Growing & Learning By Example

As a Growth Strategies Specialist with a religious education orientation, I encourage learning through experience and relationship.  By this I mean piling a group of leaders from your congregation into your car to go experience another Unitarian Universalist congregation and break bread with their leaders. This relational experience embodies President Peter Morales’ call to “Get Religion, Grow Leaders, and Go Beyond Borders.”

Please consider getting outside your paradigm as to what Unitarian Universalism is, as expressed within your home congregation. The very dynamic nature of Unitarian Universalism requires us to hold our faith lightly, not tightly, and be open to its diversity and ever-progression.

Even before you print out directions for your road trip, contact the comparable leaders from the congregation you are visiting.  If you’re the president and are taking a worship associate and religious educator and the newly appointed canvass coordinator, then call ahead and arrange to meet with their president, canvass chair, some worship associates and religious educators. Ask for a tour of their facilities. Ask to see their guiding documents.  What do love they about their role? What do they struggle with? Offer to take them to lunch and continue the conversation.

Start paying attention the moment you look up the website to the destination congregation in order to glean directions and contact information for leaders. Take in the whole experience of driving up to the building and then being greeted. Pay attention to the response of all your senses in worship and fellowship. How is it different than your home congregation? How is it the same? How does this inform your understanding of Unitarian Universalism? What might you like to try in your own congregation?

For those of you crying out, “But we don’t have another Unitarian Universalist congregation within reasonable driving distance!” please reach out to any liberal religious community within reasonable driving distance!  Sometimes we can learn more from other faith traditions more than our own.

Another option is to experience other congregations through the following video series. You can process the same questions while watching the videos as would on your in-person experience. And you can contact the leadership from those congregations to set up a phone or video conversation to tap into their wisdom and experience.

  • Breakthrough Congregations – These short videos highlight congregations that have achieved significant and sustained numerical growth by breaking through an obstacle in the areas of spiritual vitality, organizational maturity, faith in action, and/or associational growth.
  • A Religion For Our Time series: These short videos highlight inspiring work in congregations, including innovative projects relating to worship, religious education, social justice, membership, and fellowship.

May this be the beginning of a supportive and collaborative relationship!

Take courage friends. 
The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. 
Take courage. 
For deep down, there is another truth: 
you are not alone.  ~ Rev. Wayne Arnason



Paul Nickerson Highlights Growth Conference in Taunton

Have you thought about growing your church?  Are you excited about Unitarian Universalism, and looking for ways to let others know about our spiritual communities and all the wonderful things that go on there?  First Parish Church in Taunton, Massachusetts, is hosting a conference, “Growth: Strategies for Your Congregation” on October 26 to 27. The Taunton congregation welcomes Unitarian Universalists from far and wide to attend this ecumenical conference, which will focus on:

  • Understanding your community.
  • Understanding the current realities facing your congregation.
  • Seeing your congregation’s mission field differently.
  • Designing events that will enhance hospitality.
  • Developing networking strategies.
  • Building teams for growth and creating a plan for going forward.

Paul Nickerson, their presenter, has a proven track record of helping churches grow in both number and vitality.  An experienced UCC minister, he is a senior consultant to the Griffith Coaching Network and has worked with many denominations.  Peter Bowden, a television producer and church consultant, will also be presenting on Social Media in our time.

When? – Friday, October 26, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., and Saturday, October 27, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Where? – First Parish Church in Taunton, 76 Church Green, Taunton, Massachusetts.

How much? – $125 per person or $350 for a team of four.

Please register by Saturday, October 20, 2012.

Contact First Parish Church in Taunton (508-822-2107 or for more information.  Or go to and register today!


Conference Brochure: Taunton Growth Conference

About the Main Presenter: About Paul Nickerson


What Is Congregations & Beyond?

The following is a response to a common question we get in the Growth Strategies Office.  It is written by Intern Stefani Rupert who is working on an Asset Map of Congregations & Beyond.  If your congregations makes an impact beyond your membership, we want to hear from you.  Please send your story to


Some of you might be asking “What is this Congregations and Beyond stuff?”

  • Is it all the stuff that congregation do in service of the larger community?
  • Is it all the practices and community gathering outside of traditional, physical congregations?”

Congregations and Beyond, I believe, comprises all that. This is because the initiative is a broad one, a visionary one, and a spiritual one.  It digs at the very nature of our hearts and our love, and it asks us to think about how we want to and how we can best live spiritually in the contemporary world.  Congregations and Beyond asks of us: “How do we conceive of ourselves as Unitarian Universalists?  What is the core of our spirituality, and what are our aims, relative to our position in the wider, evolving world?  How do we want to practice our faith?”

