Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

June 6, 2010: “The Top Ten Ways Not to Grow, New Member Recognition, Annual Meeting”

A pastor was talking with a hard working woman who was a devoted member, present at all services. He expressed his thanks for seeing her so attentive every Sunday. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘It is such a rest after a long, hard week’s work to come to church, to sit down on the soft cushions, and not have to think about anything.’

        Where do church seekers come from? Deborah Weiner, Director of Electronic Communications for the UUA gives these facts about seekers of churches - three primary reasons why people join churches:
  • 52% have moved
  • 38% have experienced a life transition or crisis
  • 10% have married or acquired a new partner
    Facts about newcomers testing relationships:
    • 86% come to the church because of friends or family
    • 14% come because of organized outreach (PR, ads, letters of invitation)
    • 55% are from the same denomination; 42% are from another denomination How often does the average UU bring a friend to church? Only once in 27 years! So when is the last time YOU invited a friend to church? About 90% of folks in UU congregations were not raised thus. It used to be that we were called 'come-outers' because most of us 'came out' not of the closet, but of other religious traditions, usually protestant, many Catholic, or as they often refer to themselves, 'recovering Catholics,' as well as Jews, and a small variety of other religions. Today, more of our younger members are coming from homes where the family didn't associate with any religion, and it was almost always because they had been turned off by a specific minister, priest. or even the church or synagogue community and its interpretation of how that religion was to be practiced and what you were supposed to believe, often with the threat of eternal damnation. And let's face it, some people just aren't into church of any kind and could care less; Sunday is a great day to sleep late, golf, do errands, relax, read the paper, do house or yard work, or visit family. And besides, it's the only day some people have really off from work and they don't want to 'waste it' by going to church. Isn't is a shame that some church going feels like a waste of time, money and energy? Ever since Cathie and I were invited to a UU worship service by a friend- (let me repeat that! Ever since Cathie and I were invited to a UU worship service by a friend) we began to see Sunday as a special day and would feel like there was an emptiness in our lives without going to church on a regular basis. We come to church and we join a church for many reasons, some of which we might not even be able to verbalize. We stay at that church only if we feel connected both spiritually and relationally. That doesn't mean we all have to be spiritual, whatever that word means to you, but I mean that there has to be a religious dimension (what I like to call the 4th, maybe 5th dimension), or a sense of higher or maybe even deeper power, force, energy, as well as a human relationship with the people who make up the congregation as well as the minister. And the music should make a difference. There must be something in the shared ministry of the church that we can relate to, connect with, be inspired by, if we are to give up our hard earned time off, money, and energy to go to he worship service or especially meetings! I would sum it up by saying we must find love here in both a religious and a relational connection as well as intellectual stimulation, we can't forget that! We must be willing to both give and receive love, and we must be willing to work for it as well. Unitarian Universalist are often accused of not believing in anything and living up it, but I believe it's just the opposite. We believe in everything, that interdependent web of life of which we are a part. The Purposes and Principles or sources have become popular because they reflect the positive aspects of what it is we can all agree on about religion and religious relationship in beloved community. I describe us as a liberal religious search for meaning and truth who come together in a common religious journey to find out who we most truly are and who we are called to be as well as how we can help transform the world into a more loving, environmentally sound, peaceful, just, place. When magazines or polls ask people about their religion, about half a million people claim UUism, yet our national membership is only about half of that! And I think that if more people knew about UUism and our churches there'd be even more, but don't tell anyone, because we're not like those missionaries! They believe that they have a message worth spreading about their religious interpretation; but don't we? Many of the founding fathers and two out of the first three presidents were Unitarian! There have been 5 U presidents in all, the last one, was a republican, by the way, William Howard Taft, and was the head of the denomination after he was president, then served on the Supreme Court! Thomas Jefferson believed that Unitarianism was such a reasonable religious view that eventually every one would become one! I am an evangelical UU, brothers and sisters; I am always spreading our message, talking to people, inviting them to our church, because I believe that we have a saving message that is as important as the traditional Christian one or any other religion, because we have open hearts and minds as well as an open religious expression and journey. So why aren't we growing?

