- More than half of MBD congregations grew last year, and almost a third grew by 5% or more
- Growth is spread across churches of all sizes
Growth and dynamism abound in our congregations. I hear story after story of compelling ministry in UU churches: a youth group sharing service projects with the Pentecostal church down the road, clusters of congregations worshipping together, a church including showers in their building renovations so they can serve homeless folks in their community, a congregation committed to creating a haven for special needs kids and their families, and another launching a spiritual life center with a host of opportunities for adult faith formation. Each one of those congregations is growing, and not by accident.
People talk about church growth as though it were alchemy, with mysterious ingredients only arcane ritual and obscure rites could unleash. In truth we know a great deal about growth:
- UU congregations that are growing know what their purpose is, and they don't care whether it's called a mission, a vision, or a strategic plan. They just do it.
- They have skillful, wise, visionary ministers who preach our good news with energy, insight, and joy.
- Growing churches empower lay leaders who understand that they are engaged in ministry, too, who know that church leadership is about more than efficient management.
- They have parishioners who come to church to deepen their own faith commitments and a congregation organized around that purpose.
- Growing congregations are spiritually and systemically healthy, with celebratory worship and small groups that people feel good about.
These are the kinds of congregations people want to join and raise children in and commit themselves to, and they thrive throughout New England.
Only a cynic would say that church growth is all about numbers. But only a fool would say that numbers don't matter. It's true that there are fewer Unitarian Universalists today than there were ten years ago, and that the rate of decline in New England is higher than in other parts of the country. We have to grapple with that reality. But we must not let our story become one of decline and diminishment. Such a story wouldn't be true, and it absolutely wouldn't be true to our faith.
Fear can never be a motivation for growth, especially not fear of institutional decline. Let us act instead out of concern that we are missing opportunities to invite longing hearts to experience our saving faith. When we invite people with joy and with good news to share, and when we welcome them to healthy congregations, we grow. We can count on it.
* 69% of MBD Congregations and 64% in CBD, according to UUA membership certification numbers as reported by congregations