Improving your User Experience (UX), online and in person (Part 2)

UU faces taken during registration and other times
UU faces taken during registration and other times, Photo credit © Nancy Pierce/UUA

In part 1 I began to explore how the principles of User Experience (UX) Design can improve people’s experience of our congregations. Attention to the emotional and informational transactions of the “user” has become deeply important to me: not just because I’m a minister, not just because I’m in the UUA’s Outreach staff, but also because I’ve recently been new in a congregation.

 

I spent months last year exploring websites and visiting congregations with my toddler before I settled on the one I attend now. The incredible friendliness of that congregation made a difference. It wasn’t accidental: the congregation had put work in to their welcome.

 

The first time I visited, no one knew I was a minister, just a mom with a two year old. People greeted me warmly even before we’d crossed the street, and someone offered to carry the stroller that my child was refusing to ride in. At the door, a trained greeter met us, helped us create nametags, gave us a mini-tour, and helped my child find and feel comfortable in the nursery. The nursery was staffed by a paid professional, someone who exuded warmth and confidence. The worship was excellent too – but I was already deciding this was a good place to be before I even set foot in the sanctuary. I had a good user experience.

 

“User Experience design… is about giving people a delightful and meaningful experience. A good design is pleasurable, thoughtfully crafted, makes you happy, and gets you immersed.” (From UXMyths.com)

Let’s get new people immersed in Unitarian Universalism! But how do we know what will delight them? What they’ll find meaningful?

 

When we’re trying to attract new “users,” we can try to get there by thinking about what we like, but we are often not good judges of what a new user is looking for. Especially since many of the things that members like are things that come with time (like community, or ministry through life changes.) In order to design for new users, we need to talk with some of our relatively new users. While we get curious about who they are and we get to know them, we can also get curious about their experience, asking questions like:

  • How did you learn about our congregation? Why did you decide to interact with/visit us?
  • What were your goals when you started interacting with us (online or in person)? Did our congregation meet your expectations related to these goals?
  • What are the most frequent tasks you do on our website? (For example, finding out what’s happening this week.) Is it easy or difficult to accomplish those tasks?
  • What are the most frequent tasks you do when you attend? (For example, get a cup of coffee after the service.) Are there frequent tasks that don’t feel easy to accomplish? If so, why? (For example, having to wait in line for a long time for coffee.)
  • When you are interacting with us online, do you find anything frustrating that you wish was easier/different?
  • When you are interacting with us in person, do you find anything frustrating that you wish was easier/different?
  • What else would you like to tell us about your experience getting involved?
    (The first six bullets are from stackexchange.com, adapted for congregational use.)

 

What we learn from their answers can help us improve the experience of people who interact with us in the future.

 

We can also do some of this work without talking with new users: we can just try to see things with new eyes, as my old congregation did with the parking lot entrance in Improving Your User Experience (Part I). And we can do through the use of personas – another powerful methodology from web development that helps us design for particular audiences. I’ll discuss those in the third part of this series.

 

Even though we can’t control every element of a new user’s experience with a congregation, there is much we can learn, and much we can change, when we make the effort to understand the emotions we’re evoking in the people we’re hoping to serve. A “delightful and meaningful experience” at the front end can lead users to a faith that changes their lives profoundly. Let’s not let a clunky website or confusing signage get in the way. Unitarian Universalism saves lives: may a positive user experience make it so, all the more.

 

_________________________________

SarahRev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.

Improving your User Experience (UX), online and in person (Part 1)

Entrance
Photo by Curtis Cronn, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the spring, I blogged here about our websites being our front doors. Our websites, our social media presence, and our events that involve the broad community are all important entry-points for prospective Unitarian Universalists. This season, as many congregations return to full all-ages programs and worship, we would do well to think about our actual front doors, as part of our consideration of the overall user experience (UX) of the congregation.

