Reaching out to the nones

The Rev. Renee Ruchotzke has a three-part essay titled “Could the Nones Become Unitarian Universalists?” on the UUA blog Growing Vital Leaders. She notes, “Young adult ministry has been a challenge for congregations of all liberal protestant denominations for decades but the game is changing in ways we couldn’t have imagined back in the post WWII church-building boom.”

Many young adults find conservative churches too restrictive, she says in Part 1. And liberal ones have not articulated a compelling theology. In Part 2 she ticks off reasons why young adults leave churches. The reasons include not developing a close friendship with anyone, and not getting help with discovering their own mission in the world.

In Part 3 she highlights congregations like First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY which have created small group programs that lead to deeper engagement and spiritual development.

Growing Vital Leaders is a good blog for congregational leaders to bookmark. Other recent topics have been on cohesive leadership and making members and the larger community aware of your congregation’s outreach ministries.

Ruchotzke is Leadership Development Consultant for the Central East Regional Group (CERG), of the UUA.

Youth, young adults encouraged to attend UUA General Assembly

Youth and young adults planning on attending General Assembly 2013 can find helpful information on the Blue Boat blog of the UUA’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries office. GA will be June 19-23 in Louisville, Ky.

The blog includes information on programming,  the Youth Caucus, and travel and housing. There is also a section on raising funds to pay for a trip to GA or to fund service trips. See the online guide: Young Adult Service Trip Fundraising ManualGrants and scholarships are also available.  In addition, check to see if your congregation will pay part of the expense to send youth and young adults to GA. Unlike conferences, youth must make their own arrangements for housing at GA. There is no single “youth hotel” this year. Registration for youth is $80 if paid by April 30 and $95 thereafter. Adults pay $330/$380.

Youth are encouraged to attend programming at GA in addition to that specifically provided for youth. Check the program schedule for workshops of interest. Each youth under 18 must have an adult sponsor.

What not to say to young adults

So, you know that it’s the right thing to do to talk to young adults when you see them on Sunday morning, correct? But what should you say? To help with that, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries has created a list of what not to say.

Don’t ask “How old are you?” “What do you do?” “What year are you in school?” or  “Are you new here?” says Carey McDonald, office director. “Age is just not important,” he adds. “Asking about work is also tricky because so many people are unemployed or underemployed. And asking about school implies that someone is a certain age.”

Instead, ask “What did you think of the service?” Or give them an opening like “I don’t think we’ve met, my name is . . .”

Rather than saying, “We need more young people,” say, “Great to meet you!” says McDonald. “Like everyone else, young adults want to be seen for who they are rather than as a token for their age group. And rather than asking, ‘Have you met our other young adult?’ say ,’May I introduce you to my friend?’ Don’t assume they only want to know other young adults.”

These questions and others are on a flyer, Coffee Hour Caution, which can be posted at your congregation. It might even serve as an opening for conversation. McDonald discusses the flyer further on the Youth and Young Adult Ministries blog Blue Boat.


Bridging keeps younger UUs connected

Now is a good time for directors of religious education, youth advisers, and other congregational leaders to encourage high school graduates to fill out a Bridge Connections Form. Having this information before young adults head off to college, jobs, or the military allows the UUA’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries to stay in connection with them. The form can be filled out online, or the office can mail forms to congregations that request them.

This fall the office will also send that information to congregations and campus ministry groups in communities where the young adults take up the next phase of their lives. They’ll get invited to local events, and they’ll have local UUs to reach out to if they need them.

Read the Youth and Young Adult office’s Top Ten Tips for Supporting Newly Bridged Young Adults for more ideas on how to welcome and/or maintain connections with post-bridging young adults.


Blog highlights youth, young adult videos

Blue Boat, the blog of Youth and Young Adult Ministries within the Unitarian Universalist Association,  is highlighting a collection of videos and other materials that will be useful to individuals and groups working on personal and social transformation. The collection, God Bless the Whole World, is a free online collection of videos, audio files, articles, and courses on social justice, spiritual activism, and environmentalism, which are useful in starting discussions not only among youth and young adult groups, but in other groups as well.

