Tuesday, August 07, 2007

UUism: A Place Where You Can Explore Your Beliefs Ad (?)

It used to be that in the Dallas Morning News religion section (the greatest in newspapers, I believe, btw, speaking also as a former journalist) the North Texas UU churches would run an ad that listed all the churches in the area, small type, with address, etc. and a quote from one of the famous UU types. It seemed a bit schizophrenic in that the quote might be seeker-driven but then the local church contact info was more for those in the know (in case you are a UU visiting the area for example or had moved to the area ala churched culture days), and didn't capture the wide variety of the UU churches listed (how could you?). This past Saturday I was reading the paper and noticed the ad had been changed, overall for the better I was thinking, as it listed the website where all the previous info on churches and the church websites etc. could be accessed if you were interested. If you are interested, which is the rub.

But what got me thinking about this ad was that it mostly said in its largest type, paraphrasing I think to the effect, UUism--A Place Where You Can Explore Your Beliefs. My first thoughts was that if that is what our churches see as our mission, and I think it might be a fair description indeed, then we are done for. I was thinking looking at the ad that if I want to explore my beliefs, particularly if I am under 60 or 70, going to a church even a UU church is likely to be one of the last places on my mind. I was thinking: I will go instead to the internet, to radio and tv shows, even to print media, to the bar with some of my friends, even to the library, maybe take a class at a local community college. And I am not sure that being around other people who are interested in exploring their religious beliefs is really all that attractive either.

Speaking out of the missional incarnation vs. attraction mode, the problem is that such ads (and such churches where it is reflective of them) accentuates or connotes, to me at least, many things out of step with growing numbers of people hungry for mission and relationship--it emphasizes 1.) a place/organization, 2.) an intellectual mental proposition understanding of faith, and 3.) a kind of community enterprise that seems light on community bonds and heavy on the individual pursuit.

Type rest of the post here

9 comments:

Jaume said...

Actually, if you are a Christian and want to explore your beliefs, you should go to a church or to a Christian college, if you are a Pagan you should go to your local coven or circle, etc. Why would anyone want to go to a UU church to explore their beliefs? It is likely that nobody (including the minister) will ever speak about them!

hafidha sofia said...

I think there is something powerful in finding a community that supports exploration and development of spiritual beliefs and action. The problem for me is that I'm not sure how that specifically is happening on Sunday mornings at UU churches.

Christine Robinson said...

OK, I'll bite...if you were advertising a church, what would your message be?

Ron said...

Jaume: I understand where you are coming from, but even I don't think it is that bad :). In fact, I think the problem is more that there is more and more speaking about beliefs, that is intellectual propositions and affirmations about things theological, but I am not sure that's what is needed except perhaps by a very narrow and narrowing percentage of folks. But I do understand; there is a culture, and not just within UU, but perhaps even moreso in some mainstream Protestant circles, of letting the sermon do that work for us, as we let others do our social justice work, our caring and calling on neighbors, etc. Spirituality by proxy or professionalism. There are trends away from that and it is those that should be nurtured and promoted.

HS: Agreed completely; it is in linking "finding a community" with what happens in a building with the name church on it out front that is a sticking point I think more and more; community that is developed counter-culture and counter-church-organization-that-sees-itself-as-existing-on-Sunday-mornings--is powerful indeed. Sunday mornings may be keeping us addicted to church as it was. If we can re-orient ourselves away from that we might see the dominos begin to fall in the right direction for health.

Christine: As soon as I posted that one I knew someone was going to ask that :). I am thinking today that my visceral reaction wasn't so much to the advertising itself but to what it was accurately portraying. And that kind of ad, trying to cover so many churches, just like the national marketing is probably doomed to failure. Advertising itself, however, is suspect as it keeps people oriented to an attraction model of church--and I am thinking it plays more to boomers brought up on ads than on milennials tuned out or turned off by the concept of advertising.

But, if I had to, I would find examples within the congregations of missional work incarnating the spirit of what we hold holy and I would build websites around them and I would make the ad tag those and send people to the sites, so it wasn't about what people think that brings them to church but about connecting their hunger to be more and do more with groups that are inviting them to participate.

(And maybe this next part should be a new post instead of a comment since it is going beyond the previous three comments) this all begs a deeper question and reflection on how marketing and advertising is really geared to bringing in more like who we already are (I am thinking of UUA here too). The idea is that we don't really have to change to meet changing culture but we have to bring in more folks who "should" already be a part of us. The argument: Since we are only tapping into such a small margin of folks who could and should, if only they were aware of us, be a part of us, advertising to reach them makes sense and will help us grow, and out of that growth perhaps will come something new and different to help us in the new century. The problem with it: 1. is awareness really the problem? 2. is advertising the way to go to increase awareness? 3. is who as a rule will be "brought in" by advertising going to have the stickiness factor, or will more of the same just keep feeding the monster of scarcity; 4.) is advertising something people feel they just have to do in order to be seen as a respectable religion, and so, is it not something that is done mostly for those who are already a part of us, to play to the base, boost morale, preach to the choir; if so, we should acknowledge it and the cost of it and explore what that says about us.

I am feeling very Dr. Phil on this point: is that working for us?

Ron said...

And...since attraction model church will be with us, and will be growing too I suspect, for some time, advertising will be with us too. we just put all our eggs in one basket with it. And those looking for explorations of the mind about the big questions of life, at least as an entry point, will be with us too. And good stuff can come from all that I oten rail against. I might question ads in specific religion sections too (more for us than "them") but even those will draw in a certain slice of folks too we know (i am one of them, back in the mid 70s, but a 23 year old then isn't the same as one now)

SC Universalist said...

Part of the problem is our diversity - we probably need an ad something like
"UU: you'll never know what you're going to find!" or:"tired of cookie cutter faith? UU Congregations, no two alike"

Jaume said...

I am not a publicity expert, but here are some of my candidate slogans:

"UUism --makes religion seem interesting again"

"Try UUism and get rid of old dysfunctional religions forever!"

"You do deserve something better: go to a Unitarian Universalist church" (this is wishful thinking, but sounds good anyway). ;-)

Ron said...

You know the "Keep Austin Weird" and asundry take-offs? Hmmm. UUism: Keep Religion Radical, Keep Religion Real, then link to stories.

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