Join our “cause,” not our “club”

CauseWe know that religion is changing in America, but in those changes there’s a hidden trend. Did you know that what attracts people to a congregation or religious community and what keeps them there are different things? What attracts people is the opportunity for meaning-making, and what retains them as members is the community and friendships they build. People don’t come because they are in search of friends or a community, per se, they come looking for spiritual deepening for themselves and their family and only then may they find a community which enriches the meaning-based experience and makes them want to come back.

This is clearly demonstrated through research. In his book “American Grace,” sociologist Robert Putnam digs through mountains of data to identify some key trends in American religious practice. Here’s a quote from his book: “Americans may select their congregations primarily because of theology and worship, but the social investment made within that congregation appears to be what keeps them there.” (pg 174).

You can see this dynamic at play within Unitarian Universalism, most recently in the multicultural ministries Sharing Project. This survey of UUs from marginalized groups (gender identity, race, ability, etc.) asked why respondents first decided to attend their congregation and then why they continued to attend. The top response for the decision to attend was “I wanted to deepen my spiritual life,” and the top response for staying was “I love the community of people”(page 15, or the 23rd page of the PDF).

Ok, you say, fascinating point, but what am I supposed to do about it? Simple: when you talk about what your congregation offers, think “join our cause” instead of “join our club.” Show what your congregation does, how it helps people live better lives and make a better world, instead of only talking about what a great community you offer. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a congregation say “all are welcome” (including UU, UCC, Catholic, even conservative evangelical!), well, I’d have a lot of dollars but no idea what I would be welcome to spend them on. It’s great that you’re not turning people away, but what are you actually offering them? Seriously, “all are welcome” at the movie theater, but I’m still not going to the movies unless I know what’s playing.

The key to successful outreach amid the changing religious landscape, particularly with the unaffiliated or Spiritual But Not Religious sets, will likely be to speak to why people would want to show up in the first place, not just what can keep them there year after year. Describe what we offer for learning, yearning and working for our values. We can’t assume people are already looking for a church on Sunday mornings, because in fact we’re competing for their time and attention against sleeping in, talking a walk, soccer practice, Facebook and brunch. We have to focus on what we DO as UUs, not just who we are.

To help you think “cause” over “club,” check out the values of the UU brand identity – boldness, compassion, reverence – that are geared towards the most active and authentic spiritual elements of our faith. They’re a departure from the pastoral, supportive, caring community connection values that we’ve often described in the past, but they’re well-positioned to help you get to the heart of our faith movement’s drive to advance our values in the world.

 

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cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach, total data geek and trend-spotter, as seen in his presentation Future of Faith.

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.

 

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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.

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!

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.

 

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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.

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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.

Announcing (new and improved!) UUA Support for Emerging Ministries

emerging_ministries_logoThere are so many ways to be a Unitarian Universalist religious community today! And these diverse communities provide more possibilities than ever to live our faith in the world.

 

Emerging Ministries are any new group or project that is grounded in Unitarian Universalism and brings people together in covenanted and intentional ways.  New congregations are emerging ministries and so are campus ministries, multi-site ministries, intentional housing cooperatives, missional communities, prison ministries, military ministries and more.  They are emerging within congregations, beyond congregations and in between congregations.

 

These new ministries are all moving in the same direction: toward covenanted UU living. These groups and projects are like diverse vehicles – cars, bikes, scooters, vans, and skateboards – moving in different lanes depending on the form and function of their ministry.

 

However, there is no magic road map or GPS that can chart the perfect path for these groups. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) knows we need versatile responsive support systems to get these new endeavors ready for the journey.  A cross-department, cross-regional team of UUA staff is ready to maintain this multi-lane highway toward UU living and is set to staff the tune up stations and rest areas along the way. We can help vehicles figure out which lane is right for them, connect them with experts who have made similar journeys before, and support them in raising the money they need to make this trip.  We’re also working on making it easier to get on this road by adding on-ramps such as contacting your regional staff or checking out our Emerging Ministries webpage.

 

For example, a skateboard might ramp on through the Church of the Larger Fellowship and get into the Meeting Group lane and then through experience with an on-line group coaching webinar realize they want to switch lanes to explore MultiSite options. The highway is about resourcing projects and groups in their early development and getting them the connections, perspective, community of pioneers (convoys, if you will,) and tools the need to realize their vision and answer the call of their wider community.  An integrated, dynamic support system will make it easier for innovators to get what they need. We will live into a refreshed expression of our congregational polity and covenant in the way these ministries will be connected through learning communities and peer support.

 

In the short term, the Congregational Life, Outreach, and Ministries & Faith Development staff groups of the UUA have joined together to inspire, support and sustain emerging ministry efforts.  By mid-fall of 2015, this comprehensive network of support will include programming such as: Innovative Learning Circles, online material sharing systems, a centralized online “hub” for UU emerging ministry efforts, and a Congregational Life Emerging Ministries Coaching Team. In the initiative’s second year a Mentor Program will connect established ministries to emerging ministries to amplify synergistic learning, connection, and sustainability. We will also add lanes to the highway and improve capacity.  In the third year our attention turns to a proactive ministry-planting strategy for the UUA.

 

Over the course of the next couple weeks we will feature different aspects of Emerging Ministries Highway on this blog: overview of preliminary UUA.org resources, introduction to the Emerging Ministries Regional Coaches, preview of the General Assembly Emerging Ministries Laboratory.

 

Support for Emerging Ministries is made possible through generous gifts from UUA President’s Council members and friends like you. Thank you!

Emerging Ministries final
Video about UU Emerging Ministries by Rev. Erik Martinez Resly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Beyond Numbers

I like frameworks to help me hang ideas on and organize my thinking. For years I’ve used the growth categories from Ted Buckle and popularized by Loren Mead in his book More Than Numbers: the Way Churches Grow (the words are changed a bit.)  At the suggestion of Jan Gartner (Professional Development Associate for Religious Education and Music Leaders), I’ve added Associational Growth. We will use these categories to organize this blog.  Each blog entry will speak to at least one kind of growth.  Rather than definitions, I’ll introduce the categories with some questions.  I invite you suggest some of your own questions for these categories in the comment section.  What else would you add?

Organizational Maturity

  • What is your congregation’s purpose for existence? How do you know? How is your purpose expressed?
  • How does your governance and organizational structures fit your size and serve your purpose? How do you understand governance and organization to be different?
  • How are your policies community-owned and responsive to your purpose and the people you want to be?
  • How does your building or meeting space serve your mission (rather than be your mission)?
  • What is your pathway to leadership and service? How is this communicated?

(more…)