General Assembly 2008 Event 3042
Watch Listening to Experience (Flash)
Presenters: Rev. Harlan Limpert, Director of District Services for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA); Rev. Thom Belote, minister of Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church in Overland Park, Kansas.
Rev. Limpert began by asking those assembled to try a quick quiz: guess the current adult membership of the UUA, the average annual growth rate of the UUA over twenty years, the number of new members per congregation added each year, and the number of congregations that make up 25 percent of total UUA membership. Nobody in the room was able to answer all four closely, though Limpert still awarded the promised Chevy Corvette and Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible, both conveniently sized for carrying home on an airplane.
He also compared UU growth (about 1 percent per year over 20 years) with recent figures of "other mainline denominations" including the United Methodists (down 1 percent), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (down 1.6 percent), Presbyterians (down 2.4 percent), and Episcopalians (down 4.2 percent). He reminded participants that, divided among 1,047 UU congregations, the average 1 percent growth rate means that some congregations grew and some got smaller. And the average growth rate of sixteen congregations identified by the UUA as "breakthrough congregations" because they’d been able to break through barriers to growth and begin to grow more quickly? They grew by 52 percent total over 10 years.
Limpert described a meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, in November 2007, with 12 ministers meeting with Rev. Alice Mann of the Alban Institute and observed by the members of the UUA Growth Team. Rev. Thom Belote described his own experience as a participant, and as minister of one of the fast-growing congregations, Shawnee Mission UU Church. He described how, at this meeting, those participating identified some common threads of what had helped with their growth—though he cautioned that there is "no magical secret." Excerpts from these conversations in 2007 have been provided via video, either as a DVD that can be ordered or as online videos (see Listening to Experience: DVD and Windows Media).
Belote then summarized those common threads the ministers identified:
This formal presentation was followed by two minutes of silence, in which participants were asked to identify one thing that they would do in their congregations, inspired by the presentation. Participants were then asked to come to the microphone individually and share their commitments to action.
Reported by Jone Johnson Lewis, edited by Dana Dwinell-Yardley
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Last updated on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.
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