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Growth and Social Media Labs Engage Leaders
Growth and Social Media Labs Engage Leaders

Congregational leaders interested in topics that include growth issues, how to use new social media, worship practices, and young adult ministry have a new tool to use.

On Facebook, several Unitarian Universalists (UUs) have started separate “laboratories” for discussion of these topics. The first was the UU Growth Lab, founded by Peter Bowden, a UU growth and media consultant, in February. The lab quickly developed an active following.

“By the end of the first day around 50 people had found it and joined,” Bowden says in early July. “Now it’s over 550. That tells me people are hungry to talk about ways to grow Unitarian Universalism.”

About the same time, the Rev. Naomi King started the UU Social Media Lab, where there have been conversations about using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, and many other media. It has more than 140 members.

Discussions in the Social Media Lab have had to do with whether a congregation should minimize its use of Facebook because older members are not on it and would be left out. To which King noted, “Most of our congregations haven’t stopped serving coffee just because some people don’t like it. We use the tools of building community and know not everyone will be comfortable with or want to use those tools.”

Another person commented, “Not having something like a Facebook page because not everybody is on Facebook is like not having a youth group because not everybody is a youth.”

There are three other labs worth checking out:

  • UU Worship Lab, started by the Rev. Erik Wikstrom, who until July 1 was Worship and Music Resources director for the UUA. He is now a parish minister.
  • UU Young Adult Growth Lab, an offshoot of the UU Growth Lab. It has more than 100 members.
  • UU Spirit in Practice Lab, with discussions about various spiritual practices. It has around 50 members.

Bowden believes the UU Growth and UU Social Media labs attracted an immediate following because they permit discussions that are sometimes more immediate than email, and because people come to Facebook with a different mindset. “When people are on email they’re more focused on getting work done and less on having conversations,” he says. “They go to Facebook with a more casual attitude or when they’re just procrastinating.”

That’s why church announcements just might get read more on Facebook than on email, he believes. “And if I post a question there are people there ready and willing to offer their own insights.”

Another reason why Facebook might be a better conversation medium than email is that Facebook includes people’s faces, he notes, making it more like a conversation. “The labs themselves are very much like lounges. We’re here to experiment and play with ideas.” All of the labs are “closed,” meaning anyone can join, but the conversations stay within the labs rather than being posted to one’s Facebook page.

In the Growth Lab, Mary Andrews, the outgoing president of the UU Fellowship of Tyler, TX, wrote that she’d gotten a number of useful ideas from lab participants. “It’s wonderful to have this creative community full of people with a wide variety of expertise who are eager to network and support one another.”

The Rev. Beth Ellen Cooper-Davis, of Northwoods UU Church in The Woodlands, TX, finds the Growth Lab “a place where we can share bold or provocative ideas with other people…who are passionate about seeing our movement become more relevant to our current historical and cultural context. Being in conversation with others that share that passion is energizing…”

The Rev. Meg Riley, senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, notes, “I love having a place to share cool stuff I see and to learn what other folks are seeing and doing as well, not just within UUism but within the larger world of religion.” When Riley posed a question about whether UU congregations hosted any “creative singles ministries” she got 15 responses.

King says the Social Media lab “has directed me to where there’s energy in our movement around growth. People come up with or come across ideas in the lab and then go refine them. It’s also a place where people encourage other people to pursue ideas. We want people to come and join. If they are interested in using social media to help their congregations grow there are lots of people willing to help them.”

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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