How much to ask of young adults

Unsure about how much to ask of young adults in your congregation? Andrew Coate, a young adult in Maine, offers one perspective at his blog “thoughts ON.” Here’s a sampling from a blog entry titled “Dear Church”:

If I offer to hold an adult RE class . . . don’t market it as “for young adults.” My voice deserves to be heard . . . by the entire congregation. . . when you ask my ideas on getting more younger people in the congregation and then I give those ideas, the next step is for you to respond to those ideas in a productive way, even if that productive way happens to be, “right now our church probably can’t swing this, but what if we did X instead?”

Seven principles for UU vitality

One document that was developed by participants at the UUA Growth Consultation, held May 5–7 in Colorado, was a list called “The Seven Principles for UU Vitality.” The Rev. Thom Belote, a participant and minister of Shawnee Mission UU Church in Overland Park, Kans., notes, “This document was produced using a process of brainstorming, the grouping of emerging themes, and reflection on our own experiences.”

Here are the Seven Principles for UU Congregational Vitality. More description of each is on Belote’s blog, RevThom.

• The congregation has a clear and powerful purpose and mission.

• The congregation is aware of and responsive to the world around it.

• There is vital worship and a vital Sunday experience for all ages.

• Church is done well.

• The congregation cultivates religious community.

• The congregation builds skills to lead and nurtures gifts to serve.

• Strong ministerial leadership supports the fulfillment of the previous six principles.

There were 17 participants in the consultation, including nine parish ministers, plus religious educators and UUA staff. The consultation was charged with developing a growth plan for the UUA. A list of the participants, a description of what the group attempted to do, and commentary about the process, is all available on RevThom. A program called Leap of Faith is being developed as a result of the conference. More information on it will be available this fall.

Small Texas congregation finds a way to build

From May’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

For years, the Huntsville, Texas, Unitarian Universalist Church held its services in a local hospital chapel. The congregation has been meeting since the early 1980s, but now, finally, it has its own building.

“We’d talked about a building for years,” says member Lee Stringer, “but it never happened. Finally, in early 2009 we overcame the objections and fears of those who had been opposed and we held a vote. It was 17-3 in favor.” Construction began within weeks.

The congregation held its first service in the building on February 14, 2010. And with the new building came other changes. Immediately there were visitors every week, says Stringer, chair of the Building Committee. “At the chapel we might have had one visitor a quarter. The membership has grown from 28 to 34 members. People in town know we’re here now. This has given us visibility.”

Go to the full article.

Youth group of two just as worthy as 18

Tandi Rogers Koerger, program specialist for the UUA’s Pacific Northwest District, writes on her blog, “Putting Religious Education in its Place,” about the year when there were only two youth in her congregation’s youth group. The previous year there had been 18, but 16 graduated.

In a piece titled “Cheese Fries,” she says “Our congregation made a bold decision. They funded the two-member youth group as if they were the rowdy 18.” Koerger said she and the youth hung out that year, doing things like debating the UU appropriateness of current musical lyrics, and eating cheese fries at Denny’s.

Koerger says both youth are now in their 20s.

“They look back at our youth group year with just the three of us and are grateful that the congregation saw them as legitimate and worthy of the effort. Religious education is implicit in the decisions we make as a congregation, including fiscal decisions. Religious education is nestled in those leaps of faith and small actions that say, ‘We see you. We need you. You are worthy.’”

CLF will help you welcome seekers

Congregations can get help in presenting themselves to seekers through a new service provided by the Church of the Larger Fellowship.

For $250 the CLF will prepare a five-session “Welcome In” online class explaining Unitarian Universalism, how the congregation works, UU spirituality, the larger world of Unitarian Universalism, and the history of Unitarian Universalism and the congregation.

The CLF will create the class using text, photos, and video specific to the congregation, host the class on its server, provide technical support for three months, and offer resources for promoting the class.