User Experience is a new way of looking at online development: one that has incredible relevance to congregations, online and in person. It’s a holistic way of examining and evaluating the process of getting to know a congregation. The user – in this case, the person who’s exploring your congregation – is going to make decisions about participation based on their experience. That may seem obvious – of course they would. But UX offers tools for analyzing that experience, and becoming more intentional about “curating” that experience.

A user experience occurs in touch points. Every time a user interacts with (or touches) your organization, an emotional or information-based transaction is taking place that can positively or negatively impact the user (the person you’re trying to reach). (Josh Neuroth from “Curating Your User’s Experience.”)

What are the touch points the typical user has when they experience your congregation? They may not be obvious to you. Regular participants get used to the way the congregation is and stop noticing what they noticed the first time they walked in the door.

In my first year as a congregation’s minister, we hired a Membership Consultant. She evaluated the experience of a newcomer outside the hundred-year-old building – a building that had an awkward relationship to its parking lot, which was behind the church. She took notes and pictures, and presented these interesting observations to the Newcomers Committee:

  • Someone arrives in the parking lot. They see four doors to the church.
  • One, up a steep cement staircase with only one handrail, looks official but unused. Probably an emergency exit. That must not be the way in.
  • Another, at the end of a long wing of classrooms, is friendly and attractive—but its sign says it’s a preschool. That must not be the way in, either.
  • When you get close to another door, you see it leads to the trash area. Definitely not the way in.
  • Another door, the one that actually works to go in to the building, is a plain gray painted door, hidden in a corner, with no sign.
  • Someone finally makes it through that plain gray painted door, and the first thing they see upon entering are two refrigerators, one with a sign on it saying it’s out of order.
  • Then they find themselves in a rather dark hallway, which is actually just below the sanctuary where worship is about to happen, but that may not be obvious.

What kind of emotional and informational transactions were taking place there? All sorts of frustrating, confusing experiences – before they ever got in the door or heard a single word.

Let that sink in: before even meeting anyone, or hearing the welcome and announcements when we proclaimed “whoever you are, wherever you come from, we welcome you,” people were having a frustrating and confusing time with us. Our newcomers didn’t know how to get where they wanted to be!

The congregation was a great place for people of all ages, with meaningful worship and vibrant programs. But everyone who participated regularly had figured out the ins and outs of that hundred-year-old building. Their user experience was no longer the same as a newcomer’s – they couldn’t see what a newcomer saw.

In response, members and staff set about creating better signage, moving those old refrigerators, developing a small welcoming area where the refrigerators had been, brightening up the dark hallway, and stationing friendly greeters there every Sunday morning. The newcomers’ user experience immediately improved.

We often focus so much on the messages we deliver from the pulpit, the values we embody in the youth group lesson, the stories we tell in the children’s workshop. But those intentional messages are only one part of the user’s experience of our congregations.

The early parts of the user experience are formative. The old adages about first impressions are true: they really stick, and you never get a second chance to make one.

How can you become more intentional about your new users’ experience? We’ll explore this question as our series continues in coming weeks.

 

_____________________________

SarahRev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.

 

 

Skinner House Update

Life never stops sending new spiritual challenges our way. How do we, as individuals and communities, find the path forward on crossing cultural borders, grappling with grief and loss, navigating growth and change, striving for justice and action, or questioning conscience and belief? Unafraid to tackle the thorniest issues, we bring you insightful writing for every age and stage. As an imprint of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), we sit at the intersection of your progressive values and life’s biggest questions.

Spiritual, practical, engaged—We are Skinner House Books.

Skinner House

Skinner House Books are available from UUA Bookstore and wherever books are sold. Follow Skinner House Books on FaceBookTumblr Scribd and Twitter

 

New Titles

 

BecomingBecoming: A Spiritual Guide for Navigating AdulthoodKayla

Edited by Kayla Parker

 

This elegant volume offers itself as a spiritual companion for young adults and all who live amid transitions and tensions. Dozens of carefully selected readings address themes that are prominent for people in their twenties and early thirties. The topics include: passion and purpose, identity, community, losing and finding, and justice and creation. Each section features reflections from Unitarian Universalist young adults, as well as poems, prayers, and opening and closing words from contemporary and ancient peoples. This treasury of uplifting and thought-provoking meditations can serve as a guide and provide comfort on our never-ending journey of becoming.

