How many congregations are emerging?

I’m going to take a couple of days to consider the issue of congregational growth in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

So I asked myself: How many emerging congregations — organizations in formation and those (once covenanted) that plan to join the Unitarian Universalist Association — are there? Their number is a good indicator of the UUA’s growth prospects. I’ve heard that 5% per year growth is desirable, but I don’t recall where I heard that and besides, it reminds me a bit of the unsustainable growth economy we know all too well in the United States. (When the Southern Baptists have a drop in baptisms, you know something’s up.) Even so, you need to grow a bit just to make up for the congregations that disband, disassociate and consolidate.

So what’s the number? 41, or about 4%. If all emerging congregations became members within a year, but that’s hardly the case. Some have been “emerging” for several years, and I have to wonder if there’s a time where a congregation is mature enough (whatever its size) to be admitted. Or they should affiliate with the regional district and be done with it.

Or if there’s a lack of fostering and a want of resources to get over the hump with enough speed to fend off fatigue. That’s not a hypothetical idea. When combing the roster for emerging congregations, I noticed two omissions. Not emerging, not members. Gone.

I’ll go back over the last three years of Board of Trustees minutes to see what the congregational growth rate is, and how it compares with growth in individual members.

8 Replies to “How many congregations are emerging?”

  1. I am working with a new/soon to be “emerging” congregation in Frankfort Kentucky.
    We will be seeking “emerging status” as soon as the paperwork is completed.
    Excitement, participation, and energy are high…. but support? I was discouraged by the DE at the time I first suggested it with the brusque comment: “You know there’s no money.” The current DE (interim) while more supportive on paper, has been hard to reach and has not (yet) visited; and my congregation (which SHOULD be the “parent” church)? Underwhelmed. Detached. Ranging from, “you go, girl!” to “what about us??” The most & best support we have had has been from our District extension minister, who came twice and led identity workshops. All this is to say that there are probably dozens of potential congregations “out there” (I know I could start two more if I had the time & some support) but who is going to start them?? They need professional leadership by competent ministers. I am taking my own time to do this and being very cautious not to “use” much of the time I give to the congregation that’s paying me. If this is the way it is everywhere, no wonder UU ism is stagnant. Too bad!!

  2. I’m in the same district as Cynthia. I used to be on the district extension committee. I left that committee in 2004 when it became clear that this was a committee that was going nowhere. They were overconcerned with hammering out the perfect “new church policy” (I think they wanted something impossible, a foolproof model), and with trying to get into the UUA’s mega-church planting program. There was no interest in fundraising for new plants, and many members of the committee were openly hostile to small, new church plants (in the spirit of the Fellowship Movement). It doesn’t suprise me Cynthia got almost no support for the new congregation in Frankfort, KY.

    I know in the Heartland District we’ve lost potential new congregations in Warsaw, IN and Murray, KY due in part to a lack of extension efforts. The congregation in Petoskey, MI has been “emerging” for over 10 years now.

    I remember, in 2003, attending a church planting workshop sponsored by the Church of the Brethren’s Bethany Theological School. They said, based on a 50 year study of United Methodism in the Carolinas, that a good sign of denominational health is when 25% of your congregations are younger than 30 years old. The UMC only achieved this in North Carolina by being open to multiple models of church planting, and an open-ness to a wide diversity of new church sizes.

  3. For those who are interested, the very small denomination known as the General Convention of Swedenborgian Churches (liberal Christians with a modified small-u universalist theology) have done some suprising church planting in the last year. Even though they have only 35 churches in all of the United States and Canada; they now have 3 new church plants in progress: Worcester, MA; Lansing, MI; and Silver City, NM. If they can do this work, so can we in the UUA. Almost 10% of their churches are new plants. We would need to be planting around 100 right now, to be engaged in equivalent outreach and growth.

  4. We’ve been emerging for about 7 years or more now. And since you have to have 30 members, we wont be affiliating anytime soon. I took over “leadership” about 3 years ago. For what I hear, we’ve never had anyone from the district come by to see us. Only one phone call in the past 5 years – we’ve never had an UU minister to give a talk (came close but the Rev who gives a small congregation discount moved overseas).
    We started off well – with a husband and wife team who had the energy, time, and connections. But they had to move away (and our loss is another UU emerging congregations gain) . We do have a representative at our 3 hour away cluster meeting.

    Scott, I’m not signing my real name in the required name field, you know who I am, feel free to delete this if it violates policy. I don’t want to wave my finger at the district (since our new DE, we do get the same memos the “real” congregations get, and a directory of congregations. since we don’t pay a dime, I’m grateful we get that).

  5. @Anonymous. No violation as far as I’m concerned since you revealed your identity to me privately. And before anyone starts guessing who the writer is understand I’ve been talking with people about evangelism for years so have plenty of contacts.

    As to his or her comments, I think it speaks to a serious, systemic problem.

  6. Color me annoyed and frustrated.

    We’ve “no money” to support emerging, self-starting congregations–and have poured millions into startup projects that had no grassroots… with not one significant success that I can recall. Not one.

    TPTB recoil from the fellowship movement… which created almost a third of the congregations we have today… with very little support and very little money. Good god, what we might do if we could offer a little support and a little money to the congregations that sprout up on their own. But they might be cranky, and irascible and… dammit, they might be a lot like other UUs.

    Serious, systemic problem? You think?

  7. To Anonymous: You might want to hook up with another district. If you are on the edge of a district it might be more convenient to ask to be served by the DE nearby. This has happened in other areas of the country. Perhaps your congregation is too far away for your district office to service and this needs to be pointed out.

    Have you invited your DE to visit your congregation? This is a two-way street. Congregations have to request help and the district is accountable for helping them when such is requested. If you have not received the services that you think you are entitled to then do complain to the district board of trustees. If they are alert then they will talk to the DE about it.

    By all means, do not let anyone ignore your emerging congregation!

  8. @Patrick. You’re right, of course. The funny bit is how “fellowship” survives as a concept among emerging congregations, in spite of institutional denunciation.

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