Learn more and view a sample online class here. Contact the Rev. Lynn Ungar, CLF’s minister for Lifespan Learning, at lungar@uua.org.

Factors combine at Mt. Diablo to create growth

Any Unitarian Universalist congregation that grew both in numbers and average attendance in the past year has something to share with other congregations. When annual membership numbers were tallied in February by the Unitarian Universalist Association, some of our congregations had risen in one or the other of those categories, but few rose in both. One that did was the Mount Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Mt. Diablo gained 20 members and its average Sunday attendance increased by 44. To add perspective, in the same period the UUA declined by several hundred members and about half of our congregations lost members. Read about the UUA’s current membership report here.

Mt. Diablo’s coministers, the Revs. Leslie and David Takahashi-Morris, explain that the membership and attendance increases didn’t just happen. Says Leslie: “A number of factors came together to create an aura of excitement that is continuing.” Specifically, there were four factors––their new ministry, the congregation’s commitment to social justice, a new building, and strong lay and professional leadership.

They began their ministry at 400-member Mt. Diablo in August 2008. Just prior to that the congregation had voted to oppose California’s initiative (since passed) to ban same-sex marriage. “The combination of a new ministry and engagement in the marriage issue helped create a strong first year,” says David. Adds Leslie, “Mt. Diablo attracted people who saw our engagement with marriage equality. People in the community saw us taking the lead and they wanted to be involved.”

Mt. Diablo had also just completed a new fellowship hall, causing social life at the church to “blossom,” says David. Leaders also made sure members felt comfortable in coming to church even if they’d lost a job and couldn’t contribute as much. They started a weekly community dinner and a midweek meditation service. And Leslie says they made sure members kept coming, even if some couldn’t pledge. “We emphasized our desire to be strong together and to not be afraid to bring our vulnerabilities to church,” she says. “The economy has hit Mt. Diablo as hard as anywhere. The canvass is harder this year. More people lost jobs in the past year than in the previous one. Families are struggling to stay in their homes. Yet there has been a generosity of spirit and the material kind that has sustained us.”

52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation

Growing a congregation is a matter of mastering the basics––are the bathrooms clean, are guests welcomed, is worship inclusive of people who are not insiders? But sometimes we forget the basics, and that’s why an occasional reminder is a good thing.

The Rev. Randy Hammer, pastor of United Church, Chapel on the Hill in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and a graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School, has written a book of such reminders. The book, 52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation: Practical Hospitality, devotes one page to each of Hammer’s 52 ways of making sure guests are welcomed. They include advice on holding special programs, providing guest parking, creating an attractive roadside sign, providing quality child care, and sprucing up bulletin boards.

The book can serve as a reminder of what we already know we’re supposed to do, and it can inspire us to actually do it. It is also useful as a checklist of items to think about as we review just how welcoming we are.

Hammer is also the author of Everyone a Butterfly: Forty Sermons for Children. Both books are available from the UUA Bookstore.

New book explores governance and ministry

At a time when many congregations are rethinking their governance structures in an effort to help their boards function more effectively and to grow in an ever-changing world, the Rev. Dan Hotchkiss, a Unitarian Universalist minister and senior consultant for the Alban Institute, has written a book that can help.

In Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Hotchkiss, who has worked with hundreds of churches and synagogues across the country, calls governance an “expressive art,” like preaching. He invites congregations to grow beyond a “board-centered structure,” instead creating a strong relationship with clergy and other lay leaders in the congregation so that the board is not making all of the day-to-day decisions for the congregation.

Many congregations continue to be organized the way they were in 1950, says Hotchkiss. Yet as a congregation grows and programs multiply, so do the disadvantages of the board-centered structure, he believes. “A board that tries to manage day-to-day operations . . . will spend a great deal of time on operational decision making. If there is no other place for a buck to stop it will stop at the board table. Until a board is willing to delegate real authority to someone else it remains the default chief operating officer.”

