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.


Why is their budget drive successful?

The blog Congregational Stewardship, produced by the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Services staff group, currently features a two-part series titled “So Why is Their Budget Drive Always So Successful?” It’s a good primer or refresher on how to approach a stewardship event, whether it’s an annual fund drive or a capital campaign. The articles, by Bill Clontz, a UUA stewardship consultant, include the following advice: that stewardship is ministry, that the best campaigns are “continuous yearlong open discussions and references to resourcing our values,” and that people give not to “keep the lights on,” but to realize their values.

Other articles currently on the stewardship blog include one on a group of workers from the Unitarian Church in Harrisburg, Pa., that repairs houses, and another on “changing ourselves” before asking others to change.

Congregational exit interviews help us see ourselves

As fall comes on and we look around on Sunday mornings and notice that a few folks who were regulars last spring aren’t coming around anymore, it might be time to think about doing some exit interviews. Having someone call those no-shows will hopefully let you know why they quit coming.

Here are three sources of information about exit interviews, including the exit process formerly used by the UU Church of Berkeley in Kensington, Calif. The final document includes formats for exit interviews by letter and by phone:

Church Exit Interviews Measure Programs, Appeal

Doing Exit Interviews

Exit Interview Processes

Why Unitarian Universalism is right for Generation Y

The Rev. Renee Ruchotzke writes about Generation Y—the Millennials—on the UUA blog Growing Vital Leaders. Ruchotzke is Regional Leadership Development consultant for the Central East Regional Group of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

In a blog post from June 28 titled “To Be ‘Bona Fide,’” she quotes sociologist Robert Putnam, who notes in his book, American Grace, that the Millennials—born from the late ’70s to early 2000s—are less likely to have been raised in a particular religion than any previous generation and are less likely to believe that any one religion holds exclusive access to the “truth.” Millennials yearn for authenticity, she says, adding:

I believe this is good news for Unitarian Universalism. The promise of our faith is the promise of a living tradition, not the dry bones of old, irrelevant texts. The promise of our faith is the promise of personal wholeness; from our identity-based ministries to our antiracism, antioppression, and multicultural work. And the promise of our faith is the promise of being connected to something greater than ourselves . . .

The best gift we can give each generation is to embody that promise, to invite each new generation to join us, to nurture them as they become a part of our communities and grow in their own faith and commitment, and—most importantly—to step back and allow them to transform our living tradition as generations before have done.

Ruchotzke also recommends David Kinnaman’s book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith.

Checklist for the new church year

As late summer approaches so does the surge of church shoppers that many congregations experience. Here are tips to make sure your facilities and programs are prepared for them.

• Many of us can still remember the name of the person who greeted us on our first visit to a UU congregation. Go over greeting practices with greeters. Hold a role-play practice if necessary. Visit other congregations in the area and see what you can learn from them.

•  Can visitors easily identify which door to enter from the parking lot? If not, add some signage. Also consider posting a greeter in the parking area or on the sidewalk outside the front door.

• Make sure your bathrooms pass the smell test. Add a basket with a few band-aids, feminine products, safety pins, diapers, and baby wipes.

• Check out the sound system, making sure it works properly. If you offer electronic aids for those who need hearing assistance, make sure that they have fresh batteries and that someone knows how to operate them.

• For Coffee hour, give one or two people the job of monitoring the room to make sure that visitors are connecting with members and to facilitate that process. Set up a laptop or other device that will continually show a brief video of congregational activities. It will give introverted visitors something to do if they are overwhelmed by conversation.

• Think about providing milk or half-and-half for the coffee rather than the powdered dairy substitute.

• Be prepared with a list of small groups and upcoming programs that guests can connect with as a next step.

• Have guests fill out an information sheet so that when they return next Sunday you can call them by name. Remember that most of them will have already checked the congregation out online and are already prepared to like you.

Suburban congregation bought downtown church for second service

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

The 9 and 11 a.m. services at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, Pa., are 4.3 miles apart. At 9 a.m. part of the congregation gathers at the church’s longtime suburban location on Clover Lane, tucked in between a housing tract and two hotels. Then at 11 a.m. a larger part of the congregation gathers for worship at a big, old, red brick church building on Market Street near downtown Harrisburg. The congregation bought the building three years ago to relieve overcrowding at its suburban building. At a price of $111,000 plus $340,000 for renovations, it was a better deal than the congregation’s other prospect—raising six to eight million for a new building.

