Report Out from the FACT People Gathering, part 2

FACTStefan Jonasson and I attended the annual meeting of he Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership last week. (for highlights from that gathering see part 1 of this 2-part series.) CCSPis the body that conducts and publishes Faith Communities Today/ FACT Reports. The common core questionnaire of the survey replicates over 150 questions from the 2000, 2005 and 2008 surveys, plus a special section on the 2008 recession.


These are the resulting reports from those surveys:


  • Faith Communities Today 2000: A Report on Religion in the United States. This research project was the largest survey of congregations ever conducted in the United States. It also is the most inclusive, denominationally decade
    sanctioned program of interfaith cooperation.

The Faith Communities Today data brought together 26 individual surveys of congregations representing 41 denominations and faith groups.
  • American Congregations 2005
 The FACT2005 national survey of congregations profiles religious life based on the 2005 national survey of congregations. This 30 page report presents a comprehensive look at the FACT2005 findings, including trend comparisons to FACT 2000 survey findings, and new perspectives on worship, conflict, leadership, interfaith involvement, vitality, the prevalence of strong
    beliefs (both on the right and the left) and the greatest challenges congregations
  • Faith Communities Today 2008 A First Look FACT2008 is the preliminary report of the recent 2008 national survey of churches, mosques and synagogues in the U.S. This report looks at tgrowth2010he story of change over eight years and demonstrates considerable congregational decline but also a pattern o hope and lessons to be learned to grow a healthy and vital congregational life
  • American Congregations 2008 This report of the FACT2008 national survey of churches and other religious communities is the most recent p
    rofiling of congregational life in the United States. The 38 page report presents a comprehensive look at the findings, including trend comparisons to FACT 2000 and FACT 2005 survey findings, and new perspectives on worship, conflict, leadership, interfaith involvement, vitality, economic hardships and other challenges churches, mosques and synagogues tell us they face.
  • Facts on Growth: 2010 Congregations that are spiritually vital and alive, have strong, permanent leadership, and enjoy joyful, innovative and inspirational worship are more likely to experience growth,
    a new study has found.  Other factors that support growth are being located in the South; having more weekly worship services; and having a clear sense of mission and purposeInternet-cover
  • A Decade of Change in American Congregations 2000-2010 The health of America’s congregations remains a challenging situation, according to a newly released report from Faith Communities Today.  The findings that show that despite efforts at innovation, bursts of vitality and increased civic participation, faith communities are entering this decade less healthy than they were at the turn of the century.
  • Virtually Religious: Technology and Internet Use in American Congregations  Religious congregations are making dramatic strides in adapting to the contemporary Internet technological reality. This report describes the level of technological use by religious groups, identifies the factors that either aid or hinder its use, and highlights the positive outcomes for the congregation that embraces the use of technology. The report also speculates beyond the data to offer several reasons why all congregations should intentionally develop their technological ministry capabilities, no matter how large or small, technologically adept or unsophisticated.worship
  • FACTS on Worship in 2010 Worship is the central, quintessential act of religion.  The worship gathering is the major setting in which people congregate to grow in their faith. This Faith Communities Today report provides a snapshot of the United States at worship across churches, denominations
    and faith groups. The picture of worship that emerges from this research report is one of both variety and similarity.


What survey is on the horizon? We’re studying young adult ministries! That made you perk up, didn’t it? This late fall each congregation in the Association will be taking the same survey that interfaith communities across the country will be taking. This blog will report out both our internal Unitarian Universalist findings and the larger FACT reporting.


According to the FACT website: The emerging consensus of research shows a growing percentage of young adults are not connected with any religion, although many younger Americans express an interest in spirituality. This reality raises concern about young adult participation in religious communities.

What is the involvement of young adults in local congregations of all faiths across the United States? And how are faith communities with significant proportion of young adults distinctive?

For these resources, a congregation is considered to have significant young adult participation if 21% or more of its participants were 18 to 34 years of age.  Across all faiths, a total of only 16% of all congregations were in this category.


So watch for the next FACT survey coming from the UUA. Make sure you’re faith community is represented!



Stefan and Tandiat CCSPStefan Jonasson and Tandi Rogers read these reports not just for fun but as a blue print for priorities and strategy.  Drop Tandi a line with stories as to how your congregation changed a direction, strategy, program or behavior due to inspiration from one of these reports. She can be reached at

These days, a picture is worth more than 1,000 words

LovestatehouseUUSC“The web is going visual.” If you follow media trends at all, then you’ve heard this refrain again and again over the last few years: “It’s all about the visuals.”

And you’ve seen it happening, on your favorite websites. As visually-based platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and Vine grow and grow – right along with our ability to capture and share images instantly – the social web is flooded with competing visual content.

According to Buzzfeed, every minute web users are:

  • Uploading 208,300 photos to Facebook
  • Liking 510,000 photos on Instagram
  • Uploading 100 hours of video to YouTube

Why? Because we humans like it. Psychological research shows that human brains process images 60,000 times faster than text, and we SanJoseHeartsremember information presented visually far more accurately.

