The UU Growth Lab on “Why congregations need to grow”

Thinking with Arrows (C) iStockphotoIn the lab a member raised the question, “Why do congregations need to grow? Why is growth and outreach necessary?”   We posed this as our first weekly public blog post challenge.  Here’s how it works.  We post the question and members share thoughts for inclusion in this public blog post.  By default comments are only attributed to “lab member” though members are invited to opt-in to include names.  The following responses are listed in order of submission.

Why do congregations need to grow?  Why is growth and outreach necessary?

Numerical growth is an indicator of our impact on people’s lives and our communities. The more meaningful and relevant our ministry, the more deeper our engagement, the greater the trend toward growth.  Our work and ministry is about people and lives changed, the numbers are a great indicator of whether that work and ministry is making a difference.  — Peter Bowden

Growth also invites us into being bolder and better community partners, learn to live better with and love sacrificing for that greater mission, and grows our own hearts in surprising ways. — Rev. Naomi King

Growth, by the name alone, means an introduction of new ideas, new ways of thinking, and the ability to do as a larger group what individuals or smaller groups are unable to accomplish. — Lab Member

We need more people to change the world. We have such great ideas for justice, but we’re just a blip on the RADAR. If we have more people to stand with us in our message, the bigger the impact we’ll have. It’s also our moral duty – we found a home here, why shouldn’t we let other find their homes with us too? — Tim Atkins, Atlanta

I serve one of the seven remaining congregations founded as Universalist in Pennsylvania – out of over 75. We are the only one remaining in the entire southwestern quadrant of the state. We serve a large rural area of largely lower income…, slightly conservative, folk with less than average higher education and limited employment opportunities. We have 20 or so dedicated friends and members and are currently eating what little endowment is left to survive. We MUST grow…or die. And, we MUST NOT let these churches die. I believe we have a spiritual duty to reach out to people, now more than ever, searching for a religious home and the saving message – particularly the loving and hopeful Universalist component of that message – we can offer. The internet is IMO our only hope for low cost and effective outreach. — Jeff Liebmann, Consulting Minister, UU Congregation of Smithton PA

We must be willing to take a risk, and have the courage to shape the world with ‘our’ vision, or it will be shaped by other’s visions. — Lab Member

To be a visible part of the larger community (by having a building that is a community center, is easy to find, housing a congegation large enough to be known for their good work). So many times I have heard things like “I’ve lived around here for 20 years and I didn’t know this church was here” or “I wish I would have known about you sooner.” — Lab Member

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in “Toward the Future” p. 126 says in a chapter entitled “Reflections on Happiness”, “become conscious of our living solidarity with one great Thing, and then do the smallest thing in a great way. We must add one… stitch, no matter how small it be, to the magnificent tapestry of life; we must discern the Immense which is building up and whose magnetic pull is exerted at the very heart of our own humblest activities and at their term; we must discern it and cling to it – when all is said and done, that is the great secret of happiness. As one of the most acute, and most materialist thinkers of modern England, Bertrand Russell, has put it: it is in a deep and instinctive union with the whole current of life that the greatest of all joys is to be found.” — Lab Member

What form growth takes is always to be discovered, but if growing means contributing to the great unfolding mystery, grow we must. — Lab Member

Why grow? Because people lead happier and healthier lives in happier and more just communities when they orient themselves toward the values of liberal religion — honesty, humility, community, reverence, service, openness. — Lab Member

We can be a model of the world we dream about. We can be an influence to the larger community & world. Change is inevitable – our individual lives & our society – we have to grow & change just to keep up, but we can do so much more. — Lab Member

Because we want to share the joy we’ve discovered in religious community. Because we remember how it felt to be without religious community. Because research shows that more and more people do not have a spiritual home, and that breaks our hearts. Because we know that religious community empowers us to “be the change,” and we want to share that power source with others.  –Heather Christensen

I would contend that growth via net increases in numbers is as important as growth via ever-deepening fulfillment of our own beliefs. 500,000 UUs is a nice number. 500,000 enthusiastic UUs with the “Fire of Commitment” is downright awesome. — Lab Member

I think I failed to answer the question, though. Why grow? Our principles create value in our lives. My congregation’s mission of “Seeking Truth, Building Just Communities, and Caring for One Another” creates spiritual, moral, ethical, a…nd personal value for me. The more we interact with those that fulfill our principles and missions, there are multiplier effects to making ourselves and the world a place and a life worth living. The world can be a cruel, unjust place, and we’ve asked for 10,000 years “What is the meaning of life?” The Association, the congregations, the principles, the sources, the strategies toward action, the people, their beliefs, the common wealth we create through principled faith, reason, action, hope, and love – it’s too valuable. It’s downright priceless. — Lab Member

My knee-jerk reaction to the question is a gut-wrenching “in order to survive,” but I realize that’s negative thinking. So I tell myself instead “in order to share with others our spiritual community and our liberal religion.” — Lab Member

Why must we survive? To combat the rise of Fundamentalism. To bless the lives of those rejected by society. To teach liberal religious sunday school. To fight for justice. To give an Atheist his/her last rights on their death bed. To challenge theistic doctrines. To raise funds for non profits. To preach the love of God. To challenge the exsistence of God. To give a safe haven to heretics. To show that love, above all else is what matters in life. WE HAVE TO SURVIVE!  — Lab Member

[one of the comments above] is more tapping into my gut response: which is to truly change the world around us today might mean growing smaller but more committed, especially in the foreseeable future; good chapter by this name, growing smaller to change the world, in Shane Claiborne’s first book The Irresistible Revolution. — Lab Member

What wonderful and diverse comments! We must grow (not only in numbers but in our ability to nurture deep meaning in people’s lives) because the world needs what Unitarian Universalism offers- a voice for peace and justice, for diversity, for the inherent worth and dignity of all, and for the importance of being planetary stewards. — Lab Member

I actually think the more we keep talking about growth in terms of number of members, amounts of money, and numbers of programs, we are doomed to close the doors on lots of our congregations and eventually the association as a whole. I agree with Ron. We need to talk about how many people are churches are serving, not how many people are in our church services. When each congregation can go out in its community and As “X UU Church is known as the Church that_____” and get resounding answer from 8 out of 10 people at random to the tune of “They are the people that (pick one or create your own: feed the homeless, work for immigration, save the environment, stop hydrofracking,)” then we won’t have to worry about growth. — Lab Member

We don’t want to grow, per se. We want to help people touch the holy in themselves, in a community of support and outreach. When people see how that has changed us, and how we change the world around us, many will want to join us. Growth comes from our own depth, authenticity and outreach. So, I want to grow because it will mean we have succeeded in those things. — Vance Bass

Why do congregations need to grow?
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