UUA President Peter Morales’ column, “Congregations and Beyond,” has me simultaneously excited and disappointed. Peter writes, “The central conviction driving this proposal is that our core values appeal to far more people than are attracted…to our congregations.” Because “not everyone who shares our core values will want to become part of a traditional congregation,” he suggests a two-part strategy: strengthening our congregations and focusing energy outside them. “People should be able to connect to our religious movement in a variety of ways and at different levels of commitment.”
I agree with much of Peter’s analysis – and I had virtually the same conversation, with a friend about her Lutheran church, two days ago. We UUs are not unique in facing this issue. Nor are we unique in trying to solve it through marketing. We’re all focusing too much on the sizzle, and too little on the steak, IMHO (or too much on the color of the plate, and too little on the seitan?).
This feels like we are chasing numbers. I’d rather have impact than sheer numbers. The two may be related, sure, but give me 100 committed people over 1000 people “connected” to UUism. I’d like this to be less about making it easy to “connect” and more about it making it mean something once connected.
And that’s where we do have an opportunity. We are not the only people to offer an organized, *covenanted* search for truth and meaning, but we’re among the few–and we’ve been doing it a fairly long time.
I agree with President Morales, that we have focused overmuch on “membership.” Collecting signatures in the Membership Book is too often more important than the work we do together. One-time membership rituals have distracted us from the ongoing work of covenanted transformation.
Perhaps “Congregations and Beyond” will open a dialogue, and help us to return covenant to more central place in our movement. I imagine a variety: covenants at the beginning and ending of one-time justice events; behavioral covenants in ongoing groups; and organic ones developed in covenant groups.
This is not just about offering events (whether social or social justice -focused), this is about collaborating to change lives – ours and others’. Twitter messages and Meet-Ups may indeed draw people in, but lived covenants can keep them together, in accountable, powerful, transformative ways.
One last thing: we cannot leave membership behind. That’s how we support our infrastructure. Especially if our UUA is to be “a resource, platform and hub” for more groups and activities, we’ve got to pay for that somehow. Members are covenanted participants who *want* to provide financial support. At all other events, perhaps free-will donations could be taken, with a portion going to regions and our national hub. Or not, this may be too in-the-box. Smarter people than me can work on this. We can be creative but it has to be addressed.
So, my sincere thanks to Peter, for beginning this conversation. Let’s see how far we can take it!
(picture of BBQ seitan from chooseveg.com)