 

Pamphlets

 

Justice pamphletUU Justice Partnerships

Susan Leslie (Unitarian Universalist Association)

An introduction to the dynamic new wave of interfaith and community partnerships that UU congregations are joining for social justice. Includes information on congregation-based community organizations and the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. Plus a helpful list of best practices for successful congregational justice ministries.

Susan Leslie is Congregational Advo­cacy & Witness Director for the UUA. She has worked in the UUA’s national social jus­tice and multicultural staff teams since 1991. Prior to her service at the UUA’s national office, she worked as a research associate for the New England Municipal Center, a community organizer with the New Hampshire People’s Alliance, and as a Boston-based freelance organizer.

 

 

family prayersFamily Prayers (redesigned)

Edited by Irene Praeger (Unitarian Universalist Association)

A lovely collection of multigenerational chalice lightings, graces, and prayers for the home. Contributors include Eva M. Ceskava, Mary Ann Moore, Betsy Darr, Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, David Herndon, Gary Kowalski, John S. Mackey, Joyce Poley, Richard Fewkes, Rikkity, Percival Chubb, Edwin C. Lynn, and Susan Maginn and Peter Campbell.

 

Irene Praeger serves as the director of religious education at First Parish in Needham, Massachusetts.

 

 

Recent News and Reviews

 

We’re pleased to announce a newly created web page for the inSpirit series, formerly known as the meditation manual series. Visit the page for a complete list of the titles in the series, some historical background, and links to purchase your favorite inSpirit books. We hope that the series continues to enrich your lives!

 review

Check out this great review of Landscapes of Aging and Spirituality in Spirituality & Practice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trending in the UUA Bookstore

The following have been particularly popular in the month of July:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging Ministries Lab at General Assembly

emerging_ministries_logoImagine walking into a room of experts of various kinds — fundraisers, generosity, membership, faith formation, staff finance, church planting, multi-site, and more, and you have access to them for a whole three hours.

#330 Emerging Ministries Lab

Friday, 6/26/2015     3:00:00 PM — 6:00:00 PM

OCC – Portland Ballroom 256-257

This is how the lab works… As a leader, or group of leaders, you come through the door and a guide greets up and then escorts you through the 3 parts:

  • Part 1. Setting an Intention. A table of tea lights with the invitation for you to name your group’s forming purpose and your intention for the Emerging Ministries Lab.
  • Part 2. Held and Witnessed by Experts. Your guide will walk with you to whatever table of experts you’d like to access.  We’ll have people from outreach (websites, social media and such), church finance, law, membership professionals, LREDA, UUMA entrepreneurs, and more.) It may be that you simply want to sit with a guide at an empty table and tell them your story and receive wondering, going deeper questions.  That’s totally fine, too!
  • Part 3. Adding a Prayer to the Circle. A big hoop loom with strips of paper will invite you to write “What unique way is your group going to change the world?” on one side and “What do you need to make this happen?” on the other side.  You may then weave your prayer into the loom.

What questions will you bring?  We look forward to being part of your Emerging Ministries convoy.

UUA/Regional Staff Dedicated to Emerging Ministries

emerging_ministries_logoHave you caught the Emerging Ministries buzz?  Did you pass on the links to the most recent blog posts on to your congregational leadership teammates?  You know the posts —  the announcement Emerging Ministries support and the other blog post of the Emerging Ministries website overview. And now are you wondering “What’s next?!”

 

It may be time to call your Regional Emerging Ministries Coach.  These are Congregational Life staff dedicated helping coach, connect, and co-learn with you and your teammates. They meet regularly as their own learning community in order to better serve you, and they facilitate Innovative Learning Circles with leaders pioneering these powerful and emerging forms of innovative impact and community. Additionally they are available to help you discern your community’s path and help connect you to other resources, including other congregations.

