Are three churches too many?

I can imagine when, mentioning that I’m planning a third Unitarian Universalist church — specifically a second Universalist Christian one — in the District of Columbia there’s some agita about whether there’s room in the environment. And where in D.C. it would be?

After all, I got the same questions in a slightly different form when I pastored Universalist National Memorial Church (UNMC) which is on the same street and a short bus ride (a long stroll really) from All Souls, Unitarian.

And I live about as far from UNMC on the other side today, and would want to plan a neighborhood, pedestrian- and transit-oriented church.

Would that work? I think so. The reason? Population density.

This is a map based on 2000 Census data. See the dark green C-shaped mass in the middle. This includes All Souls (towards the top), UNMC (the middle) and my neighborhood (the bottom). Capitol Hill, floated as another option (and far less attractive to me), is the moss-colored area to the right.

In the dark green area, population densities range from almost 30,000 to 60,000 persons per square mile. I think there’s room for a third church. Indeed, I think I’ve chosen well for my purpose.

7 Replies to “Are three churches too many?”

  1. I was sick yesterday, so I spent my time huddled between naps on the computer, looking at old Universalist Chruches in Georgia. I was impressed how in 1890s-1900s, there were about 5 Churches in a 20 mile radius in Georgia.
    Stop for a second – who but an UU would be impressed by that?
    How many Baptist, Methodist, etc churches are there in that same area?
    In my rural town, we have 22 Baptist, 2 Independent Baptist, 10 Southern Baptists, 11 United Methodist, 1 Methodist, 1 Southern Methodist — plus 22 other denominational listings (for about 44 more). and having three Washington DC UU Churches is too many???? I admit that if I were on the board of the other two, I might have some concerns – but to be honest, isnt DC big enough for one more church? Sure it is. and if you do well, the other two churches might get some of the overflow πŸ˜‰

  2. I assume you will affiliate with the UUA. If you don’t people will think you are conservative, like the AUC people.

  3. Affiliation with the UUA is the plan. With respect to the AUC, I’d be less worried about looking conservative than phantasmal. Plus, not to draw too fine a line, the AUC is Unitarian. I’m a Universalist.

  4. Which means you’re definitely Christian, right? And…trinitarian, is that correct?


    I wish there was a Universalist church here in Orlando. There’s a UU one, but no Universalist one.

  5. You might want to talk to Alma Crawford or Karen Hutt about a new Christian church start up within the UUA. They started the Church of the Open Door in Chicago (which has joint UUA/UCC affiliation) for the liberal Christian African American LGBT community. They might be able to tell you how the UUA helped and/or hindered their progress. They might also have a few pointers generally.

  6. “If you don’t people will think you are conservative, like the AUC people.”

    AUC people aren’t “conservative;” membership includes individuals who are conservative, liberal, moderate, independent, Republican, Democrat, socialist, libertarian…

    Scott I think this is a fascinating idea, and I wish you the very best. I am confident that you will have enough interest for a third church.

  7. Scott, belated response here but another voice saying amen and go for it, of course, and you know three isn’t too many–for one thing there’s the whole “cannibalistic” marketing thing ala Starbucks on three of four city corners, precisely because as you mention different densities and patterns; and two, the number of a churches in a denomination in an area has got to be one of the lowest things on a planters mind, and the whole old UUA worry about turf and 30 miles distance and all was crazy, and finally I think it is the reverse–the more you can group and bounce off one another the more it will help raise visibility, and (though of course I am doing something of the opposite right now where I am in Tulsa) generally progressive areas can stand a lot more progressive church starts, especially missional ones (and by missional I don’t mean just the kind of community ministry mission we are involved with here; even a worship focus start can be missional). I don’t do much playing up anymore of either of the U’s, but when I do it is the Universalist; here it is about 50-50 with half of the folks linking me with Carlton and half with All Souls πŸ™‚ so not only is everything local but even local everything will be a bit loco.

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