Friday, October 05, 2007

Is Church Keeping You From God? That's the question

So the UUA's kickoff campaign in Time magazine asks the question: Is God keeping you from church? What a question for boomers and older; or, more accurately, what a question for people already in UU churches. The question being addressed to a wider culture of folks, being addressed by the emergent organic church movement, is the opposite: Is Church Keeping You From God? But then, that's what many UU churches do, keep people from God, and the new campaign says let's de-emphasize God and raise up Church; that's also the focus of the new DVD campaign though the word God is used, in such a wonderfully cozy inviting way, the "benign grandfather.mother image" as Carl Scovel once described Channing's God. People who think the word or idea of God is keeping them from church should already be attracted to UUism; it's where we have been for forty plus years. We keep looking to grow by appealing to people who "should" be a part of us, we think; if we could just get out the right message to them in the right way; give them credit; they will find us; our churches are full of them now. In the meantime, people who like God, like Jesus, can't imagine church without them, but who are stumbled by the concept and word and practices and stereotypes of church itself, these people are growing in number all the time, especially among milennials. But to go after their concerns might really be misleading, I guess, for then we would be attracting them to a place where God and Jesus et al are absent in transforming meaningful ways, dare I say it, challenging ways. Of course the idea of trying to incarnate new communities for them, rather than attracting them to existing churches not for them, that's something beyond us. End.


10 comments:

Robin Edgar said...

Well, as you well know Ron, it is not God that is keeping me from going to church. Au contraire, it is Totalitarian Unitarians of the fundamentalist atheist "Humanist" variety who have gone all out to keep me from going to the Unitarian Church of Montreal for over a decade now. . .

Ron said...

Yes I think your personal story is well known.

Robin Edgar said...

Indeed it is Ron.

And to think that if U*Us had made even a half-hearted effort to actually practice what they preach about tolerance, acceptance and inclusion, that very well documented history of the U*U Workd would not exist. . .

Stephen said...

I totally agree Ron. Many people I speak to (there are exceptions) are much more put off by 'church' than by 'God.' A talk radio host I listen to says something like, 'I think there's a 'something' out there but it's not what the churches bang on about arrogantly.' I think that's pretty typical. And I think it's even more the case in the British context.

Steve Caldwell said...

Ron,

The recent Barna Group study that examinined the attitudes of 16 to 29 year olds has discovered that this age range is more skeptical of and resistant to Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago. Here's a link to the summary of this study:

A New Generation Expresses its
Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity
http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=280

Here are two quotes from the Barna Group web site about this recent study:

"Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) - representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%)."

"Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is 'anti-homosexual.' Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a 'bigger sin' than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians."

Given the "brand loyalty" and "brand image" issues that Christianity is discovering with its future "religious consumers," this suggests two possible marketing approaches which are not totally mutually exclusive for Unitarian Universalism:

(1) Unitarian Universalism is not perceived as a "Christian" faith and escapes the negative perceptions of Christianity in North America.

(2) While we are not perceived as "Christian," we do have Christian members and they don't fit the perception reported by the Barna group (this would be a marketing niche within the marketing niche mentioned in point #1). UU Christians do value other faiths, other religious viewpoints, are not judgmental, and are gay-friendly.

Given the negative perceptions of Christianity in our future religious consumers (ages 16-29) combined with the demographic shrinking of Christianity, I would suggest that a singular emphasis on Christianity in our marketing is not the right one for us.

Ron said...

Thanks Steve C. I had been meaning to post more on that recent study. It is part of the bigger research from Barna that resulted in their new book UnChristian I referred to a couple of posts ago. I think it backs up the point I was trying to make about the ad. All the negative stereotypes of "Christian" are connected not with Jesus or God, but with what these people believe the churches are promoting, and are filled with. "Churched/Christianity" is keeping them from church. They are adopting attitudes of "de-churched" in large part because of the media environment without having much experience with church. But they are hungry and are finding homes, or Barna et al believe they will find homes or might if exposed, where new emergent and organic expressions of following Jesus and experiencing God are being incarnated. Of course as mentioned before Barna's and mine use of terms Christian and evangelical and even born-again are vastly different.

I wouldn't then want the UUA to do an ad campaign based on Christianity (or on, as they did, Church which is a stand-in for Christianity), but it would be very interesting, and I think rewarding, for the UUA to do one based on Jesus and God as experienced in UU churches.

p.s. will excerpt I swear more from UnChristian soon. It is a good followup to Barna's "Revolution", intended, as was that one, to be a wake-up call for very conservative Christians who think they can simply perpetuate the past and change the world. In that regard, it is a wake-up call for liberals of Christian or non-Christian religious stripe.

Robin Edgar said...

So just how are Jesus and God experienced in UU churches Ron?

Could you please give us an objective opinion about that?

I see very little evidence of Jesus or God being experienced in UU churches. I do however see plenty of evidence of anti-Christian and more broadly anti- theistic intolerance being experienced in UU "churches" throughout the North American U*U World.

Ron said...

I would point people and, as Jesus told folks, "come and see" to the following:

1. www.uuchristian.org and www.uuchristian.org/revival. and come to our seventh national UUCF Revival this year being held in Cleveland at West Shore UU Church. Most of these Revivals have not been held in our UU Christian Churches but in "typical" UU churches. UUs celebrating Jesus and God.

2. Speaking of the Christian Churches in the UUA, come to next weekend's Faith and Justice program and annual meeting of the Council of Christian Churches within the UUA. more on our website and at theirs at www.cccuua.org.

3. Buy and read Christian Voices in UUism, published by the UUA Skinner House publishing, an anthology of personal essays by 15 UU Christians, almost all of whom are not in UU Christian Churches but in "typical" UU churches where, in fact, they discovered Christianity in a more meaningful way, through UU, rather than being Christian and coming into UUism.

4. Visit one of the numerous, in fact too numerous for me to know who all and where all they meet, UUCF small groups and Christian groups of UUs around the country.

5. Stay tuned for our new website which will do a better job at highlighting all of this and which will be unveiled soon in its first phase.

6. Come to General Assembly as more than a thousand did in Portland to hear the featured progressive Christian speaker and author we presented there, Kathleen Norris, and to see and hear what a wonderful reception she received by almost one fifth of the total number of UUs present for her message of progressive Chrsitianity (and the meeting was held at the same time as all the other workshops going on at the same time). Or attend the GA communion service we sponsor every year, again competing with all other programs at the same time, and see the 170 some UUs, many for the first time, taking communion and with tears in their eyes.

A quick starter response. blessings, Ron

Mystical Seeker said...

While we are not perceived as "Christian," we do have Christian members and they don't fit the perception reported by the Barna group (this would be a marketing niche within the marketing niche mentioned in point #1). UU Christians do value other faiths, other religious viewpoints, are not judgmental, and are gay-friendly.

The same could be said of progressive Christians in mainline denominations--they value other faiths, other religious viewpoints, are not judgmental, and are gay-friendly. Any look at the 8 points of the Center for Progressive Christianity, or any cursory glance at the books of Marcus Borg, makes that clear.

It seems to me that if UU Christians want to market their denomination to others strictly on the basis of the progressive virtues of UU Christians, they are going to have a hard time making themselves stand out in contrast to progressive Christianity within more explicitly Christian denominations. Pointing to themselves and saying, "see how tolerant we are in contrast to those explicitly Christian denominations" just isn't going to cut it. They are going to have to offer more than that as incentive to attract progressive Christians to their denomination.

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