Monday, April 18, 2011

Strategic change and culture change

I was very tempted to call this post "Why the Unitarian Executive Committee's growth strategy will fail" but I don't want to be quite that negative.

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.


Blogger RevNaomi said...

Real growth in communities always means cultural change. As we grow, we change the lives of those who join us, and we are changed by the people who join us.

Our communities can't employ too many practices of embracing a bigger mission than self-comfort, and we need stuff that helps us embrace transformation -- our own as well as that in the wider world. What practices for spiritual strengthening & resilience will engage the communities? How shall we become more faithful and able to risk faithfully together?

12:55 pm  
Anonymous Angela @ said...

The meetings need more worship. I mean, the quiet room practically received a standing ovation - this kind of thing is needed.

And yes, the problem is that in 30 years time there will be about 3 people alternating the presidency at an annual meeting of around 6. Because for each young person (under 40!) involved at the national level, there are probably 0 others involved locally.

8:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen! When it comes to growth - you are what you eat (i.e. you become the people you attract) We need to be actively attracting the kind of people who want to find the Spirit during business meetings, who want to give people the Love of God in their words and actions. We obviously don't have these people yet, but we have to fight until we reach that tipping point and then I have complete faith that growth will happen naturally. People move to where the Spirit is moving.

11:53 pm  
Blogger Andrew Bethune said...

Please don't get too gloomy, Stephen.

We will never get 'there' - we will always be 'here' and the 'there' we think we may be heading for keeps shifting - a bit like those stairways in Hogwarts Castle.

There were many very spiritual moments at GA, and even a few in the big business meetings!

Just think of the moment when Danny burst into song during the opening worship; think of the video clip of our volunteers; the videos of our young people; when our new congregation at Bangor was welcomed into the fellowship and Neville had to dab his eyes with his handkerchief; Ann's story about the monks and the rabbi. Those were spiritual moments.

Outside of the big meetings there was plenty of spirituality.
David Usher's comment that growth is a matter of the heart - about generating a vision for and with your congregation - inspired me.
There is no formula, no tick list, no EC plan that will bring growth about.

It's up to us to think and act and create together. We have to reflect on the how our Unitarian way has changed our lives. We have to think how we want to express our spiritual life - I mean, not just continuing doing the same old things. Be inspired by our young people and their imagination. Try things out. Look outside our movement for ideas.

2:44 pm  

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