Monday, June 4, 2012

Why are UU congregations small? Part 5 - lack of evaluation

In addition to the fact that UU congregations often lack competent management, have an ambiguous sense of mission, lack any accountability to an accrediting body, don’t know how to resolve conflict, they often lack the ability and skills to reflect, evaluate and learn from their experience.

Most of UU congregations are small, less than 200 people. They have poorly formulated sense of mission and vision and therefore have not articulated clear goals for organizational achievement. This failure to articulate goals makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate the effectiveness of the religious organization.

Most Christian churches have as their major goal the great commission which comes from Matthew 28:16-20 “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. (17) And when they saw him, they worshiped him: but some doubted. (18) And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

UU churches usually don’t proselytize since they have no organizational tradition or norm to share the faith, and seem to operate more like Alcoholic Anonymous which deals with organizational maintenance and growth based on attraction rather than recruitment.

Perhaps sharing the faith and growing a congregation is not the goal of most UU churches and that’s okay, but there should be some agreement on goals and the vision for the organization for the future if the organization is going to survive and thrive.

W. Edwards Deming, the total quality management guru said “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” and sadly most UU churches don’t know where they are going other than to continue to exist, to maintain the status quo, to satisfy the preferences of the current membership.
Peter Senge in his classic book on organizational management, The Fifth Discipline, developed a model for what he called “the learning organization” meaning that an organization has developed the capacity to learn from its own experience. Organizations which have developed the capacity to learn from their own experience are able to anticipate, observe, adjust to, and manage external and internal factors which affect its operations and its abilities to achieve its goals to survive in the broader environment. To what extent are UU churches equipped and skilled to evaluate their own experience, learn from it, and make the necessary changes to continue to serve its stakeholders and maintain its own viability?

It would seem that one of the reasons that UU congregations are small, and that the denomination as a whole is minuscule is because of its inability to successfully read the signs of the times and organize themselves in ways to adjust to and influence the context in which they exist. The inability to purposefully and deliberately evaluate and reflect on its experience leads UU churches to stagnate and even dissolve.

Unitarian Universalism has an illustrious history and a glorious philosophy, but its ability to understand it and communicate it in meaningful, relevant, and inspiring ways is obviously not working well when you consider the number of people who are attracted, and inspired enough to participate. This is a function of the failure of leadership and a major activity of leadership is to evaluate the organizational experience, learn from it, and apply those learnings to future endeavors.

How are we doing?

This is article #5 in a series on Why Are UU Congregations Small?


  1. Well since you asked David. . .

    *This* is how, and indeed what, the Unitarian Universalist Association is doing as of last Friday. Be assured that it by no means only UU congregations that lack competent management, have an ambiguous sense of mission, and don’t know how to resolve conflict. . . 25 Beacon Street is no slouch when it comes to those failings.

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