The Top 10 (of 100) Largest Churches in America for 2008

1. Lakewood Church (Houston, TX): Joel Osteen
   Founded 1959: 1 location
   #1 = 43,500 (2008)
   #1 = 45,000 (2006)
  1. Second Baptist Church (Houston, TX): Ed Young Sr. Founded 1927: 5 locations #2 = 23,659 (2008) #3 = 22,266 (2006)
    1. North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, GA): Andy Stanley
      Founded 1995: 3 locations
      #3 = 22,557 (2008)
      #7 = 17,700 (2007)
      #12 = 16,700 (2006)
  2. Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL): Bill Hybels Founded 1975: 4 locations #4 = 22,500 (2008) #5 = 21,500 (2006)
    1. (Edmond, OK): Craig Groeschel
      Founded 1996: 11 locations
      #5 = 20,823 (2008)
      #13 = 16,071 (2006)
  3. West Angeles Church of God in Christ (Los Angeles, CA): Charles Blake Founded 1943: 1 location #6 = 20,000 (2008) #50 = 8,350 (2006)
    1. Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX) Dallas: Ed Young Jr.
      Founded 1989: 5 locations
      #7 = 19,913 (2008)
      #9 = 18,124 (2006)
  4. Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA): Rick Warren Founded 1980: 2 locations #8 = 19,414 (2008) #6 = 20,595 (2006)
    1. Calvary Chapel (Ft. Lauderdale, FL): Bob Coy
      Founded 1985: 3 locations
      #9 = 18,000 (2008)
      #8 = 18,300 (2006)
  5. The Potter’s House (Dallas, TX): T.D. Jakes
    Founded 1996: 1 location
    #10 = 17,000 (2008)
    #20 = 14,000 (2006)

The Largest Congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association-2009/2010

00 – Church of the Larger Fellowship (3509) Boston, MA 02108-2823
01 – All Souls Unitarian Church (1783) Tulsa, OK
02 – First Unitarian Society of Madison (1565) Madison, WI Frank Lloyd Wright bldg.
03 – Unitarian Church of All Souls (1446) New York City, NY
04 – First Unitarian Church of Portland (1080) Portland, OR
05 – First Unitarian Church of Dallas (1051) Dallas, TX
06 – UU Church of Arlington (924) Arlington, VA
07 – First Unitarian Church (907) Rochester, NY
08 – Cedar Lane UU Church (866) Bethesda, MD Wash DC
09 – Unity Church Unitarian (863) St. Paul, MN
10 – First UU Church of San Diego (819)San Diego, CA

Then there’s # 15 – Jefferson Unitarian Church (764) Denver Suburbs Golden, CO, which was where our new UUA president, Peter Morales served and helped grow.

20 – our sister church- East Shore Unitarian Church (671) in Bellevue, WA outside of Seattle,

and at #39 – West Shore UU Church (560) Cleveland, OH.

        We have 42 churches over 500, but none over 2000. Part of that is because our message, according to demographic studies, appeals to about 2% of the college educated population, while the top ten churches are already starting out with representing the majority view of Protestant Christianity. According

( …’the vast majority of Americans ’83 percent’ identify themselves as Christian. One-third of these self-identified Christians are unaffiliated with any church.

        Most Christians in America are Protestant, but hundreds of Protestant denominations and independent congregations exist. Many of the major denominations, such as Baptists, Lutherans, and Methodists, are splintered into separate groups that have different ideas about theology or church organization. Some Protestant religious movements, including Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, cut across many different Protestant organizations.' That's the bad news, that is, that's why there are these megachurches, because they can draw from 83 per cent of the population. I don't mean these are bad churches; obviously they are reaching tens of thousands of people and some of the ministers, especially, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren, have very positive messages.  I'm familiar with these two, but some are divisive and negative. But they all have done certain things to grow and many of the growth resources that all churches are now using come from here.

        The good news, according to the same report, is: 'Large numbers of Americans do not have a religious view of the world' some 8 percent are non religious, secular, or are atheists; that is, they do not believe in a god or gods. Adding these to the nonpracticing Christian population means that slightly more than a quarter of the American population is unaffiliated with any church or denomination. This mixture of multiple religious and secular points of view existed from the beginning of European colonization.' The difficulty is, of course, reaching these people, which are probably full of UU's without knowing it!'

