Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Growth" Part Two

Some of my observations to the conversation on growth posted in the post below:

First to the principles guiding the development of a plan:
) Are congregationally based: The approach cannot be "top down" but rather must depend on congregations working together collaboratively to grow.

RR: Yes. A must. Just to be clear: congregations working together doesn't or shouldn't mean with neighboring UU congregations in a geographic proximity; that is an old model that assumes all congregations are or should be alike or have similar mission, etc. It might in some cases mean that, but I hope it means finding those to collaborate with such as by size, large congregations collaborating regardless of where they are located, or by emphasis, those for example who are going multi site or multi cultural or who, for example, might be going missional by splitting up into different tribes and going incarnational and relocating in places we don't normally locate, or maybe those who want to start a retreat center like a progressive monastery or those who want to collaborate to start an emergent worshipping center without the other aspects of church as we have known it. Congregations shouldn't think within the old box; there are lots of model for being church in lots of different ways; find the one you think you have resources and energy and vision for and the congregations who also can join with you in it. I would even urge UU congregations to collaborate with non-UU congregations in their local area who might have the same issues and interests for growth.

2) Have a low cost: Even if the money were there, growing Unitarian Universalism is not a problem that can be solved by throwing money at it. Money can be raised for specific initiatives, but we were instructed to develop plans with a modest cost.

RR: Yes. In fact, necessity is the mother of invention. Being broke, and intending to stay broke, is what helped us to transform here. Starting with what can happen without money is essential to shifting default modes on church. More needs to be developed along the lines of the role of money. Churches that are perpetually struggling to maintain their status quo, infusing anxiety into their system which keeps them from growing, can be financially energized by looking at ways to go missional, breaking up, starting over, selling buildings, ministry going bivocational, etc.

3) Produce results quickly: There was prevailing sense of urgency (in John Kotter's sense of the word) and an understanding that action needed to come quickly.

RR: Well....depends on what the results might be. If they mean "quick victories" that infuse hope that transformation can occur, then yes. But the motto of the missional church is key here: to get bigger go smaller, which means that to transform into the kind of movement that will grow in new cultures will most likely mean losing membership numbers in the interim, and the money that might be associated with it. Also, anything that sets an outcome based number and time frame such as we want to see x number of new members in uua churches by year x, especially within five years, will be counter-productive. Or rather it should be part of a separate initiative so the two don't get muddled together. This is aimed at trying to grow numbers within established churches with the least change and conflict. There is certainly room for that to happen and is a worthy goal, especially in a short time frame, but it is part of growth by addition not by multiplication and so will be limited. Again, worthy but don't let it take over the approach, or just be honest and say we don't think the association can foster the transformation and grow as needed in its present incarnation, but we can help some places grow by doing what they do better. For that you can get quick victories...And I think if the results intended are of a deeper nature, not tied to membership stats, such as we are going to have a tenth to a quarter of our congregations meeting criteria as Missional by the year 2020, then that is doable.

4) Focus on the attraction and retention of members in our congregations.

RR: See above comments related to quick victories and established churches growing vs. new plants of missions/churches. There is a big difference between growing by attraction vs. growing by incarnation, and attraction takes a lot of resources, and so does retention depending on what the basis of their attraction was in the first place; if they are attracted by programs then keeping them fed with new programs vs. attracted through mission to do mission.

A big yes to the factors being cultural and relational and not technical. Now to the participants in the conversation: Good that they are those who have experience growing established churches, good also that their personality traits exhibit dominance and influence. Just know that the strengths can also and will always be keys to the weaknesses; they will shape the conversation and planning toward growing established churches, which will be a good big step for the UUA, but will it be enough itself for the long term survival and thriving in the new context that calls for radical discontinuity with the past rather than better ways to perpetuate it?

Next step: convene a collaborative conversation that can look at growth from the fringes? What can community organizing ministers bring to the table of UU growth? What can entrepenuerial lay leaders? What can youth and young adults who are native and not immigrants to the cultures in which we must learn to live?

The list of why we didn't grow in the next five years: can't argue with those, except as you know if you have followed the blog over the years with the very first one about having a saving message; it is because we are a message-oriented people and theology, especially geared to attracting individuals as individuals (the strength and weakness of our historic polity, but that will be another blogtopic) that we have difficulty getting out of our heads and embodying and reproducing ourselves as a community. Especially liked the one that focus on growth would be seen as just another of the many focuses of the UUA. That will be one of the main killers and the one that will most likely happen because, as Edwin Friedman's important posthumous book puts it, it betrays a "Failure of Nerve".

What I would add: Why we haven't or won't grow in the next five years?
1. We didn't pray
2. Not doing number one means we didn't, at the least, have a core relationship with a sense of The Transcendent which calls us into being in the first place as missional people who live for others and not ourselves. With that we don't have to struggle for a lot of the rest; it will flow naturally from us.
3. We didn't identify natural leaders from a variety of sources within us and on our fringes to resource (connect, draw out their strenghts, provide training for their strenghts, coach, help them identify new leaders to reproduce. see one, do one, teach one) and turn loose.
4. We didn't build in and reward failure.

About external factors: All good and a good exercize. I agree with Thom that zipcode is crucial, and for established churches growing in established ways it is as he says probably vital. But it all of course begs the question of the nature and identity of what constitutes a congregation and what its aim is. In fact, contrary to much of what is assumed about population growth centers and growing churches, the organic church planting movement is based on the assumption that church multiplication happens best and most where people are the most desperate to be in and with community; when we locate our initiatives in places where safe peoples have plenty of options and resources and there is a lot of competition for their allegiances, then the church becomes a choice and not a necessity. If we dare to dream differently and located ourselves personally and communally.....

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