Congregations and Beyond encourages UUs to continue to find delight and solidarity in their congregations, and to guide Seekers to congregations insofar as that may benefit them.  Congregations will forever be central to Unitarian Universalist spirituality, as these are places of community and joy and covenant.   But in today’s evolving world– in a world full of new possibilities for service and travel and diversity and connectivity and conversation– UUs may find different ways to practice and to connect.  Some of these UUs may not regularly attend church, and some may go every weekend.   That does not matter: each of them is being invited to think deeply about her practice, how much she might live inside congregational walls alone, and how much she may wish to expand her spirituality to different realms.

The point of Congregations and Beyond is to recognize the vast depth and potential thrumming beyond congregational walls.  We UUs may reach into that world however we desire.  Certainly some of us may be(come) home church or small group ministry practitioners, but others of us may remain in our home congregations.  Regardless, all of us may decide to reach out to the wider community in new and bold ways.

Congregations and Beyond of course acknowledges that this kind of service already occurs in virtually every congregation.  What this initiative aims for in these cases is solely to highlight the importance of these efforts, to demonstrate that UUs are already significantly engaged beyond congregations, and to encourage even more radical engagement outside of congregational walls.   One congregation might always provide day care for local youth, but what if it decided to host spirituality discussions at the public library?  To open new doors as a community center?  To network among immigration justice advocates on Twitter?  Or to publicize podcasts to the broader community?

The Congregations and Beyond initiative is, when it comes down to it, the simple endeavor to explore UU spirituality beyond congregational walls, however that might be appropriate to each individual’s life, spirit, and mission.   This may be through new forms of UU connectivity.  It may also be through new forms of connecting with the wider world.  Or it may even more likely be (based on the bold aspirations and life and love of Unitarian Universalists the world over) a synergistic endeavor to engage and to live faithfully both.


Guest Blogger ___________________________________________

Stefani Ruper is a UUA Intern working on a Congregations & Beyond Asset Map. If your congregations makes an impact beyond your membership, we want to hear from you.  Please send your story to


General Assembly: Grounds for a Growth Spurt, Part 4 of 4

We’ve been reflecting on the shift that just happened at Justice GA. So many are reporting a difference.  As a faith tradition, we seemed to have gone through a collective growth spurt.  This is the fourth in a 4-part series featuring examples of how we experienced and observed health and transformation.




Associational growth is about how we are in partnership, whether that be laterally (Unitarian Universalist congregation to congregation,) horizontally (each congregation to it’s district or the institutionally UUA,) or across-ly (Unitarian Universalist congregations to other community justice partners or to other cousins in faith.)

Salvador Reza of the group Puente

Arizona Partners

In a 2010, the General Assembly (GA) called on the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) administration to work with leaders in Arizona Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations to establish an Arizona Immigration Ministry (AZIM) to partner with other groups in Arizona working for immigration reform to strengthen those partnerships in preparation for our arrival in 2012.  The resulting list of Arizona Partners is long and exhaustive.  This kind of coalition work requires differentiation, honesty, negotiation, and a vision to contain all the differences. It’s not easy work, anyone who was involved will tell you.  But it’s worth it.  It’s how we grow beyond our own margins and borders.

  • Who are your partners in justice and community making? How has partnering challenged you? Made you stronger? Increased your impact and effectiveness?
  • If you don’t currently partner what is holding you back?


United Church of Christ

Many of you may know that the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association collaborated together on the Our Whole Lives curriculum. The assembled UUs were delighted to know that our relationship does not stop there. That relationship is growing.

The picture below is of UCC President Geoffrey Black  addressing the vigil after touring the Tent City jails as part of a religious delegation.  Rev. Black attended the entire General Assembly much to the vocal delight of the assembly. He addressed the plenary on occasion and often actively participated in worship. It was wonderful to have our cousins in faith present as a partner.  I hope this is the beginning of a reciprocal relationship.

UCC President Geoffrey Black


  • Who are your religious communities’ partners?  How do you show up?  How and when do you ask for help?
  • How do you maintain equality at the table?


Those are some examples.  How else did you experience and/or observe growth spurts at General Assembly?  Please share your thoughts in the comments and include your name and congregation.

General Assembly Growth Opportunities

For those of you getting ready for General Assembly 2012 by pouring over the program and plotting out your educational experience, we’d like to point out some workshops that might give you some tools and/or paradigm shifts to aid congregational growth.

