015, a snap shot of this past year. “Who are we now?”

Our UU congregations are created by 180,617 adult members and 56,429 enrolled children and youth across the United States for a total of 237,046 UU people. 23.8% of our communities are children and youth.

This week we look at growth trends in Religious Education Enrollment.  I’ve also included Public School trends from the National Center for Education Statistics.  They currently have statistics publicly published through 2012.

Tip: If you have trouble seeing the numbers, try clicking on the graph/picture and enlarge it on your screen.

RE uua 2005-2015

 

 

public school 05-12

 

And now a look at our regions (note that UUA and US Public School regions are different)…

RE by region 2005-2015

 

 

public school 05-12 by region

 

Next week we’ll go deeper into the growth by region and size of congregation.

 

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Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers loves numbers because they help us see ourselves more clearly and break down assumptions.

 

 

Partnership across the River

Augusta Bridge Reflections by Gene Bowker
Augusta Bridge Reflections by Gene Bowker

The sister Unitarian Universalist congregations of Augusta, Georgia and Aiken, South Carolina straddle either side of the Savannah River. But the fact that they are in different states hasn’t stopped the spirit of collaboration that has existed since they were formed within months of each other in the early 1950s. The Aiken Unitarian Fellowship was formed first in 1953, and after Unitarians in Augusta decided to start their own fellowship in July of 1954 they carpooled their children to Aiken (18 miles away) for Sunday School until 1956; in 1958 Aiken children began to travel to Augusta for Sunday School.

All the while there was joint participation in cluster and district events, and Liberal Religious Youth retreats; but in 1974 the Aiken Fellowship disbanded and the deed to its property was given to Augusta. The funds were used as collateral to obtain a building loan for the Augusta campus to expand.

In the early 2000s the Rev. Dan King, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta, supported UUs in Aiken in reestablishing their own congregation. The Augusta board facilitated financial arrangements until the Aiken congregation could handle them.

Several years later, the Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church decided to pursue the goal of becoming a minister-led congregation. As a lay leader of the Augusta congregation, I occasionally spoke at Sunday services in Aiken. I then had the honor of serving as a half-time minister of the Aiken church during my internship years. I was ordained by both congregations before being contracted by the Augusta congregation as its full-time Developmental Minister in 2013. My Minister’s Study is in the office block built with the funds donated by the Aiken Fellowship. The 60-plus years of collaboration between Aiken and Augusta has made me the minister I am today.

The Aiken congregation is in its second year without a minister; its leadership felt it needed to do something to further its mission and maintain its energy and credibility in the community. So last year the Aiken board proposed to the Augusta board that the two congregations (Augusta has 150 members, Aiken 60) explore ways to work together in partnership to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of the larger Augusta-Aiken area. Going forward, we have agreed to assist each other internally within our congregations, and to promote our shared values in our communities. Our liaison team met for the first time in July, and our boards had a joint potluck and consultation with our Southern Region Congregational Life Staff member, the Rev. Carlton Elliott-Smith, in September. He challenged us to ask what we can do together that we can’t do separately…and that has opened up lots of possibilities!

In addition to training Worship Associates for both churches, swapping occasional speakers (and me) for Sunday services, and both social justice committees staffing a joint stall at the Augusta Pride festival, we are stepping up collaboration in the coming year to include a joint women’s croning ceremony in December and a new Coffeehouse series, which will be organized by a joint committee and held at the Augusta campus. We also will be off to The Mountain Learning and Retreat Center for a joint congregational retreat in April 2016.

The attitude of respect and the potential for partnership we now share were summed up by a statement both boards composed at the end of their September gathering:

Increasing our level of cooperation, we commit to:

Communicate openly and often through our liaison team;

Identify what we can do together;

Charge the boards to turn those opportunities into action.

 

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gayeRev. Gaye Ortiz, a native of Augusta, Georgia, serves as Developmental Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta. She adores her five grandchildren and great-grandson Oliver, and she believes that the Atlanta Braves will one day again win the World Series.

By the Numbers: Religious Education Snap Shot

Happy Friday! It’s time for some numbers. This is the beginning of a series on Religious Education Enrollment. These are self-reporting numbers by UU congregations in the United States representing the number of children and youth enrolled in their religious education programs.

 

This week we’re looking the numbers reported in February 2015, a snap shot of this past year. “Who are we now?”

 

Our UU congregations are created by 180,617 adult members and 56,429 enrolled children and youth across the United States for a total of 237,046 UU people. 23.8% of our communities are children and youth.

RE by size 2015

I break down the congregations by 7 different sizes, because I primarily prepare analysis for Congregational Life. I’m a practitioner supporting the work of other practitioners. We recognize that each size category has special needs and characteristics.

 

RE by region 2015

 

Next week I will dig deeper into the size differences by region.  This is where similarities and differences are teased out. And after that I’ll begin to shed light on growth trends of Religious Education Enrollment. Stay tuned…

 

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Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers loves numbers because they help us see ourselves more clearly and break down assumptions.

