Supporting New Models of Doing Church: A Vision Statement of the UUA's Multisite Support Team
Impact and covenant are enhanced by interdependance. Our Unitarian Universalist (UU) belief in the power of interdependence has not influenced our models of church as fully as it can. Multiple congregations sharing programing, vision and staff is a needed tool as Unitarian Universalism prepares for the increasingly challenging economics of “doing church.” More importantly, multisite networks allow us to embody our commitment to covenantal connection and our theology of interdependence more deeply.
The rise of multi-site networks challenges us to rethink all of our systems. A thriving network of multisite congregations requires us to enhance how we prepare, settle and support professional staff. Thus our seminaries, settlement system, fellowshipping process and continuing education programming will need to change in significant and coordinated ways. While this effort is beginning within the Congregational Life Department of the Unitarian Universalist Associatioon (UUA), soon other departments and UUA partners will need to be engaged.
Many models and paths are needed…as well as humility. Effective multisite relationships take into account the unique “DNA” of the congregations involved as well as their unique contexts and cultures. Models of existing multisites provide insights; they are not meant to be imitated. While we expect multisite to be a broadly applicable strategy, the form of each multisite needs to be carefully chosen on the basis of deep local knowledge. Multisite can work in a wide variety of settings and with all sizes of congregations. At the same time, multisite is not right for every congregation. Successful support of multisite efforts requires that we articulate not only when a multisite strategy can work well but also when one would recommend against using it.
The best wisdom is yet to be found. Again, models of existing multisites provide insights; they are not meant to be imitated. Our best insights will emerge as various partnerships share their learnings with each other. Believing that grace and wisdom arise from creative interchange, we will strive to facilitate an exchange of ideas rather than the promotion of particular programs.
We see dozens of multisite networks emerging in the next ten years. These will take various forms: satellite campuses, existing congregations “yoking” together, mergers, networked congregations keeping their own budgets and boards but sharing staff and programming, larger and smaller congregations partnering, numerous smaller partnering, virtual church, etc. These congregations will not be satisfied with simply sharing a couple of staff members for efficiency sake. Rather they will be leaders of our movement striving to deepen the architecture of our interdependence. They will combine staff and coordinate programing with the goal of sharing “congregational DNA.” Some will even seek to become “one church in many locations.” They will see those they serve, not just as the members already in the pews, but as the entire region in which they live.
To achieve this vision, systemic change will need to occur throughout our movement, involving not only our Congregational Life Department, but also our seminaries, settlement system, fellowshipping process and continuing education programming. This systemic change will take place over the next ten years.
By the summer of 2015, this comprehensive network of support will include programming such as: learning circles, online material sharing systems, a centralized online “hub” to house and connect all UU multisite efforts, a Congregational Life Multisite Consultant Team, a pilot program for 4-6 “emerging” multisite communities, on-going workshop & conference opportunities, and mentor & accountability relationships.