I’ve studied churches for a long time (even before going to seminary). Primarily my study has been in/on/with black churches, but not exclusive.
And from my study I have found that there are two things that vibrant, growing churches (no matter what denomination or polity) understand that are worth looking at–for this conversation.
1. Growing, vibrant churches understand that they must be INTENSELY LOCAL.
Tip O’Neill once preached that “all politics is local.” Don’t let the smooth taste fool you my friends; if all politics is local, all religion is even more local. Growing, vibrant churches are hubs in their communities. Things are always happening in-and-around those churches. They are the churches that are having the vigils when there is a shooting or some other act of violence in the neighborhood. (how many UU churches do that?) They are the churches that are doing the food basket give-a-way at certain times of the year and not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. (how many UU churches do that?) These churches are as much community center as religious center. (how many UU churches are that?) They are the churches that when they and/or their leaders speak truth to power, power actually listens. (how many UU churches can claim that kind of influence?)
Becoming local is more than being in the city-wide Pride parade or advocating against ballot measures banning gay marriage or whatever the “issue” of the day is. (how many UU churches are involved in “immigration” because of GA but aren’t involved in an after-school program to help low-income kids that’s happening two blocks away?)
One of the things I remember most from my Writing classes at seminary is Susan Yanos reminding us to be as particular as possible. For by becoming more particular, you become more universal. I see this in growing churches.
2. Growing, vibrant churches have VISION.
UU churches cannot grow as long as their primary vision is of what they are not. You don’t grow by being anti-[blank]. You get interest for a while by being anti-[blank], but you do not grow. Where is the positive UU vision? And don’t tell me the principles; they are neither a vision nor mission statement.
Scripture tell us that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Prov. 29:18) Growing, vibrant churches have a vision…whether you call it “beloved community” or “kingdom of G-d” or something else. But even more, they work about bringing their vision to fruition. (see #1) They do more than just talk about it.
Here’s the other thing growing and vibrant churches understand about vision: vision does not come from the outside. It is homegrown and grounded in a tradition.
So hear this…vision will not come from 25 Beacon St. It will not come from giving the MFC more power than it already has. Vision comes from 1 Memorial Drive or 2020 Sherwood Forest Lane or 13769 Columbia Blvd. Vision will come from churches that decide they want to be part of their communities and are grounded in a tradition and get about the business of bringing their vision into fruition.
Congregational polity is NOT UUism’s problem. Not having codified ordaination standards is NOT UUism’s problem. UUism’s problem is that too many UU churches are NOT LOCAL and have absolutely NO VISION. And codifying ordaination standards will not change that.