If You Only Do What You’ve Always Done, You Will Only Get What You’ve Already Got…or Dreaming Big? pt.2

Steven Caldwell writes: “Even with the criticism of the fellowship movement, it was one of the few growth strategies that the UUA could financially afford to do. Without the fellowship movement, Unitarian Universalism would be a regional religion mostly confined to New England.”

I’ve heard this argument before and it doesn’t work for me. While it is true that the fellowship movement created a number of congregations, isn’t Unitarian Universalism still primarily a regional religion? (and if you make socio-economic class a region, it’s definitely a regional religion)  And the anti-clericalism that the Fellowship Movement exacerbated has stymied the growth of our form of liberal religion.

If you only do what you’ve always done, you will only get what you’ve already got.

So let’s say that there’s a new fellowship movement. What would be different this time? Not that I believe that it would be intentional, but, the fellowships would be planted in far-suburbs or exurban areas; still primarily cater to those with 16+ years of education and be Eurocentric in culture. So 10 years from now, what would be markedly different in this “religion for our time?” (don’t get me started on what I think about that.)

One of the things we know about church growth is that it takes A dynamic leader to move the group forward. Not a committee.

The Disciples have something on us here. The UUA doesn’t support the Ron Robinsons in its midst. (individual UUs support Ron and his missionary/missional work, but not the UUA) If a group wants to start a UU congregation they are essentially on their own…and most of them struggle because they don’t have pastoral leadership at the beginning. This is to our detriment.   

With no plan for growth and no encouragement of, and support for, those who want to take our form of liberal religion into the abandoned places; are we dreaming big?

Are we even dreaming at all?


9 thoughts on “If You Only Do What You’ve Always Done, You Will Only Get What You’ve Already Got…or Dreaming Big? pt.2

  1. Pingback: If You Only Do What You've Always Done, You Will Only Get What You … « Church Growth « Church Leadership

  2. I know that by the late 1800s, New York had the largest number of Universalist Churches than any other state – (or so said E. Manford at the time),. So it wasn’t just New England. History also shows that the Unitarians were very open to church planting from the 1880s to 1920s, often paying for buildings and ministers for new congregations (my favorite being a town so small that it still doesn’t have a stop light.). The Unitarian and then Unitarian Universalists did have money in the 1950s-1960s , so could have planted churches . Currently, Is there any church planting official in the UUA?

  3. I’ll be a defender of the fellowship movement until the day I die. Your criticisms are true, and I still defend it. UUism would not exist in any significant form outside of New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and parts of the Midwest if it weren’t for the fellowships, even with all their problems. What we should be doing about growth now is a whole different subject, and I don’t think the fellowship movement would be a good model now. There aren’t that many cities waiting to have a fellowship thrown up now — unlike the 50s and 60s. I think growing the churches we have, and using them to make satellite churches around them, is the better answer.

  4. Scott Wells did a list of the various metro areas that do not have a UU congregation. Still plenty. And of course, there are still a fair number of rural UU congregations that keep going.
    the satellite congregation sounds good and it worked well in the 1950s in Washington DC, but I think that’s also something that has come and gone. do you know of anyone who says they would attend one? The few folks I asked, have laughed at the question – easier to stay home and watch podcasts.
    I wonder if the time is back for circuit riders?
    If not, that church planting is still the only thing that we know actually can work (not all the time, but enough of the time).

  5. Yes, Steven, I would attend a satellite congregation. But I understand your point. I think that a deliberate combination of satellite congregations and church planting could work these days. That’s actually what they did in the DC area as well. They were using services and accessing live sermons from All Souls, but were also church planters who had a mission of growing new congregations along all the major highway arteries leading into DC. I think it takes an initial vision of growth from the present congregations (that goes beyond their own walls) and a willingness among some of their people with leadership skills to actually go out and “do the planting,” then also a commitment to ongoing program support from the existing congregation in the early stages. I don’t see that kind of larger vision coming from too many of our congregations these days…a few, but not many.

  6. :While it is true that the fellowship movement created a number of congregations, isn’t Unitarian Universalism still primarily a regional religion?

    I just made exactly the same point in response to Steve’s comment on your first post.

    :(and if you make socio-economic class a region, it’s definitely a regional religion)

    OU*UCH! That smarts!

    Careful now Kim or *some* Perfect U*U Souls will believe that you are playing Sancho Panza to the Don Quixote of the U*U World. 😉

    :And the anti-clericalism that the Fellowship Movement exacerbated has stymied the growth of our form of liberal religion.

    To say nothing of the anti-Christian and more broadly anti-religious “bad attitude” that *still* stymies the growth of The Tiny Declining Fringe Religion™. . .

    :So 10 years from now, what would be markedly different in this “religion for our time?” (don’t get me started on what I think about that.)

    Oh come on Kim. Be a sport!

    The Emerson Avenger would positively *love* to see a brand-spanking new blog post from you started up here on what you think about *that*. 🙂

  7. Kim … for what it’s worth, we’re not doing the “fellowship movement” any more in Unitarian Universalism. Institutionally, it died back in the 1960s.

    Recent UU growth strategies have centered on intentional large church plantings like Pathways in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

    In terms of cost/benefit analysis, one should look dollars spent vs. outcomes obtained for both growth strategies (new congregations started, numbers of individuals in UUA member congregations). The post WWII fellowship efforts were a better use of scarce UU resources than any UU megachurch plant.

    Given what we know now, how would a resurrection of the fellowship movement growth strategy look if we were mindful of anti-oppression issues related to race and class?

    This may be more successful than the “dynamic leader” approach because dynamic leaders are harder to find than 10 to 50 people who want to meet for worship and fellowship on Sunday mornings.

    • I know there’s not a new “fellowship movement.” That’s why I said, “Let’s say there was a new fellowship movement.”

      As for cost/benefit, being cheap is not a growth strategy. Church plants cost money. Always have. Always will. And most of the research shows that the best way for a church plant to work is to have a really dynamic leader.

      Pathways….I’m probably going to write about that 2 posts from now. It was destined to fail.

      more later.

  8. My understanding of the way the UU presence (albeit, largley Unitarian before the merger) grew in the DC area was not through church plants as we think of them today. My impression of church planting as the UUA has approached it in recent years is of starting from scratch. Sure, they have done studies that have revealed where in the country it’s likely a community of people “like us” (reason number one I have theological obligations to this approach) is ready and waiting for us to plop down a church.

    The growth in the DC area in the 50s happened not by starting churches from scratch, but by starting with a small but strong seed base. A. Powell Davies was the minister of All Soul’s Church, and it grew exponentially as a result of his gifted preaching and prophetic civil rights work in the community. He basically studied where folks were coming from each Sunday, had meetings with folks from specific geographical areas where a high concentration of his parishioners lived, and got them to commit to forming a new, sister congregation in their neighborhood with the support of All Soul’s. To my knowledge, they all began according to what we today would identify as a satellite model (relying on funding from All Soul’s, piping in sermons in the beginning, etc.) but with the explicit goal of growing into self-sustaining and self-governing congregations.

    I actually think this approach to growing our faith and planting “new” churches would work just as well today as it did 60 years ago. In my opinion, neighborhood churches are best situated to serve the needs of and advocate for their local communities and they are best set-up for sustainable congregational operations.

    It’s getting the largest churches in our movement to agree to essentially sign-up to split that I think would be the sticky point.

    Just my two cents 🙂

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

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