American Unitarians are declining, British Unitarians are growing
The UU World has reported that the membership numbers of UUA congregations in the United States have fallen for the third year running. This was reported at the latest UUA Board meeting.
First (at the risk of repeating myself) I want to note that membership numbers are reported as a matter of normal business at the UUA Board, whereas I've never seen them discussed in the British Executive Committee minutes. This should be normal practice.
As these numbers aren't reported normally in the British Unitarian community I've drawn upon work that other people have done (here and here), and this year's (2010) Annual Report to look at what our trends are. Here we go:
Over six years we can see an overall picture of decline (7% by my calculations). That does not suprise me. What does suprise me is that the last two years have actually reported growth. Only very slight growth, only a little bit more than a flat line, but decline has stopped.
How do we explain this? Is it a blip? Is it just a difference in reporting? That's quite possible. With numbers this small it's hard to see a clear picture.
But in fact this might point to the fact that the Unitarian General Assembly is growing. Well, to be more accurate, I think it probably means that some congregations are growing.
Because the numbers are so small I think these numbers are probably pointing to about five congregations growing. The steady or dramatic growth of a handful of congregations is probably enough to offset the decline or stasis of 160+ congregations.
What this might mean is that the overall number might stay the same over the next five years, while the distribution of members might change dramatically. Are we heading towards fewer, but larger congregations? This might have all kinds of interesting ramifications.
But perhaps amid the decline we are seeing some signs of hope.