UU World will provide timely reports and articles on their GA Blog, illustrated by some striking selections from their Photostream on Flickr. Follow UU Worldon Twitter for up-to-the-minute news during major GA events.

We also recommend downloading the GA Mobile Ap. And for those of you staying at home who would like to participate virtually, there are events being live-streamed.


Organizational Maturity

How to Build Meaning-Full Social Justice Ministry Teams

Thursday, 5:00 pm – 6:15 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 224 B

It takes more than passion to save the world. Learn how to build sustainable, theologically ground ed, strategically based Social Justice ministry teams that will engage your whole congregation. Explore a method for developing or focusing your concerns about immigration, ARAOM, peace, poverty, the environment and more.  Rev. Joan Montagnes


Organizing 101: Recruitment & Leadership Development

Saturday, 9:00 am – 10:15 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 125

In this interactive workshop, we’ll focus on why people must be central in justice work and learn a framework for assessing who’s in your activist crew to help you do effective and spiritually grounded recruitment and leadership development, two key and often-neglected pieces of our justice work in congregations.  Rev. Cathy Rion

Spiritual Vibrancy


Beloved Conversations: Transforming Church Culture on Race & Ethnicity

Thursday, 10:30 am – 11:45 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 232 AB

Race and cultural identity continue to be determining factors in our society. Even so, there exists a sense of “stuckness” and fatigue around the work of building Beloved Community—especially for people of color. Come experience an alternative approach that engages the arts, deepens compassion and strengthens multicultural competency.  Rev. Kate Lore, Dr. Mark A. Hicks, Rev. Bill Sinkford


Getting Unstuck: New Directions for Congregational Life: Theology

Thursday, 10:30 am – 11:45 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 120 D

Congregations play a crucial role in shaping a just world. William Schulz will explore the theologies that inspire us to take up the soul expanding work of social justice and sustain us through the challenges. Provost Sharon Welch and Meadville Lombard students will respond.  Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, Dr. Sharon Welch, Debbie Cole, Nathan Hollister


Building Beloved Community as Radical Practice

Thursday, 3:15 pm – 4:30 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 124

Beloved Community as envisioned by people of faith such as Dr. King is bold, transformative and inspirational for justice ministry. Join us to consider justice making as the practice of love and explore how this powerful vision can integrate our desire for spiritual integrity with our hope for social transformation.  Rev. Deborah Holder, Meck Groot


Getting Unstuck: New Directions in Cross-Cultural Partnerships

Friday, 3:15 pm – 4:30 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 226

Mark Hicks, Lee Barker and Shawna Foster will lead in a celebration and exploration with congregations that are creating authentic, transformative cross- cultural ministries. We will explore both the joys and challenges that accompany living at the frontlines of our multi-racial, multicultural and theologically diverse world.  Dr. Mark A. Hicks, Rev. Dr. Lee C. Barker, Shawna Foster


Understanding & Developing Multicultural Competencies in Congregations

Saturday, 9:00 am – 10:15 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 222 BC

Learn how identity work is essential for building our capacities to create a fair and just world! Through panel presentation, resources and experiential learning, participants will engage with six identities— class, ethnicity/languages other than English, race, gender identities, abilities, affectional orientation. For religious professionals and lay leaders. LREDA Integrity Team  Rev. Natalie Fenimore,  Jennifer McAdoo,  Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles, Janice Marie Johnson


Building Cultural Competence in Congregations

Saturday,  10:45 am – 12:00 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 229

For many, “cultural competency” is a theory or a hope. In this workshop, clergy from three congregations share examples of the steps members took toward establishing multicultural ministries. Lessons learned, challenges met, and the resulting surprises and rewards as their congregations continue to grow and deepen in cultural competence and spirit.  Rev. Jacqueline Duhart, Rev. Kathy Huff, Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube

Faith in Action


Congregational Based Community Organizing: Raising Our Prophetic Voices

Friday, 3:15 pm – 4:30 pm, Phoenix Convention Center – 222 BC

Congregation-based community organizations (CBCOs) are organizing the interfaith community and partners, and making gains for migrant, racial, and economic justice across the country. Current campaigns include stopping mass deportations and incarceration, austerity policies, and corporate control of our democracy. Learn about how these organizations work and how to get involved.  Rev. Lydia Ferrante-Roseberry, Rev. Linda Olson Peebles, Rev. David Carl Olson, Audra Friend


