Strategic change and culture change
Actually I want to say that I think a lot of what our national Unitarian leadership is doing is absolutely right. I completely agree with what they have prioritised and most of what they're doing to get there. It is good to aim for growth. 20% growth in five years is very ambitious. It's pretty much what we're aiming for at my congregation, but aiming for it in one reasonably healthy congregation is very different from aiming for it for a complete denomination.
The EC have set out a vision, and told us where they want to be, and what changes will have to take place to get us there. Now, of course, is where the resistance to change kicks in. They need to keep communicating, communicating, communicating, as much as possible what the vision is, why we need to get there, how we will get there. They need to keep explaining to us why it's in our own best interest to get us there, how much better "there" will be.
They are doing a lot of good strategic stuff, but I think what is needed much more fundamentally is a culture change. And I fear that the strategic change will not work because we are not creating culture-change.
What culture change do we need? First and foremost we need to become more religious. We are a religion. If we're not that, then there's not really a point to us. We need to really take seriously that deepening spiritual life is our very reason for being. As my congregation's mission statement says, "our purpose is to inspire spiritual journeys."
As much as I enjoy the Annual Meetings, as much as there are things that are interesting, and as much as I very much enjoy the company of so many people there, it is not a spiritual experience. If you think it sounds strange to talk about the Annual Meetings as a spiritual experience, then my point is made. Our primary purpose in everything we do, yes, everything we do should be to find the Spirit. Until we start acting like this is the case, we will be in trouble. This is pretty much the point made my Art Lester in his Anniversary Service address in 2008. When we expect to find God in business meetings, we will have made that change.
The other change we need is a sense of urgency. The Annual Meetings still do not feel like the meeting of an organisation in crisis - at a critical time. Until we feel that sense of crisis - that realisation that this generation is when we will go extinct or come into our own - we will not have a big enough appetite for change. I think things will get considerably worse before we realise we are in that crisis.
And finally we need the culture change that sees us living for others. We need to see the purpose of our faith is to give it away (as I believe Andy Pakula has said before). I ask the question I've asked before: did Swansea know we were there? And if not, why not? The purpose of the Annual Meetings themselves should be missional. If we had all spent an afternoon picking up litter, would that not have been a better use of our time than most of what goes on at Annual Meetings? If we live for others, and not concern ourselves with institutional maintenance, then we will, ironically, become a healthy institution.
These are the things that will need to change is real change is going to happen in the Unitarian movement.