In May the congregation completed nine months of holding weekly services in both buildings—and nine months of deep engagement with its new neighborhood. In addition to the overcrowding issue, a desire to do more social justice work was a big reason for buying the building, said the Rev. Howard Dana, the church’s senior minister.

Go to the full article.

Growth data offers snapshot of congregations

The Rev. Stefan Jonasson, the UUA’s director of Growth Strategies and Large Congregation Development, has analyzed the annual certification data submitted by congregations each February and has created a snapshot of our congregations.

Among his findings:

• The average size of a UU congregation’s adult membership is 148.

• Twenty-eight percent of congregations reported an increase of more than three percent in adult membership in the past year and almost thirty-three percent reported declines of more than three percent.

• Declines of more than three percent were significantly more common among congregations of up to 60 members and midsize congregations (161-300) than other size categories. Growth exceeding three percent was most common among large congregations (401-600) and midsize congregations (161-300).

Jonasson concluded that, “The presence of midsize churches as a leading category for both growth and decline suggests that this is a relatively volatile category for membership when compared to others. It suggests both opportunities and problems to solve.”

Read more about Jonasson’s findings, including how congregations fared during the past decade, at the blog of the Office of Growth Strategies, called Growing Unitarian Universalism.


‘If congregations can change, they can grow’

In his blog post “Going Electric,” CERG Regional Growth Development Consultant Mark Bernstein writes about the findings of the Cooperative Congregational Studies partnership about congregational growth. His conclusion: “If congregations can change, they can grow.” Among the findings in the survey of 11,000 congregations are that growth is more likely among: younger congregations, those that use multiple methods to follow up with visitors, and those that think of themselves as different from other congregations in their area. [That’d be us.]

Bernstein quotes the Rev. Dan Dick, director of Connectional Ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church:

Turnaround churches almost all agree: They knew what they needed to do before they did it. For every declining church you can name, there is a growing one just like it in most ways. The key difference? Declining churches expect their answer to come from the outside; growing churches take responsibility for their own solutions.

The rise of the ‘nonreligious’

The March 12 issue of Time magazine featured ten trends changing American life. One of them was the rise of people who mark “none” on surveys asking them to identify their religious affiliation.

The article, “The Rise of the Nones,” notes that about seventy-five percent of Americans between 18 and 29 consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” and that traditional forms of Christian practice have sharply declined from previous decades—including church attendance, Bible study, and prayer.

The entire article is available by online subscription. A longer essay on the same topic can be found on the Los Angeles Times website where author Philip Clayton could have been talking about Unitarian Universalism when he wrote:

In my experience, the nones are not rejecting God. They are rejecting doctrinal requirements that they no longer find believable, along with the rigid structures of many organized religions. For that reason, the rise of the nones may well be a new kind of spiritual awakening, one in which doubters are welcome.

In the Christian tradition, for example, the Emerging Church (meeting in homes, bars, parks, and churches) invites participation from all who find themselves attracted to the teachings, actions, and person of Jesus. It isn’t crucial that members call themselves Christians, or that they believe Bible stories literally (rather than metaphorically), or even that they are believers rather than agnostics and atheists. As long as people want to sincerely engage with the teachings of Jesus and with the communities that seek to live by those values—”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “Love your neighbor,” “Blessed are the peacemakers”—they are welcome.

The discussion also complements the UUA’s current dialogue about what constitutes a congregation and how to connect with the many people who say they are UUs, but don’t attend a bricks-and-mortar congregation.

Friendship Sunday works in Pennsylvania

Mark Bernstein, growth development consultant for the Central East Regional Group, composed of four districts of the Unitarian Universalist Association, has written a blog post describing the creative way that his home congregation held a “Bring a Friend Sunday.”

He said the UU Church of Delaware County, in Media, Pa., declared that the goal of the day, which it called “Friendship Sunday,” was not to gain more members but was simply to “enable our friends, neighbors, and loved ones to experience the place that has brought us such joy and meaning.” He said leaders asked members to invite their close friends to come by telling them “this is a community that is very important to me, a place where I feel at home. As someone who is also important to me, I want you to see this place and meet the people who mean so much to me.”

Bernstein said about forty people came as guests. He added, “Not all of our guests in attendance yesterday will become members of our congregation. But they now have a better understanding and appreciation of what our faith tradition is all about and perhaps they will help us spread the good news of Unitarian Universalism as they travel about their world. Like a stone tossed into a pond creating ripples that radiate out, Friendship Sunday created ripples that may influence others we have not yet met, or in ways we may never know.”