Monday, August 3, 2009
I am reading Michael Durall's book, The Almost Church: Redefining Unitarian Universalism for a New Era. It is a very good book and I am learning a lot.
Michael's book was published in 2004 and at that time he says there were 1008 UU congregations in the United States. Of those, only 50 - 60, or 5%, had experienced growth in the previous decade.
Only 49 UU churches had memberships of 500 or more, and 3/4s of UU churches, attract fewer than 100 members.
There are many reasons for this decline and stagnation. Durall quotes Miroslav Volf, a theologian at Yale Divinity School who asked this question, "Why are communities of faith increasingly ineffective in their central task?" Great question. What would you say in answer?
Here is what Volf says, "Because churches do not offer a compelling vision of a way of life that is worth living."
I thought to myself, "Wow!"
It would seem that Unitarian Universalist churches have become clubs for the middle class to give comfort and solace to those who expect reasurrance from their past church experience than forward thinking risk takers trying to make the world a better place.
Durall asks the question, "Does your congregation have a soul?"
At the workshop sponsored by the St. Lawrence District in Barneveld, NY on "Big ideas for Small Congregations", the idea of a "collective ministry" was raised. Does our church have a collective ministry?
It would seem that sociologically, churches are institutions that exist to perform certain functions in the society in which they exist. What are those functions? There are many, of course, but it seems to me that a main function is to be a stablizing social institution to socialize community members into ethical ways of living for their own benefit and the benefit of the broader society.
Do Unitarian Universalist churches play this function in society? Marginally, but I am not sure that most UU churches even see this as their function as they eschew the idea of prostylitizing or more assertively outreaching to engage others into joining in its shared vision.
What do you see BUUFs "congregational soul" as being?
Here are some of the replies that Durall collected from members of other churches.
"Yes, it is for caring for others."
"Yes, but our church is paralyzed because church leaders fear offending someone by a decision or action they may take."
"If this church has a soul, I don't see it or feel it."
"Yes, because there is a greater presence than self."
This is article #14 in a series on Birth Of A Congregation.