Beyond “Congregations and Beyond”

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)

5 comments to Beyond “Congregations and Beyond”

  • Donald O'Bloggin

    At least this is a discussion of taking our faith outside of our congregations walled gardens in ways that aren’t social justice fap parades. Anything of that nature is an improvement.

    • I have not read the first chetpar yet, but in reading other responses, I am getting the drift. I find myself downhearted on low attendance Sundays and on the other side of the coin I find myself elated when I see a small group of children and youth throw themselves into a service project and really get the point of serving. Better yet, when the small groups are intergenerational! These projects take place outside our walls and generate incredible faith energy. Exploring scenarios that help us see and appreciate new vantage points has great potential. I want to find out more about this.

  • I’ve downloaded this but yet to read it. My weekend task will be that and a post. I gather though were going to see some dismal membership numbers coming out.

  • Beginning a conversation – yes! I see membership as only one way to measure faith commitment and connection and living faithfully. Membership isn’t an end, but a practice, a strategy of how we teach and encourage one another to live faithfully. Membership is more than making a financial contribution and signing a book. Fruit, not forms.

  • I don’t think Peter is suggesting that we try to get more people to be loosely affiliated with us. Rather, we need to acknowledge that there are already large numbers of such people.

    We’d do better to conceive of these people as relevant to our mission…instead of narrowly (and IMHO ineffectively) counting “members.”

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