Blue Boat also has other resources for youth and young adult groups, including articles and videos on youth leadership, campus ministry, and social justice.

UUA launches GA Accessibility Project

As part of a UUA-wide effort to make it possible for more youth and young adults to attend the “Justice” General Assembly this June in Phoenix, the UUA’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the General Assembly Planning Committee have launched the “GA Accessibility Project.”

Congregations interested in learning how to bring more youth and young adults to GA this year can find information on the Youth and Young Adult Ministries blog, Blue Boat. That information includes GA program listings, how the GA youth and young adult caucuses operate, available scholarships and grants, as well as information on affordable housing and transportation.

Later this winter the accessibility resources will include information on fundraising and youth safety.

A broader definition of membership

The Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s director of Congregational Life, writes on her blog “Learn Out Loud” about changing perceptions of membership in our congregations. Using the example of a young adult friend who is very involved and considers herself UU, but has not “signed the book,” Cooley asks, “What do we have to learn from her story? Perhaps the future of Unitarian Universalism does not depend upon more people ‘signing the book.’ Perhaps it depends upon us adjusting our understanding of what connection and commitment are.”

Cooley also writes about encouraging congregations to focus outwardly rather than simply being satisfied with creating communities of like-minded people. “What if we move from the (perhaps arrogant) statement of being ‘like-minded’ to seeing ourselves as ‘like-hearted’—coming together to offer our gifts to the world?”

Recommended articles on congregational life, religion

The following articles about congregational life or religion in general have been recommended by Unitarian Universalists and others on Facebook in recent weeks.

The Rev. Stefan Jonasson, the UUA’s director for Large Congregations, linked to an Alban Institute article by Alban senior consultant Susan Beaumont, “Determining Ideal Board Size.”  Beaumont notes:

Generally having more people in a group will increase the likelihood that someone will have the information needed to make the decision and someone will propose a correct choice or solution. However, more people produce more opinions that have to be communicated and discussed . . . Most of us cannot imagine reducing our governing bodies down to 5 individuals, but the closer we can get to that number, the more effective our problem solving will be.

The Rev. Ron Robinson, who has a community ministry in Turley, Okla., held up an article, “Loose Connections,” from Christian Century about thinking about membership as not a one-time joining, but an annual recommitment to mission and covenant, “making it more about membership in one another rather than an organization.”

Christian Schmidt, a candidate for the UU ministry and incoming intern minister at First Parish in Needham, Mass., posted a link in the Facebook UU Young Adult Growth Lab to “Young, like Jesus: Finding a liberal, 20-and-30-something community of faith,” by Episcopalian Julia Stroud, from  The article describes how Stroud gave up one definition of what a young adult group could be and found another.

Heather Christensen, an Alaska UU, recommended  “The Church for the 21st Century,” an article by Presbyterian Carol Howard Merritt at, on the UU Facebook Growth Lab. The article asks that readers think about questions like “What sort of work do young adults do in our community?” “Do we ask people to give up their time for meaningful (church) work?” “Are we doing enough to change the world?”



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?”

How your church can appeal to a younger crowd

In the introduction to her book, Designing Contemporary Congregations: Strategies to Attract Those Under 50, the Rev. Laurene Beth Bowers, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Randolph, Mass., describes some of the people in the congregations she has served over the years:

They are people I love and care about, but they are also a stubborn and stagnant people who have sacrificed for too long at the altar of “everything must stay the same” and who need gentle encouragement and caring confrontation by passionate leaders who will love them enough not to let them remain there.

Bowers suggest ways to lead congregations into change that can be more inviting to a younger generation. Among her suggestions: Create worship that moves. Add nontraditional music, dance, drama, and personal witnessing, with elements no longer than three minutes each, plus a 10-minute sermon. And yes, it’s OK if it goes more than an hour. “It moves, so you don’t notice the time,” one congregant told her.

She includes chapters on worship, social justice, life-cycle rituals, and evangelism. Her 128-page book is available at the UUA Bookstore for $14.