Here’s what I call ”The Top Ten Ways Not to Grow’

  1. Don’t have a plan for Growth. Didn’t we just have one 10 years ago, and that didn’t work?
  2. Don’t advertise or invite your friends. Let people find you if they really want to come. Let them find out what we believe, what we do in our services or even how they should dress.
  3. Don’t change the worship service or the music; we like it that way and we’ve always done it that way. Why should we have to change what we like?
  4. Recycle the church leadership, use the same people over and over until they actually burn out and are used up and leave. Don’t get youth, young adults or new members involved.
  5. Don’t welcome guests, don’t wear name tags, don’t worry about church behavior, and don’t talk to them at coffee hour-that’s for church business and catching up with your friends.
  6. Don’t have a vision of what the church stands for and what it could become. We’ve talked that subject to death last time we had a new minister.
  7. Plead poverty and always complain about not having enough money to meet the budget; after all that’s why we want to grow, isn’t it? Repeat after me, ‘we can’t afford to advertise.’
  8. Don’t become involved in any community problems, events, or be known for social justice work in the community; it might be too controversial.
  9. Keep the Sunday School children and youth in a separate place so they don’t ruin the atmosphere of a nice quiet worship service. And don’t make religious education life span, so that there could be adult RE as well.
  10. But most of all, remember there two subjects we should never talk about in church-religion and politics! Don’t try to develop people’s spiritual life or to find a way to discuss politics so that the many sides of any issue can be heard, understood and respected. Don’t connect all religion and all politics to the wider church. UUA President Peter Morales who helped his church grow always said one sure and easy way to grow ' 'Just repel fewer visitors!' We often have as many visitors in a year as number of members! We need to find a way to make the members out of those visitors! Another step; ask what is limiting growth, why we haven't grown before. But most of all, if we truly want to grow, then the whole church has to be involved and willing to take the steps toward growth. That also takes money as well as time, energy, and the commitment to do what it takes to grow.We are a warm, welcoming church with a lot to offer folks and there are a lot of resources out there on how to grow, much of which I am sharing with folks, but growth requires change, and change is always a challenge for us. We must have a sense of who we are, of what the true mission and vision of this church is beyond the words formed some years ago. If you had to have an elevator speech for what this church meant or stood for, like we talk about with our beliefs, could we do it. In a few sentences, could we sum up who we are? East Shore, we are the church that...- what? You fill in the blanks... that cares, the church that seeks to transform ourselves and the world toward better and more ethical living, that doesn't have to believe alike, to walk together, love one another, and work for a more loving, spiritual, peaceful, just, and green world? When I first started to make the list of 10 ways not to grow, I just started writing and came up with over 40! Yet we must fight the temptation to think of the negative and emphasize the positive. This church has survived, grown, and thrived for almost 60 years! We must be doing something right that we can do better. We welcome new members this morning, a sign of growth, and now we must make sure that we don't stop there! Let's make sure these new members stay; let's get to know them and let's help them get to know how this church works and how they can find their passion here, how they can help. We need to do a better job loving one another in our behavior so that by our actions and yea, even our words, we live out our UU beliefs. I think church, religion should challenge us to live better lives, to be better people, and to help co-create a better community and world. We should help one another through the tough times as well as celebrating the good times, and being more visible about appreciating one another. I know the shared ministry of this church, the minister as well as the congregation, has made a profound difference in the lives of many, but I also know that there are many people out there who are looking for what we have here, and we are not reaching them. Our ministry here is needed in the world, and I believe we have a message of salvation that has to do with saving the world and saving our sanity and saving our spiritual yearnings, that is unique in this area. I believe in the transforming message of love that is at the heart of all religion that makes sense to me; it calls to me into ministry here and I believe it calls you into membership here, but it also calls us to grow, not just our souls, but to grow the church as well. Remember this simple truth- 'Love is the answer to everything- religion, relationships, life itself. No one really has to teach us how to love, we only need to listen to our heart and live our lives accordingly, for love will teach us all we need to know if we will but be honest in our dealings with each other, with ourselves, and with everyone else. Just live your life with love and you can't go wrong; though it is not easy. Beware the competition though, of ego, power, greed, lust, oh the list is long. Trust love, my friends, live love, practice love, believe in love.'</code></pre>Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity with me greets the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. 'Vaya con Dios' is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is 'Go with God,' So I adapted it to say 'Vaya Con Su Dios,' 'Go with your idea or interpretation of God.'

Peace, Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios