Wednesday, April 14, 2010

UUA membership declining

The UUWorld reported on 04/12/10 that the UUA membership is declining.

"A year ago UUA membership declined by 132 members for a total of 156,015 adult members. This year membership dropped 267, a decline of .16 percent. Total adult membership this year is 155,748."

An even more troubling indicator is that religious ed enrollment is declining.

Religious education enrollment dropped 1,262, for a total of 55,846 children and youth this year. A year ago it dropped 809. In 2002 it was 60,895.

UUA President, Peter Morales, made these recommendations to stimulate church growth to the UUA board in April:

■Create and sustain a sense of urgency “based on a shared vision of what is possible for our movement.” He cautions: “Urgency is not panic. Urgency is a sense that we can and must change if we are to create the congregations and movement we seek.”

■Stimulate growth by learning from our growing congregations.

■Focus on improving ministerial quality and diversity.

■Help congregations become engaged in social justice work in their own communities.

■Use social media to break down barriers among congregations and to reach out to seekers.

I don't think these suggestions will lead to growth.

We are starting a new UU congregation in Brockport NY which we have named the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. There are many independent pentacostal Bible thumping churches in our area that are growing great guns, but BUUF is struggling. We have about 25 committed members and our goal is to get to 50 by the end of the year.

How do we get there? I don't think Peter Morales's suggestions help us at all. Anybody got any better suggestions?


  1. Those suggestions don't seem particularly helpful to me either. Interestingly, a Boing Boing columnist (Lisa Katayama) went to (nondenominational but probably conservative Christian) church last Sunday and had an experience that struck her as borderline offensive. She wrote about it here:

    The comments section of her post shows (to me, anyway) the wide range of liberal theology that's around in the secular world, and it's folks like her (and her commenters) that we should be reaching. I don't have answers, but Morales' suggestions don't seem to be designed to reach knowledgeable religious liberals who seek challenge.

  2. I don't usually cite scripture in my blog comments, but I'd suggest that we consider Matthew 7:9. "Who of you, if their children ask for bread, would give them a stone."

    All too often, churches (not just UU churches) are giving people stones, not bread. If we want our churches to be vital, growing enterprises, we need to make certain we are offering people sprititual sustenance that will have a real effect their day-to-day lives.

    This is not to say, people should not be challenged. Indeed, challenging people's beliefs and behaviors is an important way to sustain the human spirit.

    But the people need to be fed!

  3. Hi David,

    I've been thinking a lot about this lately, too. I joined a small UU church that has about 50 "pledging units," which has been pretty constant over the last 50 years.

    Our services have been better attended lately and we've been retaining more guests as "friends" and soon-to-be members. The reason that we're not actually growing in net members is that a significant number of senior members, who planted the church in the 60's, are moving to warmer climes or otherwise leaving the church.(That was tasteful, right?)

    What has been attracting new members seems to be several things:

    -- A 1/2-time called minister. Without our minister, we look like amateurs.

    -- Momentum. A busy church service looks vital. More people there = more people interested.

    -- Accompanist on the piano. Some members play, but since we've been paying a couple high school kids, the piano music has been more consistent.

    It seems to me that more marketing would help. We've just formed a Board of Publicity to raise our profile. First: better signage.

    It also occurs to me that marketing to target segments might increase response. Example: I've had a small consulting biz for a couple years. I help small pharma companies prepare FDA submissions and provide technical writing training seminars for large pharma companies.

    When I look for work, I target small pharma companies who may need an outside consultant to help with FDA documents, and I target large pharma companies who need writing training, especially for those scientists who learned English as a second language.

    It would be silly for me to try to teach construction workers how to write long, technical reports or to call up telemarketing companies and ask about their FDA submission needs.

    Likewise, as much as we want diversity, we should advertise to those who are ready for our message.

    Mostly, that's college-educated couples.

    (Just to clarify, I don't mean white and I don't mean hetero. There was a very nice gay African-American couple who visited our church recently. They will be moving to our area after finishing their Bachelor's. College-educated couple.)

    It just seems to me that, for people visiting our church and especially people who stay, level of education and relationship stability have a positive correlation with being ready to hear the UU message.

    We should be advertising and trying to get the word out in places where college-educated couples can find it.

    Also, I haven't actually counted at all, but it seems like a significant number of UU bloggers list science fiction as a hobby. I don't know if it correlates with education level or science interests, willingness to suspend disbelief, or willingness to accept other belief systems, but it occurs to me that, if the correlation holds, local cons might be an interesting place to put up a table.

    I'm also moving to CT, soon, where I will probably join the All Souls congregation, which purportedly has 200 members and is growing my leaps and bounds. I'll report back.

    Good luck, David. UUism needs more folks like you.

    As always, JM$.02.


  4. From my Bible Belt perspective, it seems that people join churches for two reasons: fear of hell and business connections. Many people join and contribute to churches as a sort of fire insurance, a way to avoid hell. Many other people are active in churches because of the business contacts they find there. Those who participate because of a genuine interest in spirituality, in my opinion, are rare.

    For most of my eight years as a UU our church membership hovered at just barely over a hundred. But in the last year or so it has risen to close to 140. I think that much of the credit for this must go to our minister, a really warm and loving person who has gone out of her way to make our church into a community.

    We don't sell fire insurance and we don't have the key to heaven, but we do offer those who come here a safe community where they can develop their sense of spirituality to the extent that they wish. It is a community of people who are learning to trust each other.

    We don't make promises that we cannot keep.

  5. I have been the lay minister of an additional campus of a large UU church in San Diego for the last eight months.
    Our attendance was in the low 20s when I began my work here. It is now in the high 50s. Average pledge amounts have also increased dramatically.
    We have done everything Rev. Morales advises and more. Our services are bilingual - at the request of English-speaking members - and simultaneous translation of the sermons is available to those who request it.
    We are very active in our predominantly Latino community and most of our members come from mixed race families, including myself.
    Two months ago we were finally able to move into our own site after more than year of using the media center of a public school. We did most of the renovation of our site ourselves.
    Our recent involvement with Border Angels, a humanitarian organization that is assisting victims of the recent earthquake in Mexico, brought us national and international attention from several media groups including the BBC.
    Our website is:


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