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.”

Growth Strategies office creates blog

The UUA Office of Growth Strategies has created a blog, Growing Unitarian Universalism, which it will use to share ideas and strategies for growing congregations. The blog will share research, resources, articulate strategies, identify good practices, present guest commentaries, and invite comments from congregational leaders.

The office was established in 2011 “to help restore the Unitarian Universalist Association to a position of active evangelism,” writes the Rev. Stefan Jonasson, director of the office. He notes that he and Tandi Rogers, growth strategies specialist and a credentialed religious educator, have surveyed UUA growth initiatives past and present, identified resources from inside and outside the UUA, and  consulted with individuals and groups “who care about the health and vitality of Unitarian Universalism.”

One early conclusion: “Along the way, we’ve discerned that the best programs and initiatives seem to have a ‘shelf life,’ after which they need to be retired since they begin to produce diminishing returns, however effective they may have been at their peak,” says Jonasson. “We’ve realized that our institutions reward caution much more than responsible risk-taking. We’ve seen how technology is outpacing our imagination for its effective use.”

He adds that the Office of Growth Strategies can’t single-handedly increase the number of UUs, nor is it focused simply on numerical growth. Rather, growth is the work of all UUs and it includes changing hearts and transforming lives, in addition to increasing numbers of UUs. “Our office’s role is to inform, equip, and inspire Unitarian Universalists in this work,” he says.