Hotchkiss says Governance and Ministry will be most useful to congregations that are at least pastoral-sized––with a median attendance of 50 to 150 children and adults. Among the questions the book strives to answer is: How do we need to restructure our governance to grow larger?

When liberal congregations fail to grow they often think that theology is the problem, says Hotchkiss. It’s not. “Well-organized congregations are succeeding (and poorly organized ones are failing) across the theological spectrum. The key trait such congregations have in common is their strong belief that they have something vitally important to offer other people.” That gives them the courage to let go of old ways of organizing. Improved organization can also inspire more people to volunteer.

He adds, “What healthy structures have in common is a clear understanding about the pathway to be followed when various decisions need to be made.”

As an incentive for change, Hotchkiss notes, “Congregations do some of their best work when instead of giving people what they want, they teach them to want something new.”

Governance and Ministry is $17 at the UUA Bookstore.  Hotchkiss is also the author of the 2002 book Ministry and Money: A Guide for Clergy and Their Friends.

Recent uuworld.org articles useful to congregational leaders

The gospel of inclusion – Article about the experience of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla., when it welcomed about 200 Pentecostal Christians. By Kimberly French. Fall 2009

UUA staff restructuring – Announcement of a new organizational structure in which staff will be divided into two groups: Ministries and Congregational Support, headed by the Rev. Harlan Limpert, and Administration, led by UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery and Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and vice president of Finance. By Jane Greer. 9.14.09

Morales and Hallman reflect on UUA presidential race – UUA President Peter Morales, the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, and their campaign chiefs talk about their recent presidential campaigns, including travel, technology, the challenges of identifying delegates, and how congregations might help the next UUA election go more smoothly. By Donald E. Skinner. 9.21.09

Reach out to become a public church. Argues that a Unitarian Universalist church should see the greater good as its primary purpose. By Michael Durall, church consultant 9.7.09

Youth, adults bond through service trips. Service trips are a great way to help people in need. By Donald E. Skinner. 8.31.09

Sign up for a weekly email alert about new articles at uuworld.org, including information useful for adult study groups and worship, food for thought for lay leaders, and other stories about acts of social justice, UU history, and inspirational UUs and congregations.

Donor helps children share with the world

Imagine giving kids $10,000 and telling them to go help heal the world and spread the word about Unitarian Universalism.

That’s what has been happening at the UU Church of Reading, Mass. (292 members). A year ago, an anonymous donor made a gift of $10,000 for the purpose of involving the kids and teens in social justice work and helping them experience the joy of sharing money and time. And thus, the Helping Hands Outreach Fund was born.

Each year, the children in the church’s Faith Development program select five area organizations that are aligned with UU values of social justice. During a “Principles in Action” Faith Development quarter, the older children and youth educate the younger ones about the work of these nonprofits. Then, led by the Senior High Youth Group, the kids vote for the one they most want to partner with for the year. The kids then present the selected organization with a check for $7,600 and enter into a close partnership with the group for the year. The other four groups receive a gift of $600 each.

For the first year of the program, the kids selected an organization that served individuals with developmental disabilities. “This has been very engaging for the whole congregation,” says Lorraine Dennis, past president of the congregation. “We don’t just give money, we work hand in hand, together. The clients played music at a Sunday service, we had a lunch workshop about the group, we collected clothing for their prom, our teens attended their dances, and people volunteered in other ways. Most importantly, we sponsored and staffed a training program for Special Olympics, with our church kids and the group’s youngest kids working together on various physical and sports skills. ”

For the second year of the program, which kicked off in September, the kids are partnering with an environmental action group that is working to preserve an area river.

The Rev. Tim Kutzmark, minister of the church, reports that they will be sponsoring hikes, canoe trips, a community garden, displays at the town soccer field, and educational forums for the surrounding communities on water and green issues. “And because we’re out in the community working,” he says, “people learn about UUism and the things we stand for!”