Monday, November 30, 2009

Levels of membership in UU churches

I published this article on the Chalicefire blog on 12/13/08. I personally like it but it didn't get much of a response back then.

As I have been studying the Sociology of Religion this fall I have come to learn that there are covenantal models and contractual models for doing church. While Unitarian Universalists like to think of their way of doing church as covenantal I think it is really more contractual. This is a common mistake probably more explained as wishful thinking. I don't see many UUs other than clergy who have gotten involved enough in Unitarian Universalism as a lifestyle. It seems to be more a consumer choice as in "Are we going to church this Sunday, dear?" and if so, "Where?" and if so "What's the sermon topic."

At any rate here's the article as it appeared about a year ago.


Michael Durall in his book, The Almost Church: Redefining Unitarian Universalism For A New Era, writes about 3 levels of membership based on a model of ministry. He writes on p. 44 that the first level is attending church regularly, the second is getting involved in some activity or committee at church and the third is to actually engage in some aspect of church ministry such as working in an outreach or ministering to church members in some way.

I have thought about this idea of levels of membership a lot and I think it naturally evolves in congregations even if it is not defined and institutionalized. There basically are four levels of membership in my model.

The first level is visitor and some people are visitors for years.

The second level is social associate. They are the spectators but not players. They come to socialize when it is convenient for them.

The third level is the regular member who comes regularly and financially supports the church and may help out with some of the church activities.

The fourth level is the leader who not only attends regularly, financial supports the church, helps out with activities, but also creates new activities, organizes things, and represents the church with authority to other members and the community.

So where are you in the membership model? Being at one level or another is not a value judgment, being at one level or another is not better or worse than being at another level, it is just different. Churches need people at all levels of membership, and usually moving up the levels is a natural progression for most people.

The problem comes when people are expecting a level of commitment and involvement from people that doesn't match with their level of membership. In terms of working together in a more respectful and complementary way, perhaps it would be helpful to have the level of membership more clearly defined and articulated so people could choose their desired level of membership and other people would know better what to expect.

I am at level three right now and may aspire to level four as time and energy allow. Where are you?

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