Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wow - ambitious leadership from the Executive Committee

I just received this message on Uni News (which anyone can subscribe to, by the way) with a very strong message from the national Executive Committee of the Unitarian General Assembly:

The Executive Committee, having considered the responses of the “Difficult Choices” consultation with the wider Unitarian Movement, agreed the following strategic priorities for the work of the General Assembly. These strategic priorities set the framework for a range of innovative activities to be implemented over the next three years which will require change in many areas of our work as we focus on what makes a difference at congregational level. These are currently in development and further information will be circulated when the plans are finalised.

General Assembly Strategic Priorities
Our Goal: Sustainable and thriving Unitarian and Free Christian communities.
Our Aims: To benefit our communities by:
• encouraging and supporting leadership at local level
• developing Ministry within the denomination
• raising the visibility of the Unitarian movement
• improving the services to the movement provided by staff and volunteers
Our Objective: over the next five years is to become a thriving and increasingly visible liberal religious community throughout Great Britain.
• We will increase our membership by 20%
• We will increase the number of qualified and active Ministers to at least fifty
• We will ensure that all Unitarian congregations can have access to professional Ministerial or recognised lay leadership and support
• We will ensure that all volunteers have access to training and support

This is the most ambitious thing the Executive Committee has ever come out with. It's really good to set actual testable goals, and I've been asking them to do this for a while. The next question of course is how do you actually get 50 active ministers and 20% growth? What are the actions that try to achieve these objectives? These are good questions to ask.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Church do's and don'ts - from Michael Durrall

I thought this was worth re-posting from the UU Growth Blog.

It's by Michael Durrall. If you haven't read his books, The Almost Church, and the Almost Church Revitalized, read them. Just read them, you must.

I. Things churches should do

Once and For All, Get Serious About Your Congregation’s Purpose. Seeking beauty and truth doesn’t cut it. Church is more important than that.

Finding Capable Leaders is Worth the Time and Effort. Church leaders create a congregation in their own image, for better or worse.

Create a Growing, Healthy Church. The #1 way to accomplish this is to raise the expectations of membership.

Your Church May Not Be For Everyone. If potential new members don’t agree with your expectations, this is not their church. Uncommitted souls drag a church down.

Identify Unmet Needs In Your Community. You don’t have to look far to find someone who needs a helping hand.

Touch People’s Hearts and Souls. People don’t always act for rational reasons.

Don’t Settle for Less. Going to church means we are not satisfied with the fern-bar quality of contemporary life.

Evangelism Could Be Fun If Your Church is Worth Talking About. Don’t want to talk about your church with others? Maybe it’s because there’s little to say.

Develop a Sense of Urgency. When the devil hired a representative to do his work on earth, he hired the one who said, “I will tell people there is no hurry.”

Everyone’s a greeter. If first-time visitors experience loneliness, a very common occurrence, they won’t return for a repeat performance.

Ask new members to reach the 5-10 percent giving level. Why not? They may say OK. Actually, all members should be asked to do this.

Give away the Sunday offering and 5-10 percent of the operating budget to outreach beyond your own four walls. Not a single person should say your church can’t afford it.

II. Things churches should not do

Don’t allow too many laypeople in the Sunday service. Sunday morning cannot be amateur hour.

The quality goes in before the invitation goes out.

Don’t sit around and wait until new people show up. Reach out to cohorts, such as single-parent families, or those recently divorced or widowed.

Church shouldn’t be just one more thing on the calendar. Church is not akin to a kid’s soccer game.

Don’t let the same people run the church for years on end. Even though they will try to.

Don’t perpetuate the past. Most churches appeal to those born before 1955.

Don’t try to keep malcontents happy. An unhappy person can remain unhappy for a very long time.

Don’t let uninvolved members make major decisions by forcing congregational votes. Keep membership roles current.

Don’t form unnecessary committees. The fewer, the better.

Don’t let members hold the congregation hostage by threatening to withhold pledges. Enough said here.

Don’t tell people a job will be easy and doesn’t require much time or effort. Especially true of key leadership roles.

Don’t take excessive money from endowments or income-producing properties to supplement the operating budget. This creates an uninvolved, low-pledging congregation.

Don’t keep pledge records secret. The ministers, board chair, and stewardship committee members should have the pledge records. The higher the secrecy, the lower the level of giving work.

Visit Michael Durall online at and

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why is British Unitarianism in decline?

