it’s Friday! Time to snack on data. I’ve been deluged with the question — But are we growing?!
Now, dear ones, you know that there are many indicators to growth. Impact is really the growth I’m most interested in. We’re working at fine tuning some data collection at the UUA to better measure impact. Until then, we classically measure by membership.
Most other traditions count Average Sunday Attendance, but for us that’s still soft data. Why? Because we’re still getting the hang of it. About ten years ago Religious Education Enrollment was also soft. Today, it’s much more reliable. In a couple years I think the majority of our congregations will be sending a solid count of everyone in the building on Sunday (or your other main day of all-gathered worship–whatever worship means to your community.)
So, are we growing?
Don’t get distracted with the squiggly line – On a larger scale it looks like a flat line growing by 1% over 15 years.
Interesting fact — Currently we have 1043 active congregations world-wide. 2% of our member congregation and 2% of our adult membership are abroad.
This represents active congregations for the year indicated belonging to US regions and CLF.
Religious Education is dropping significantly. And this is a ministry we are known to do well. Your Congregational Life staff and the Liberal Religious Educators Association are alarmed, too and trying to figure out what this means for us. When I was with my research counterparts in August we were all wringing our hands about the decline in children and youth. It’s everywhere.
The yearbook with the above data only comes out every-so-often. This is the most current data we have available.
I see opportunity. Many folks are leaving main-line Protestant traditions because of their behind-the-times stance on gay marriage and other liberal issues. We’ve got that. In spades. My question is how welcoming will we be to folks coming from other religions who don’t want to leave all their religious language and practices at the door? Will we make room? Will we be open to be transformed ourselves by expanded community and increased diversity in beliefs? May we make it so!
Rev. 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.
How does the numbers RE population track with birth rates for the applicable ages?
Great question. I’ll unpack RE in a couple weeks. Stay tuned…
I’d agree that impact is specifically hard to measure. However, church attendance can gauge impact as getting out of bed on a Sunday morning (or whatever day) and getting to a service does measure if this activity is causing an impact. Here the 1.9% growth of 2004-2012 is Ok, but the last 7 years is a minus 4% using math so our impact is not as bad as some but is heading in a negative direction. The future of the church is with its children so a loss of 25% is quite significant. RE numbers are as you said to come but overall the numbers aren’t at all good but the UUA is not about to be extinct but increasingly less relevant as youth are often the main engines of social justice and progress.
I like when you serve up the numbers for us all vision infused but not overly sweetened. Your last point seems maybe a more dated read of the dramatic mainline attrition rates we see in recent years. From what I have observed and heard from others there are many southern areas where the advise to be prepared to embrace and find room for those who are not at theological odds with their former mainline protestant congregation so much as they are at political and moral odds on issues from science to women to LGBT rights and full communion. But having spent time among the UCC as a child and more recently serving a congregation I know that since 2005 they have not just been loosing members here and there but congregations are in mass breaking ties and while there are many factors the catalyst has been the denomination’s move toward a more wholehearted support of marriage equality.
As I consider the dip in R.E. participation I had some thoughts some of which could easily be investigated to see how the idea matches additional data and other thoughts that I am unsure how to test .
1) I know even before the mortgage bubble is supposed to have officially popped I was attending a lot more fretful budget focused meetings and experienced having my pay slashed and saw it happening with many others. What are the figures as far as the number of MRE’s DRE’s 1/2 time 1/4 time and full and in some ways possibly more significant would be similar numbers on Youth directors. I suspect that we will see reduced hours and a smaller percentage of the total budget being allocated for programing and staff devoted to the needs of young children and teens.
2) In an age of maker spaces and a high value being given to innovators we have I think taken up an odd interpretation of the values of our age in how the faith development department has redefined its work. Our pioneering achievement in being the first major religious organization to offer an “open source” curriculum for religious education with people of all ages and stages has missed the point. Yes it is free to download and has been created according to a set template and lessons and other elements uploaded into a learning management system that enables flexibility in connecting stories from one program to activities and visual aids say from another. But this is not exactly what open source is all about. The ideal in an open source approach is not just that the official educational authority or institution or author makes their work free and available to a broad audience for their enrichment. In making work so available to so many the author is assuming that they will receive more feedback and inspire others to counter his own position and so more is produced with fewer single authors and a creative cauldron that yields enormous amounts of user generated content. Tapestry has structured a place for people to participate as a contract or freelance writer but in many ways consolidated the work of inspiration and innovation at the institutional top. The Fas collaborative may provide a great counterbalance for us but I think we would do better if we worked more on developing a system that was less focused on curating the official set of resources and instead focused more on fostering the enthusiasm of the many innovators out there.
Other thoughts but those are the most clearly stated right now.