Emerging Ministries: 4 critical formation areas for Emerging Ministries

emerging_ministries_logoOne piece of my job is working with new Unitarian Universalist emerging ministries. There are many ways of becoming a Unitarian Universalist group, including becoming one of the newly formed Covenanting Communities. See

 

It is an honor and a privilege to work with these folks. Prior to my coming on the the Southern Region’s congregational Life staff, I was a creating a new congregation in upstate New York.

 

As with any ministry, there is so much work at hand. It is my job to help emerging ministries to focus. I have four areas that are critical in their formation.

 

 

The first is spiritual depth. Because there is so much work facing these folks, their own spiritual life will diminish unless they are intentional about tending to it. This involves self-care. I encourage all them to be diligent about their own daily spiritual practices, and pay attention to balancing family and friends, their work, and their congregational commitment. But beyond self-care is going deeper into the Unitarian Universalist faith. If they are going to create a Unitarian Universalist, covenantal faith community, they must know what that means in a deep way. As leaders, they must grow in depth in order for the community to grow in size. They, therefore, must live with each other in a covenantal way.

 

The second is Unitarian Universalism. In order to be able to grow this wonderful faith, we must understand our theology and heritage. We have values that have stood the test of time. We must know what those are and how others have sacrificed for them in order of us to have the privileges that we enjoy. We have a life saving and giving faith. We must be able to understand that relationships and how we behave (covenant) affects how we interact with the world. Our world is hurting and broken. We must know ourselves so that we can be in relationship with others who are different from us in order to search for wholeness.

 

The third is purpose. It is critical for new groups to have a sense of coming together for something larger than themselves. It is so easy to create the “church for me.” So many people get seduced into thinking that this is their opportunity to create the congregation that they have always wanted with the kind of worship that they like, etc. This is the thinking that will kill it. There must be a sense of creating a space for those that we have not thought about yet. I like to think that when the martians find us they will say, it’s those UUs that have it going on! But we must be creating something special for others, not ourselves. Having a purpose beyond themselves must stay central. I ask things like how are you changing the world? And I expect real answers.

 

And, lastly, generosity. While each of the others leads nicely into the next one, generosity needs to be the lens through which they view everything else. Questions I might ask are: How are you being generous with yourselves? How are you being generous with Unitarian Universalism? How are you being generous with your local community, and how is that helping to define your purpose? Many well established congregations ask me how they can become generous. That is much harder to do later, but at the beginning you can tend to generosity and feed it. If you become a generous people from the beginning, it becomes part of your culture and your values.

 

These are the things that I hope to get into a groups’ DNA as they are forming. If they can get these four things right, what could be more joyous? Really, in one form or another, isn’t this what we want for all of our congregations? How are you doing in these four areas? Let me know. Please add your news in the comment section.

 

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Kathy this oneKathy McGowan, Congregational Life Staff, is one of seven field staff on the Southern Region team. She lives in the triangle area of North Carolina with her son and two cats. She has been a Unitarian Universalist since the mid-eighties and has a deep love of this faith tradition. In addition to her work with new and emerging congregations, she focuses on intercultural sensitivity and is the primary contact for the congregations in Virginia and North Carolina in the Southern Region of the UUA. She is excited to be coaching groups on how to live out their Unitarian Universalist faith in a deep and covenantal way. KMcGowan@uua.org

Multi-Site Ministries: contrasts merging, moving forward together

Partnerships sometimes emerge in strange but exciting ways.     The Partnership of the UU congregations in Binghamton NY and Cortland NY is a mix of contrasting sizes, ages and histories.  But these contrasts bring strength to the relationship.

 

The very small,  historic UU Church of Cortland and the mid-sized UU Congregation of Binghamton, founded in the mid-20th century,  are forming a Partnership of shared preaching, teaching, ministry and social justice work.   And they are seeking funding from FAITHIFY donors to help them get things off the ground this year.

 

The Cortland church is over 200 years old.  In its long history, the church has hosted great figures like Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Thomas Starr King, Theodore Parker, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Martin Luther King Jr.    The Binghamton church is a thriving mid-sized congregation with a vision of becoming a beacon in the larger community and demonstrating UU values and principles in action.   Their mission is to Explore, Encourage and Act.

 

When the Leadership of the two congregations met in person to start to create their Covenant of Partnership,  it was uncertain if they could find common ground to work together.  But during discussions, each group developed a deep appreciation of the gifts that the other congregation had to offer.   Binghamton was drawn to the historic depth and sense of community rootedness found in the Cortland church.  And the Cortland leaders were thrilled by the energy for ministry in the Binghamton congregation and it sense of mission.

 

Both congregations found they shared a deep call to reach out to their larger communities to share the good news of Unitarian Universalism.  And they are now moving forward together in new ways.

 

And they need help from the larger UU community to help jump start this important new work and realize their joint potential.   Please consider giving to their efforts through Faithify.

 

 

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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.

 

Deepening Faith: How Can We Reverse The Trend?