Moreover, giving people what they like works – web users interact with visuals at much higher rates. According to Jessica Gioglio, co-author of The Power of Visual Storytelling, “Posts with an album or photo drive up to 180% more engagement than those without, and viewers spend 100% more time on web pages with videos.”

What does it mean for UUs?

If we want people to hear our life-giving message, we need to learn to compete within these visual media. We need to cooperate strategically, in order to collect and curate and share our most compelling images, so that more people can see our life-giving message in action.

Does your congregation’s (or UU organization’s) website feature vibrant images? Does it show smiling, diverse UUs of all ages in action – worshiping, learning, singing, hugging, marching, and having fun?


How about your Facebook page – are you sharing great new images at least weekly?

Do you have a robust photo permissions policy in place that allows you to share great photos on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more?

Share and share alike

As Online Strategist for the UUA, I’ve been encouraging UUA departments to reassess their approach to image-sharing. Now I’m hoping to foment a movement-wide change, in three parts:

  1. Ask congregations and UU organizations to adopt a permissions policy that allows for sharing by all UU organizations, such as shown in this suggested form.
  2. Collect images in Flickr groups open to all UU organizations.
  3. Run monthly photo contests that
  • build up our common photo resourceskids planting at ASC Boston
  • get UUs across the country voting (and talking/sharing about favorites) online
  • reward images that best capture our UU take on themes such as Faith Development, Courageous Love, Forgiveness, and the Meaning of Life.

You can help

With a little creative thinking, we can meet the challenge of the visual web together.  Please ask your congregation to consider this new permissions policy, then take photos and share to our UUA Flickr group. And be sure to enter or vote on this month’s photo contest.

Our congregations are chock-full of both interesting people doing interesting things and willing photo-snappers and –sharers.  If we can get them together and get those images online, we’ll be showing our message to the world.  And growing our influence.



SusannePhotoA former editor at Ms. magazine and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Susanne Skubik Intriligator has served as the UUA’s Online Strategist since September 2013. Her experimental position comes to an end after GA 2014, and then she’ll get back to completing her PhD dissertation in digital media, parenting her three kids, and helping out at the local Unitarian congregation she helped to found. She lives in Bangor, Wales. Contact her at

How Can My Congregation Become a Breakthrough Congregation?

breakthroughI can say with authority that none of the 52 Breakthrough Congregations developed a strategic plan to become a designated Breakthrough Congregation.  They didn’t set out on a mission to become a Breakthrough Congregation. And yet one of the most asked questions I get in the Unitarian Universalist Growth Office is, “how can my congregation become a Breakthrough Congregation?”


This is how I want to answer that question:

  • Do “religious community” well.
  • Be yourself intentionally, joyfully, and impact-fullly.
  • Live your saving message in bold, generous, loving ways inside your walls.
  • Live your saving message in bold, generous, loving ways outside your walls.

But you don’t need me to tell you all that.  Read their stories in the UU World or watch their videos.  It’s all in there. I believe their stories can spark your imagination as to what your work is to become a Breakthrough Congregation.


And yet I know what most people mean by the original question is really, “how are Breakthrough Congregations chosen?”  Here’s how…


There is a stellar BTC Advisory:


The BTC Advisor watches and “collects” congregations all year. Congregations that have captured our attention go in the hopper. When people like you nominate a particular congregation, they go in the hopper.  I’ll ask District and Regional Staff in late spring who they think should be considered. Those congregations go in the hopper.


Then I take all those congregations in the hopper and compile quantitative data on them. The BTC Advisory takes this list and we peruse their websites, newsletters, area news. We ask UUA staff that have worked with them in the last couple of years about their story, their breakthrough and vibrancy.


What we’re looking for is a teaching story about each congregation’s breakthrough. We know we’re on to something when a headlines jumps into our imagination.


In August the Advisory is convened virtually.  We make a round of votes and see what patterns arise. Who are the favorites? Which congregations got no votes. And we debrief what that all mean.


Then we talk about what we’ve seen in the last year — what are the stories our (Unitarian Universalist) people need to hear, see, experience?  What do our people need to learn?  What kinds of growth do we need to hold up in light of all that?  And we go back to the list with deeper conversation.


And then more rounds of voting happen, not in the spirit of the most votes “win,” but rather where is the group’s yearning?  By then, we’re in a consensus groove. We choose a top 4 with a 5th in the wing in case something happens to one of the 4 that effect the power of the story.


Chris Walton, Executive Editor of the UU World, then assigns the quarter each congregation will most like be featured and a reporter to go spend a chunk of time with the congregation.  I give the information from our discernment to the reporter and then let it go. They go find the story they experience. Right before the story goes public, Mark Bernstein creates the study guide, and it all gets posted in the Growing UU blog with links on  Before it goes live the Public Relations folks at the UUA contact the congregation to see if they need help with press releases and such.