Effective Congregational Immigration Ministries

Friday, 9:00 am – 10:15 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 227 AB

Congregational leaders from Iowa, California and Georgia share experiences with developing and sustaining effective immigration justice ministries. Presenters discuss strategies for public witness, partnering with community organizations, justice immersion trips, engaging youth, and more. An NDLON organizer addresses how these partnerships have strengthened the immigrant rights movement.  Rev. Anthony David, Sally Hartman, Bob Lane, Amy Moses-Lagos 

Associational/ Partnership


Crossing the Faith Border

Thursday, 10:30 am – 11:45 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 222 BC

Our justice work takes us out into the world where we often are working with people of different faiths. How are we called, as UUs, to celebrate this religiously pluralistic world? How can we work interfaithfully more effectively? What tools do we possess for building interfaith leadership across the generations?  Abhimanyu Janamanchi,  Janice Marie Johnson, Jessica York


Partnering Congregations and Community Organizations

Saturday, 9:00 am – 10:15 am, Phoenix Convention Center – 231

How do I connect my congregation with community groups leading campaigns for justice? What are the steps to building meaningful relation- ships between congregants and partner groups for  B. Loewe, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, Felipe Findley








Seven-Year Itch: A Breakthrough for Breakthrough Congregations

This past year, Director of Growth Strategies Stefan Jonasson analyzed past growth initiatives of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  He was looking for patterns: what things worked in their time and what may not have worked then but could work now.  What he saw over and over again was a tendency for initiatives and programs to reach their peak effectiveness by their seventh year and then plateau or decline after that. Many, many initiatives have a natural life cycle of seven years.  Where have we seen this pattern before?
In human romantic, committed relationships. Wright State University psychology professor Dr. Lawrence Kurdek, confirms that our lexicon is accurate: many committed relationships take a dip around year seven.  He suggests fighting this inclination by tempering high expectations with a does of reality, being more open to change, paying attention, remembering what brought you together in the first place, and trying new things together. (Are you seeing how we might apply those to religious community, too?)

It was right about the same time that Stefan noticed the seven-year cycle in program effectiveness that there was talk about letting the Breakthrough Congregations (BTC) program quietly go away.  BTC started in 2005.  It was a growth initiative that annually lifted up the good work of 4 congregations and encouraged other congregations to learn directly from then.  The videos of each congregation through the years can be found here.


Looking Back At The Next 50 Years

The Closing Worship of the Pacific Northwest District Assembly, which was also the 50th Anniversary Celebration, included a reflection looking back at the next 50 years.  Young adult Chris Jenkins and youth Elizabeth Hitchcock of the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship shared a the following compilation created by the assembled  youth and young adults…

During our District Assembly the Rev. Dr. Tom Chulak gave us knowledge of our past. Moderator Gini Courter gave us hope and ideas for our future.  And we, the high school youth and young adults have our own ideas as to what the next 50 years hold… (more…)

The Youth Are Voting

Ask  the youth in your congregation about this process! Who are they voting for and why? How is youth leadership developed, decided, and utilized in your congregation? Do you have a Youth Observer on your board?  For more information about youth on boards and committees click here.

All our youth have an opportunity to vote! This Sunday ask the youth in your congregation about the all-congregation, Association-wide, virtual voting process going on for a national youth position.  Every year prior to General Assembly, the Youth Observer (YO) to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board of Trustees is elected. The Youth Observer to the Board is an important, national leadership position held by a UU youth who is appointed by Unitarian Universalist (UU) youth in a national election. (more…)

Mosaic Makers: Vital Multicultural Congregations


The following is an excerpt from the full and dynamic report which can be found here.

Mosaic Makers: Leading Vital Multicultural Congregations conference (February 17-19, 2012) was exhilarating, energizing, meaningful, and deeply informative. The event grew out of the Multicultural Growth Consultation (March 2011) and was a by-invitation gathering for congregations that are deeply engaged in the work of building intentional multicultural community. (more…)

Sexuality Education As a Growth Strategy

You may have already heard me explain why I am a Unitarian Universalist evangelical. It’s because when I open the news I lament, “If only <insert public figure here> had taken Our Whole Lives…”  Many of you may chuckle and assume I’m making a cheeky sexual joke.  But take a moment and think about it.  Our Whole Lives (OWL) teaches not just the biology of sexual expression but also power, communication, consensual behavior, abuse, boundaries, differentiation, and accountability to something larger than ourselves.”  What if <insert the public figure who frustrates you the most here> had taken OWL? (more…)