This past year, we’ve been busy looking at ways that youth engage with their congregations, Unitarian Universalism and new trends in youth ministry. We surveyed over 350 youth about their favorite parts of church and how their congregations could better serve them. At General Assembly, our Youth Media Volunteers interviewed their fellow youth. This is what we’ve learned:

 

Youth want to connect with their congregations

Our survey showed that youth want greater ways to connect with their congregation. We know that one of the major markers of future religious participation is increased connections between adults and youth. The National Study of Youth and Religion tells us that 81% of youth have never shared a personal problem with a member of their ministry team. Anecdotes from Unitarian Universalism lead us to believe that the vast majority of pastoral care for youth in our congregations is provided by other youth.

 

Youth invest in their congregations

At General Assembly, our Youth Media Volunteers asked their peers to share their personal UU history. Almost every response began with some form of “I have been a member of my church since I was two” or, “My family has been members since before I was born.” For those who grow up in a congregation, who grow up in Unitarian Universalism, they are innately invested in their congregation. A large number of our youth go through intensive UU identity curricula like Coming of Age and Our Whole Lives. They claim membership because they are invested deeply in their congregation.

 

Youth want their congregations to invest in them

From Almost Christian, “The more available religiously grounded relationships, activities, programs, opportunities, and challenges are for teenagers, the more likely they will be religiously engaged and invested…Stated negatively, churches that do not invest in their youth find that youth are unlikely to invest in them” (203). From our survey, youth want “more opportunity for youth leadership” and “[more] teen-based sermons.” Youth are members of your congregation just like any other and they have needs that need to be met as well. If you invest in your youth and their leadership, there will be an exponential growth in volunteer capacity.

 

Youth want their congregation visible in the world

For a large majority of our youth, when they tell someone they are UU they get this look. A great way to break that trend is for your congregation to show up in your community. Your youth will join you on the frontlines because challenging racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and ableism is important to them. They and/or their friends face oppression every single day. Already doing justice work in your community? A service trip is a great way to deepen youth’s faith.

 

Next steps:

Read: Five Ways to Support Youth In Your Congregation

Check out: Youth Ministry at its Best

Share: Our more in-depth Youth Ministry Survey with the youth in your congregation! This time, we are more interested in how youth connect with UU theology and values.

 

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Bart FrostBart Frost serves as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the UUA. As a raised UU, Bart’s passion is creating opportunities for younger leaders in our faith to share their skills with the world. When not at 24 Farnworth St working for the UUA, he is usually in New Orleans (where his partner Amelia resides) snuggling his two cats (and being harassed by the third) while watching hockey.

By the Numbers: where’s the growth?

Last week I posted the global growth numbers. This week let’s look at UU membership growth trends by congregational size breakdown…

 

(Edited to explain size catagories)  In the following graphs I use 7 different catagories instead of the traditional 4 or 5. The reason is that congregations behave differently and have different needs depending on their size (and other variables.)  The primary audience I prepare data analysis for are practitioners in the field, mostly Congregational Life staff.  And those front-line growth experts that serve and support our congregations use the following size catagories:

 

Fellowship/Tiny (0-60)
Small Pastoral Congregations (61-160)
Midsize Pastoral Congregations (161-300)
Awkward/Transition Congregations (301-400)
Program Congregations (401-600)
Large Program Congregations (601-800)
Corporate Congregations (800+)

 

Yes, you read that correctly. There is a category I call “Awkward” — it’s the hardest size to breakthrough. A couple years ago I asked leaders of congregation in that 301-400 bracket if the name was offensive. Most laughed and said, “no, it’s actually pretty accurate.”  There is a Facebook group for the two smallest categories called “Small & Mighty.”  There are just somethings that only congregational leaders in your size category will understand.  It’s good to compare notes, share ideas, learn from the challenges and celebrate the blessings.

UUA Growth Trends ten years

This is a ten year span we’re looking at.  Here’s the raw data:

Fellowship/Tiny: -12.6% (13,991-12,223)

Small Pastoral Congregations: -2% (36,729-36,007)

Midsize Pastoral Congregations: -3.3% (43,894-42,451)

Awkward/Transition Congregations: -6.5% (19,907-18,609)

Program Congregations: 4% (17,578-18,286)

Large Program Congregations: 11.3% (11,205-12,471)

Corporate Congregations: 20.7% (13,726-16,565)

 

Now watch what happens when we look at a three year span:

UUA Growth Trends three years

Here’s the raw data:

Fellowship/Tiny: Small Pastoral Congregations: (13,170 – 12,223)

Midsize Pastoral Congregations: (43,059 – 42,451)

Awkward/Transition Congregations: (19,188 -18,609)

Program Congregations: (17,855 – 18,286)

Large Program Congregations: (12,241 – 12,471)

Corporate Congregations: (18,283 – 16,565)

Don’t panic about our largest congregations.  The majority of them got real about what it means to be a member of their congregation and “cleaned the membership books.”  I see this as a strong sign of organizational maturity.

 

These two graphs really hit home what a difference the time span you’re looking at can make.

 

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Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.