 

Co-Coordinators

 

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 has lived in 7 different states and been part of 8 different UU communities throughout her life. A firm believer in both established and new ministries, she is a member of First Parish Dorchester, founded in 1630, and The Sanctuary Boston, created a few years ago.  Supporting the emerging ministries initiative at the UUA has already been one of the best learning experiences of her life and she is so thrilled to be working with our people all over the country to help spread, grow and deepen our faith through new groups and projects. agonzalez@uua.org 

 

Rev Tandi clappingRev. Tandi Rogers currently serves as the Innovation and Network Specialist.  Prior to that she was the Growth Specialist and before that the Program Specialist serving congregations in the Pacific Northwest. She finds congregations and UU groups collaborating together very exciting and promising (that was a covenant pun, get it?) Helping leaders see abundance and possibilities is what gets her up in the morning. trogers@uua.org

 

New England Region

 

HilaryAllen-newHilary Allen’s focus on the New England Regional Staff is Innovation & Growth. She’s continuously fascinated by the way emergent ministries in Unitarian Universalism tend to organize around ancient needs for community. She brings patience and awe to emergence and innovation work, and is also glad to think strategically with folks about their structures and systems – and their funding! hallen@uua.org

 

neil-barron_seanSean Neil-Barron is the Ministerial Intern at the New England Region of the UUA. Sean loves emerging ministries because they reflect our faith adapting to our context and sowing seeds of love. SNeil-Barron@uua.org

 

 

 

Central East Regional Group

 

Raziq-BrownRaziq Brown newly joined the CERG team to support the youth ministry portfolio and in addition emerging with young adult ministries. He hasn’t even started work yet, so we’ll hold off on publishing contact information.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

EvinThe Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer is the Congregational Life Consultant for the St. Lawrence District and part-time program coordinator for the Ohio-Meadville District. She is well-known for her passion around youth and young adult ministries, especially GoldMine Leadership School. eziemer@uua.org

 

 

Southern Region

 

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

 

MidAmerica Region

 

Phil LundThe Rev. Phil Lund is a Congregational Life Consultant working with new and emerging ministries in the MidAmerica Region of the UUA. He’s excited about engaging with UUs who are exploring creative and innovative ways of being in religious community. In addition to focusing on digital ministry, he’s also interested in is helping groups bring a spiritual formation focus to the work they do. PLund@uua.org

 

DoriDori Thexton has been serving Unitarian Universalism for over 30 years – in two congregations before becoming part of the field staff team. She is passionate about growing our faith and anything that will help congregations do that.  dthexton@uua.org

 

 

 

Pacific West Region

 

JeanelyseThe Rev. Jeanelyse Doran Adams serves the Pacific Western Region as Congregational Life Staff.  Jeanelyse believes new expressions of Unitarian Universalist emerging ministries offer hope in a fractured world, provide opportunities to liberate our faith, and invite shared ministry at its best. JAdams@uua.org

 

 

jonipher thisThe Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kwong just joined the Congregational Life staff team in the Pacific Western Region. He brings with him a wealth of experience from planting a new congregation for the Metropolitan Community Churches and new UU religious communities that turned into a multi-site partnership. He is an innovative entrepreneur and we’re grateful to have his spark on our team. JKwong@uua.org

 

Call them early, and call them often.  This team is here for you, wherever you are on your Emerging Ministry journey!

Packing (and Other) Advice for General Assembly in Portland, OR

uua_ga2015_logoHi friends –

Just wanted to remind you to keep your eye on the long-range forecast for Portland GA. If the weather holds, we should be in for the high 70’s to mid-80’s and mostly sunny. But it’ll still be cool at night – between 50-60, likely.

Portland, like the NW in general, is a casual-dress place. You can go pretty much anywhere in jeans or shorts and not be out of place. If you are used to heat, you’re definitely going to want warmer clothes for evenings out, including a pair of long pants, a warmer sweater or jacket, and maybe even a pair of close-toed shoes (or socks to go with your Birkenstocks or Keenes, which is considered normal in the NW).