In a comment on the last post, Joseph said we should be asking the question of why British Unitarinaism is in decline.

So here goes:

First and foremost Unitarianism is in decline because religion in Britain is in decline. For whatever reason (and plenty of people are thinking about this) active adherence to religious institutions has been dropping for a very long time. Immigration reverses this trend in some areas (most church-goers in London are non-white for example). But overall the trend is the same. Brits have rejected religion.

But I don't see this as an entirely bad thing. Many people in the past were religious purely because of social momentum. They did what everyone else did. This doesn't mean it meant that much to them.

For example 60 years ago my church was much bigger. It was an incredibly active place. However, this was largely because the church was the centre of people's social lives. You didn't go to a club on Saturday night, you went to a dance in the church hall. Our old and huge Sunday School building (now demolised) was a place for dances, amateur dramatics, a gymnasium and every kind of social activity. It was where people hung out with their friends. It was where people went on dates.

It's hard to say any of these are bad things. But how much do they have to do with the primary purpose of a church, to create spiritually mature people and build the beloved community? Not a lot. If people's lifestyles mean they don't need to have a social life invested in the church anymore, then fine. Stuff changes.

Secondly Unitarianism is in decline because it is isolated from the Christian community. Please note that I am not saying we are in decline because we're not Christian enough anymore. What I'm saying is that sources of renewal in Christianity have not touched Unitarianism. I've already mentioned immigration. That is having a huge effect on many different denominations, and offering some boosting in terms of numbers and energy.

But not only that but things like charismatic renewal that have had an effect on many churches, not simply Evangelical churches but also even the Catholic church. Charismatic worship, and other worship innovations, new songs, new instruments, new technologies have offered lots of places for renewal in mainstream churches. This has not touched Unitarianism. I'm not giving a value-judgement to that. I'm just saying the fact is a lot of mainstream churches that do this kind of thing are growing, against the trend of denominational decline.

Thirdly Unitarianism is in decline because it has no institutional memory of church planting. Almost of all of our churches existed before Unitarianism. They were independent Protestant dissenting chapels that converted to Unitarianism. So churches for us were things that were always just there. We still have no real concept of how to start a church. It's pretty inconceivable to us.

This is true of most British denominations still. In America as the country expanded to the west you had to plant new churches otherwise there would be no churches where lots of people were living. In Britain, with a parish-christendom mindset we tend to think of churches as eternal things; things that have always been there and always will be there.

But church planting is the most reliable way to grow a denomination.

Fourthly Unitarianism is in decline because we are still producing pastors not missionaries. In ministry training there is an assumption of a maintenance way of doing ministry. Such a way of doing ministry may have worked in the past but today it is likely to produce the result of a declining congregation. Ministry training needs to equip ministers to be missionaries, either in the business of starting up new ministries and congregations, or in the business of managing institutional change to make congregations into missional communities.

Fifthly Unitarianism is in decline because it has no theology of evangelism. We have no understanding of an urgent gospel message. We largely do not accept that the purpose of a religious community is change/metanoia/transformation of people and the world. We do not say, "here is a coherent way of life, a way of being in the world, an ultimate concern that will give your life meaning and purpose." We struggle to answer the question of what difference becoming a Unitarian will make to people's lives.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

173 Congregations

This is the time of the year that I receive my copy of the Unitarian General Assembly Directory. I usually do a bit of comparing and number-crunching as I read through the new directory.

The most significant thing is the number of Unitarian congregations. Although you would have thought this kind of thing is what would be included in the General Assembly Annual Report, and discussed at the Annual Meetings, it's actually in the Directory that you get a clearer picture of the health of the Unitarian community.

So 2010-2011 Directory tells me that there are 173 member congregations in Great Britain. This is down 2 from last year. And trawling through the pages you can work out that Bournemouth Unitarian Church has died in the last year, as well as Exeter Unitarian Fellowship.

I've only been getting directories for five years but I can tell you that in five years 8 Unitarian congregations have died.

I'm not prepared to say "this is a terrible thing, we should do all we can to make sure no more close down" because I'm not sure that's a good use of national resources. If a congregation's within 5 years of dying, then I'm not sure it's a good use of resources to try to extend that life. The question is what congregations could survive, grow, and prosper if they received appropriate support? And which ones need to be left to slip away?

And when do we consider the possibility of starting new congregations?