And that is how the Breakthrough Congregations get chosen.  … So, what is your breakthrough? What is your teaching story? What is your headline?


Tandi Headshot GATandi Rogers convenes the BTC Advisory.  She also waits on the steps for the UU World to come and flips through to the BTC article every month with wild anticipation.

Staffing For Growth: Finding the Right Balance

When adding staff, it’s important for congregations to strive for balance. For instance, the gifts and talents of an associate minister should ideally complement those of the senior minister. It is also important to strike a balance between maintenance positions, which serve the needs of current members, and growth positions, which expand the congregation’s ministry. Yet another need is to balance relationally motivated staff with task-oriented staff.

In a nutshell, maintenance positions tend to support the administrative needs and organizational infrastructure of a congregation. Such positions include administrators, bookkeepers and other office staff, of course, but they may also include positions like pastoral care workers and parish nurses—even membership personnel, if their work is focused more on administrative than programmatic responsibilities. These positions are often task oriented and those who fill them tend to meet their responsibilities on their own, assisted by few volunteers, if any. They serve existing members, for the most part, and help to keep the institution on an even keel.

By contrast, growth-oriented positions are more likely to serve both newcomers and existing members equally well. They nurture the spiritual development of congregants and focus more on organizing programs and ministries than sustaining the institution itself. They typically have a more relational focus and, ideally, most of these positions seek to organize volunteers in support of the mission and ministry of the congregation. Growth-oriented positions typically include ordained ministers, educators, community organizers and membership directors (especially when they function like “cruise directors”).

In real life, almost any position can lean in either direction. Sometimes ministers get trapped in institutional maintenance, while at other times administrators find themselves ministering to significant numbers of congregants and newcomers. Every growth-oriented position has a certain element of maintenance that goes with the job, while every maintenance-oriented position will also contain a growth imperative. The important thing is to get the balance right and, overall, to emphasize serving people over simply taking care of business.

The staffing needs of a church are not met simply by complying with a formula, however sound. Staff must be empowered with the authority necessary to accomplish the goals developed for their positions. This can be a growing edge for some Unitarian Universalists. It can be especially challenging when staff assume tasks and responsibilities that formerly fell to committees.

Staff also function best within an environment where the lines of authority are clear. The ideal staff is one that functions as a team, where goals are shared, communications are clear, and working relationships are collaborative. But all good teams have leaders and the natural team leader in any size of congregation will almost always be the minister—or senior minister, in the case of congregations with more than one.

However we may feel about the increased reliance on paid staff in our churches, there can be little doubt that the quality of congregational life is enhanced by an adequate, balanced, well-trained, fairly compensated and strongly motivated church staff.

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


Staffing For Growth: A Simple Formula

“How much paid staff does our congregation really need?” This question comes up repeatedly when I work with the leaders of congregations of every size. Each congregation’s needs are a little different, and the available resources vary as quickly as changes in the economy, but there are benchmarks that congregations can aim to achieve.

In the past, churches relied on a cadre of dedicated volunteers to meet their staffing needs. But congregations today are finding it difficult to recruit, train and manage the number of volunteers they need to do all that needs to be done. I often hear people wax nostalgically about the good old days when there was a volunteer for every job and a job for every volunteer. The simple fact is that lifestyle changes have reduced the time available for volunteering.  And Unitarian Universalists have been affected by these changes more than most!

As congregations deal with a shrinking volunteer pool, they also face increased expectations for service by both members and the larger community. Individual positions may grow so large that it is no longer reasonable to ask a volunteer to fill them, nor may it be practical or possible to break a position up into “volunteer-sized” pieces. Even when church programs do rely heavily on volunteer staffing, such as in the case of religious education, the task of coordinating and training calls for a paid professional. There is a greater need for specialization, along with the training and skills that specialization demands. Each of these factors, along with others, point to the need for increased staffing levels in most congregations.

In his book Staff Your Church for Growth, Gary McIntosh observes that churches follow one of three policies for staffing, whether or not they are even aware of it. The most common strategy among churches is to staff for decline. The next most likely approach taken by churches is to staff for maintenance. It is comparatively few churches that intentionally staff for growth.

Encouraging congregations to be intentional about their staffing strategies, McIntosh offers a simple staffing formula. If a congregation is staffing for maintenance—that is, looking after the people who are already there—it needs the equivalent of one full-time program professional for every 150 active participants (i.e., average attendance, including adults and children), assisted by one full-time support person for the first program professional and one half-time support staff position for each additional professional. (This staff complement does not include custodial staff, since the caretaking needs are largely determined by the size of the facility rather than the size of the congregation.) If a church wishes to staff for growth, the basic formula remains the same but the ratio shifts to one professional for every 100 active participants.

Interestingly enough, churches that are well staffed usually find that their volunteer pool increases! We can speculate that this is because the quality of the volunteer experience improves when there is adequate staff to coordinate and support the work of volunteers.

Harvesting Ideas: religious investing

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.