Wednesday, July 25, 2007

From growth to mission

I'm delighted that the Annual Meetings will focus on growth. I was somewhat disappointed that there was not more talk about it at this year's Annual Meetings. If nothing happened in 08 I would have been asking some loud questions. I don't want the 06 resolution to get forgotten.

But it hasn't been. We will focus on growth. Good. However the conversation must be effective. It shouldn't be just how each of us thinks growth might come about, in our opinions, that won't get us anywhere. Nor should it all be about PR. A national advertising campaign would be a huge waste of money right now. And it's starting in the wrong place.

Conversations about growth need to draw on the best hard research and theological reflection in religious communities that are growing. Although the explicit concentration on numerical growth in the 06 resolution was necessary, the only way we can achieve growth is if we have a sense of MISSION and even EVANGELISM. We can't do this without reference to what evangelism is taking place in the churches. We can't do this without understanding the big changes in culture that have taken place, especially for my generation. I need to spend the next year reading up on all of this (and practicing it) to do my bit to contribute to a useful conversation next March.

4 Comments:

Blogger Andrew said...

Can you expand on the 'big changes in culture that have taken place, especially for my generation'?

10:39 am  
Blogger Stephen said...

Let's see.

One change is the change from Christendom to Post-Christendom. In other words, the Christian story is no longer dominant in our culture and increasingly people are as likely to understand what Easter and Christmas is about as they are to understand what Eid is about. For Unitarians this means if we define ourselves as different from mainstream Christianity, its not going to make sense much to a lot of people because they don't know what mainstream Christians believe.

Practically this also means Sunday is no longer Sabbath and there are other things to do on Sunday morning.

There is also a shift from local community to network community. I hear some town centre churches saying that they don't get many people because there is no local community. But the practice of a local community going to a local church is less and less frequent now. People are less likely to go to church because it is the local church, and people will move around much more often, giving a bigger turnover of membership in a congregation.

That's off the top of my head.

2:50 pm  
Blogger Comrade Kevin said...

Clearly, the baby boomer mentality that has characterized much of the UU mentality towards growth and development needs to change. And it needs to go far beyond "Mind the Gap".

The simple truth is that most people in our demographic don't attend church. Doesn't matter what denomination you're looking at, including Unitarian.

The old joke is: "What is a Unitarian Universalist?" The answer is: An atheist with children.

The joke could be expanded further because most people don't feel the need to attend church, ANY church until they're married and have kids of their own.

Sinkford proposed an elevator speech as a way to conceptualize our faith and make it understandable to the average layperson. The problem with that is that UUism cannot easily be summed up in a neat, concise statement such as that. Post-Christianity is an emerging concept and only a person with a great amount of education is capable of understanding it.

Traditional Christianity, you must admit, is easily digestable for the common person: God came to earth, he was nailed to a cross, he died, and if we believe in this and in his Divinity, then all of our sins are forgiven. It's the idea of salvation, first and foremost, that is why I am a Christian and why many other people are Christians.

The true challenge is for enterprising souls such as yourself to better contextualize Post-Christianity in more simplistic terms. I enjoy philosophy as much as the next educated person but most people in Western Society, to say nothing of THE WORLD, do not have the luxury we have been afforded.

Chris Rock put it best: Most people in America are poor-ass white people, eating mayonnaise sandwhiches, and listening to John Cougar Mellancamp albums. To put it in a different context, one that might have more resonance with you, how would you explain Post-Christianity to someone living in a council flat on the dole?

The reason I left behind Unitarianism is that I feel as though I can better influence my fellow man and have a sense of commonality with him or her through traditional Christianity. Many of us who are educated and attend traditional Christian churches sometimes doubt the divinity of Christ. I certainly do. And if you're educated enough to do the research, you find that the idea of Christ as God in man's form is a 4th century Christian concept. I think if you asked Jesus of Nazareth himself he'd say he wasn't God.

That was the stumbling block for me for many years. But I have realized that sometimes you have to overlook dogma and the decisions of the Council of Nicea to find community.

I encourage your efforts and you will find many along the way who are struggling with the same issues you are.

10:22 pm  
Blogger Yvonne said...

I think Unitarianism needs to emphasise that all religions are pointing to the same thing, the Divine Love whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. We don't need no steenkin' happy-clappy stuff. We need to emphasise shared values - freedom, reason and inclusiveness plus the mystical awareness that all religions are honouring the Divine. We need to acknowledge that this has been the message of mystics in all faiths: that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. That the Divine is not asking us to be self-effacing or to give things up, but to be truly ourselves, so that we may have love and compassion for all humanity.

As you say, there is no sense in defining ourselves by what we are not - that's a way of negativity.

We need to emphasise that Unitarianism is a place where diversity, doubt, faith, love in all its glorious variety, and life are celebrated and affirmed.

It does matter whether we follow the Nicene creed or not, because most people cannot understand why the Divine should be three rather than one (or two or four or infinity), so if they say the Nicene creed without believing it, it's dishonest. I prefer the Unitarian concept of affirmations (of values).

I went to my first Unitarian service on Sunday and it was so beautiful that I cried with joy.

3:15 pm  

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