Might not be a bad idea to throw a folding umbrella or rain jacket in the suitcase, too, just in case the NW starts to act like the NW.

If it’s hot during the day (we in the Northwest consider it hot if it’s above 70), prepare yourself to find no relief ducking into a café or store. It’s not yet the norm in the NW to have air conditioning, though as climate change is keeping the summers hotter, there are more places that have installed AC.

And remember your Butt Butter if you’re going to join the naked cyclists. You don’t want to chafe your tender bits if you’re without your Lycra and chamois.

Speaking of streets, Northwesterners tend to actually stand at the corner and wait for the light to change. Police do ticket here for jay-walking, though it’s true that everyone’s more relaxed about that in Portland than in Seattle. An exception in Portland are the hipsters on their fixies, who tend not to stop for anything – beware.

Do make a visit to Burgerville, a sustainable business featuring locally sourced fast-ish food (including a couple of good vegan/ veggie burgers – my fave is the Spicy Anasazi Bean Burger; gluten-free buns available on request). BV seasonal specials in June are fried asparagus with aioli, and local strawberries in milkshakes, smoothies, lemonade and sundaes. Expect to recycle or compost nearly everything.

Though you can find Starbucks in Portland, self-respecting Portlandians will sneer if you ask them directions to one. Don’t hesitate to try the local coffee shops. It’s all good, and you can find one, oh, every 50 feet or so.

Pretty much every place in Portland has vegan and gluten-free menu items. Probably even the bike shops. And yes, you can count on a lot of kale and quinoa. Don’t hesitate to try the vegan fare – it’s nearly always fabulous. One of the best in town is Blossoming Lotus, which is pretty fancy and full of the trendarati more thanBird on it hipsters these days, but outstanding.

Food trucks, yes, all over. BrewCycle, three routes plus walking & barge options. Great restaurants & cafes, too numerous to mention. Closest to the convention center are probably those on Broadway, just a couple blocks north of the DoubleTree, and east of 13th. A little further out are Pine State Biscuits (“biscuit focused Southern eatery”) and Nicholas (Lebanese). Wings? Fire on the Mountain – oh, mama.

There’s a Voodoo Donuts less than a mile from the convention center (I think they are overrated, but it’s hard to leave Portland without making a pilgrimage). Better is Sweetpea Bakery – all vegan, as are Food Fight! Grocery and the Herbivore Clothing Co. next door.

For those who aren’t into Thursday evening at GA, there is Last Thursday on Alberta, a street fair 6-9:30. Take the bus. And, there’s Saturday Market, 10-5 Saturday and 11-4:30 Sunday (yeah, I know, that’s not Saturday. But it is Portland). Take the Max. I won’t go into all the amazing parks and field trips.

All for now – if you have never been to Portland, you are in for a treat. Try to leave the convention center at least once, okay? And remember, if in doubt, put a bird on it!

 

______________________________

JanineJanine Larsen is a Congregational Life Staff member in the UUA’s Pacific Western Region and a Pacific Northwest native. Really. She lives outside Seattle, WA (known to Portlandians as the warning land of “how not to be”). When working with UU congregations in the Portland area, Janine enjoys allowing extra time to discover new ways to Keep Portland Weird.

Emerging Ministries Quick Map

emerging_ministries_logoQuick, where can you go to find a glossary of terms for all different kinds of Unitarian Universalist ministries, a “Buzzfeed” style quiz about which kind of emerging ministry you should create and a fascinating report put out by a Methodist organization on what real change looks like?

 

If you answered www.uua.org/emerging, you’re correct!

 

As you may have heard, the Unitarian Universalist Association is rolling out a new support system for emerging ministries. Maybe you’ve been reading up on how this support relates to the new Covenanting Communities designation or seen how this initiative can support our outreach to millennials. You’ve probably seen this video that highlights some different styles of emerging ministries.

