Growth and Decline
Here's the numbers:
These are membership numbers for every Unitarian church in Britain. The numbers are dropping by about 100 people a year. If we follow the graph down we will be extinct in 35 years. Seeing as I am due to retire in 38 years this is certainly somewhat worrying. And of course these kind of statistics rarely behave quite so linearly, so it's much more likely that we'd be looking at extinction in something closer to 20 years.
I'm convinced this would be a fascinating study for a religious studies academic: what does a dying denomination look like? How does it behave? Part of me approaches these figures with such morbid fascination.
Right now it's amazing to me how much denial there is. It's amazing that it takes a lone individual to simply give us these figures. I think there needs to be a frank acknowledgement that if things carry on as they are we will be dead in 20 years.
This leads to a very simple conclusion: whatever the next twenty years will hold, it will certainly hold change. The only question that remains is: what kind of change will it be?
Will the change be one of death and decline or life and growth? Or will it be the death of something and the birth of something different? Or the birth of all kinds of different things?
If there is anything of beauty, truth and goodness in Unitarianism worth preserving then it is the primary responsibility of its leaders to be agents of change.