Growth Brings Changes And Lots of Challenges
When the UU Church, Eugene, OR (214 members), started holding two Sunday services to relieve overcrowding, the reaction was mixed. Most people felt that the change, although it upset familiar routines, was necessary for growth to occur, says Martha Osgood of the membership committee.
But for some, change brought resentment about missing friends and fear of the growth to come. One person dropped out briefly. Over a year later, some are still upset, says Osgood.
Osgood says she was surprised at her own reaction at how much she missed people. She is responding by calling or writing to people more, by sticking around for the coffee hour between services, and by starting a drop-in coffee group called the Thundereggs (named for the Oregon state rock). Osgood even finds herself looking forward to committee meetings a little more "because I'll see more of the folks I love."
At the UU Church, Reston, VA (268), when board meetings got too long, the board responded by giving more authority to its Leadership Council, composed of committee heads. Formerly limited to an annual meeting to plan the church calendar, the new council now carries out church programs. The board kept responsibility for policy, personnel, and the budget, says President Mel Harkrader-Pine.
Growth requires change, says the Rev. Lawrence Palmieri Peers, Director of Education and Research in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Department of Congregational, District, and Extension Services. That can mean changing how you welcome newcomers, relate to the surrounding community, plan programs, and worship. Develop a growth plan, he says.
Peers reminds us the most effective way to grow is to invite friends, neighbors, and coworkers to church. Surveys show that the highest percentage of visitors come because someone invited them. But he also notes that many UUs say they're reluctant to invite friends because the programming at their church or fellowship is so irregular they're never sure what might happen.
Peers advises congregations to improve their programming before reaching out to new members. In addition, it helps if members can explain their religion to newcomers. That might mean holding adult education classes on Unitarian Universalism.
Make sure visitors are greeted sincerely. "When someone comes to church it's often because of a crisis or a move to a new community, and they need to interact in a meaningful way or they go somewhere else," says Peers.
The UUA's Department of Congregational Services offers two growth-related weekend workshops for congregational teams: Planning for Growth Workshop for Mid-Size churches (150 to 500 members) and Sharing Our UU Faith, helping UUs talk about their faith. For information contact your district office or Congregational Services.
The UUA Continental Conference for Midsize Churches will be March 2-5, 2000, in Atlanta, GA. Brochures will be available by July at district offices and on the UUA website.
The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations, Alice Mann, Alban Institute, 1998.$11.25 #7734 UUA Bookstore (800) 215-9076
Discerning Your Congregation's Future, Bob Friedrich and Roy Oswald, Alban Institute, 1996. $18.25 #7016 UUA Bookstore (800) 215-9076