 

 

Emerging Ministries final

 

But have you taken the time to explore our homepage on the UUA website?

 

Here are the Top 6 Reasons you should go check out www.uua.org/emerging.

 

6. Take a fun quiz
. Come on, admit it, you’ve totally clicked on one of those “Which Harry Potter character will you be during the zombie apocalypse?” quizzes your friend posted on Facebook, haven’t you? On the right-hand sidebar of our webpage you can find a fun quiz that let’s you know which lane of the road to covenanted UU living is right for you! Of course the quiz is partially silly, but it was also designed to be useful and informative. The results might surprise you…

 

5. Read some serious case studies
. On the other hand, maybe you’re wanting to delve deep and get serious about the nitty gritty details of starting an emerging ministry. Scroll down to the “Learn more” section of our webpage and check out our case studies. Right now we have profiled three groups and we will be expanding with additional groups as we go. You can learn about their discernment processes, their financial strategies, how their ministries got off the ground or why they didn’t make it.

 

4. Get perspectives beyond Unitarian Universalism. 
Learning from our fellow UUs is crucial, but so is learning from both secular and non-UU religious groups. After all, UUs are certainly not the only ones looking at our changing religious landscape and trying to figure out how to respond faithfully. Right now we have pieces written by Methodists, a United Church of Christ minister and some Harvard Divinity School students focusing on secular groups. It’s all under “Learn more” and we’ll keep adding to the resources, keeping you up to date on how other folks are thinking about new religious and/or spiritual projects.

 

3. Figure out what we’re talking about.  Confused by “Covenanting Communities”? Mystified by “multisite ministry?” Wondering what it even means to be a member congregation? We use a lot of specific terms when we talk about emerging ministries, and while we try to avoid jargon and speak clearly, it can be difficult to follow along. Check out the glossary page that supplements our emerging ministries page, and you’ll be in the know in no time!

 

2. Start receiving support
. So you’ve got an idea or you’ve been working on a project for awhile and you want to get plugged into this support you keep hearing about. Well look no further. Scroll all the way down on our webpage and you’ll find the Emerging Ministries Inquiry Form. Fill it out and we’ll be in touch with you. We get to know more about who’s working on what in the emerging ministries field and you get regular check ins from national and regional staff and the opportunity to apply for project grants and join learning communities. It’s a win, win!

 

1. Be inspired. Do you ever feel disillusioned about our world and the future of our faith? This webpage is a great place to find hope and maybe even the spark of your own creative idea. In the sidebar you’ll find videos including “GA Talks” (short TED Talks style presentations from our UUA General Assembly) that explore new forms of ministry. Under “Learn more” you’ll find blogposts from the BlueBoat “Spotlight Series” that highlight how emerging ministries are working with young adults. And throughout the page you’ll see our bold life-giving faith reflected back in words, pictures and videos. The possibilities are endless!

 

Of course as this endeavor develops over time our webpage will change and grow. Check back regularly to see what’s new at www.uua.org/emerging and you can have fun, get serious, learn from others, clear up confusion, find support and be inspired all at once.

 

_________________________

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 has lived in 7 different states and been part of 8 different UU communities throughout her life.  She currently lives in Boston with her partner Lucas and some lovely housemates.  A firm believer in both established and new ministries, she is a member of First Parish Dorchester, founded in 1630, and The Sanctuary Boston, created a few years ago

 

Analysis of The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

2015RLSpromo640x320Religion data geeks everywhere rejoiced this month when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its newest study of the American religious landscape. Pew made waves a few years ago when it published a sweeping report that pointed to the rise of the “nones,” the increasing numbers of American adults who have no religious connection. This year’s study updates Pew’s massive 2007 study, and gives us valuable trend information.

