New congregations within the Unitarian Universalist (UU) movement are those that are in the early stages of development. Emerging Congregations are new congregations that have been recognized by their district of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) as "emerging" and are actively working toward becoming a member congregation of the UUA.
Starting a congregation is both a grand adventure and a huge amount of work. It takes a great deal of faith, determination, and willingness to improvise as much as is needed to get a congregation off the ground. Many resources need to be adapted to fit with the unique circumstance of each new congregation. The best help with this adaptation is a person who can see your group objectively and who also cares that it grows healthily. You are strongly encouraged to find coaches to assist you with adaptation and improvising of existing resources. Coaches can come either from the district or from a neighboring congregation, or both. This will help ground your congregation in a more widely-shared Unitarian Universalist reality, as well as save you from“reinventing the wheel” by using the experience of dedicated others.
Congregations come into being through the visions of many people. Those who start Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations must share their visions with others and—as the congregation grows—be willing to expand their visions to include the visions of those who may not be just like them, or think the same way, but who also care deeply that the UU congregation comes to life in their community. These will be the congregation's charter, or founding, members. The New Congregation Development Manual gives an overview of the process of starting a congregation. The process will vary in each case, from congregation to congregation, but some key elements will be similar.
Early on in their development, new congregations—or those few individuals who plan to start one—need to contact the appropriate district office. The district office has UUA staff members who can help with advice, funding options, planning, support, partner congregations, coaches, and more. A congregation cannot become a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association without the support of the district. It is a necessary part of the process of applying for membership.
The district office to contact is the one in which the new congregation appears to be located according to a map which shows the UUA's districts. In the event that a new congregation is located between districts, it is best to contact the relevant offices, explain the situation, and check with them. An emerging congregation may have connections to another larger, established congregation or to an urban area, which would help them decide which district to contact, if they are in a district border area.
New and emerging congregations will grow through engaging in a variety of activities. Feeling excitement along with a little anxiety about this enterprise is both normal and necessary. Generating contagious excitement about the congregation among your core planning group and among new people is vital. A new congregation is, in some ways, like a new business and requires a lot of energy and time in order to come to life. Talk with your congregation's coach, or someone who has started a new congregation, about the early stages of growth.
The early process of starting up is important and it can be helpful to talk with someone else who has been through it. Your district staff can refer you to someone who can give their experience in starting a congregation.
Somewhere between 9 and 18 months into the start-up, when the congregation has gathered and held its first public worship service and maybe even held its charter service, it will begin to determine what ministries, or programs, to offer to the public and its membership. New congregations that want to grow and serve their community will be vibrant and relevant. The new religious community will be making connections with what is happening in the circles of community surrounding it. Being connected to and involved in your community is a proven path to growth.
Here are some starting points for new and emerging congregations that have reached the stage of wishing to develop ministries . Also, provided along with resources, is contact information of UU program specialists to encourage discussions on implementing these programs. Make use of the specialists’ coaching, in areas the congregation wants to cultivate, in preparation for offering these ministries to members and the public.
For more information contact growthresources @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Monday, May 14, 2012.
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