So what does Pew report? Well, for starters, the “nones” are still rising. Since 2007, 19 million Americans have joined the ranks of the nonreligious. 19 million! That’s 23% of adults, trending up from 16% in 2007. And, as before, the increase of nonreligious adults comes from the losses of traditional Catholic and Mainline Protestant faiths. Pew is pretty much the gold standard for this kind of data, but for what it’s worth the decline of religious affiliation is a trend so robust that it shows up in every other similar survey.

Younger generations continue to lead the bleed away from traditional religious practices, with about 35% of Millennials claiming no affiliation. But, and this is one of my favorite parts of the new study, every generation has seen an increase in the number of unaffiliated adults since 2007! Baby Boomer unaffiliateds, for example, have gone from 14 to 17% of their peers. Friends, the waters are still churning amidst this sea change in American religion, and there’s no sign of them slowing down.

The researchers at Pew thoughtfully included a breakdown just for Unitarian Universalists (there’s actually one for every faith tradition they track, but I’m still appreciative). Compared to eight years ago, we are getting younger and less wealthy. In self-identification, or the number of people who tell researchers they are UU, we are overall holding steady at 0.3% of the adult population which, given the increases in the US population, implies we’ve grown by 54,000 in the last few years to 735,000. However, keep in mind that we’re not seeing this growth in self-identification reflected in our congregational membership reports. Maybe someone should dig into that intriguing divergence

Check out the Pew data for yourself! I’ve only made it through the summary so far, but the full report looks worth a read. Pew also says they are going to publish more detailed reports on religious affiliation soon (hopefully great stuff like this gem), and I can’t wait to see what insights emerge.

What else do you see in this research? Add your thoughts in the comments.

__________________

cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach, total data geek and trend-spotter.

Covenanting Communities

cropped-lucy-stone-0077-copy
Lucy Stone welcome table, a Covenanting Community

 

During the last year, the UUA Board of Trustees and UUA staff have been up to something pretty cool. Though historically the only way to become an official part of the UUA is through a congregation, we’ve been working on a new way for independent groups of Unitarian Universalists to be in relationship with the wider movement. In March, the Board created a flexible new status for those groups called “covenanting communities.”

What is a “covenanting community?” It’s a community that claims and is claimed by Unitarian Universalism, borrowing a turn of phrase from our friends at Faithify. A covenanting community is NOT a member congregation of the UUA, nor is it an interest or affinity group of UUs who are already members of congregations. Covenanting communities are the primary ways that their members or participants connect to Unitarian Universalism.

Covenanting communities can look and feel very different. That’s actually the point. We want people to imagine new ways of living out their UU faith and values, and to feel like they can do that while still being a recognized part of the UU family. Covenanting communities may look like Sacred Path, which used to be an emerging congregation before deciding that the covenanting community status suited them better.  Or they could look like Lucy Stone Cooperative, an intentional living community grounded in UU values that is exploring the covenanting community status to see if it fits with their mission.

The development of the covenanting community status started out with a pilot project last fall. This pilot project reached out to UU groups who might be interested in the covenanting communities status see what might be a good way of structuring this relationship. Through those conversations, we learned what’s really important to uphold (connection to UU principles and the wider movement) and what’s ok to leave to full-fledged congregations (bylaws, voting at General Assembly, size requirements).

It also turned out that, even though some of the groups we approached about the covenanting communities status weren’t interested, just having a conversation with local leaders about their goals and their UU identity was valuable. Some even decided to restart the process to become full member congregations. This just highlights the need for supportive, ongoing relationship between all levels of the UU faith movement.

The best part about the covenanting communities status is that it is a part of an entire system of support for emerging ministries. Not every group connected to Unitarian Universalism will want to become a covenanting community, and that’s ok. What’s important is that there are now more ways than ever for people to express their faith in covenant with the wider UU movement.

The first round of covenanting communities will hopefully be recognized at General Assembly this year, so stay tuned! And check out other articles on emerging ministries on this blog.

 

 Application and more information: Covenanting Communities Fact Sheet.

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cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach and has been working closely with the UU Board on the development of this new status. He is also known as the Future of Faith Guy.