At Reignite, Stephen reminds us of Lyle Schaller’s advice:
The single best approach for any religious body seeking to reach, attract, serve, and assimilate younger generations and newcomers in the community is to launch three new missions annually for every one hundred congregations in that organization. A significant fringe benefit of this policy is that it usually will reduce the resources for continuing subsidies to institutions that will be healthier if they are forced to become financially self-supporting.
For Unitarian Universalists in the United States, that would mean about 30 new congregations/missions in 2008. (But I estimate we’ll see less than ten new church starts this year.)
Coincidentally, the latest issue of UU World magazine came in the mail yesterday, and it contains a good article on the history of the fellowship movement. The fellowship movement, at its peak, resulted in over 50 new congregations a year:
The tenth year of the fellowship movement proved to be a high water mark for new starts in a single year. Of 55 fellowships organized in 1958, 33 have survived — more than from any other year. But from that peak, a slowdown began. The flagging energy and limited budget of the small staff were partly responsible. Munroe Husbands, the programâ€™s director, had one assistant and a budget of only $2,300 in 1957, with which he was expected to start 25 new fellowships and service the existing ones. But there were also other reasons for the steady decline in new fellowships. Just as congregations reach growth plateaus, so did the movement as a whole. The program had already planted fellowships in the most promising com munities, leaving fewer targets for additional growth.
I’m inclined to question the conclusions of the last two sentences. While there’s no doubt that the movement reached a growth plateau in 1958, was that a cause of the declining number of new church starts, or a result? Inadequate funding for the major growth initiative of the denomination could be a big part of the reason for the decline that occurred in Unitarian Universalist membership from c. 1961, until a small amount of growth began happening c. 1980.
Rather than quibble about the past, though, I’m more interested in asking the question: what do we do now? Can we encourage grant-making bodies within Unitarian Universalism to stop funding existing congregations, and devote all their grant money to “missions” and new church starts? How about encouraging districts to re-allocate services from existing congregations to “missions” and new church starts (OK, given how self-centered many congregations are, that’s politically improbably, but a guy can dream)? How about allocating lots of funding for innovative “missions” like FUUSE and Micah’s Porch, instead of funding advertising in Time magazine? My district, Ballou Channing District (southeastern Mass. and Rhode Island) is going to have a Unitarian Universalist Revival this spring — should we be doing more of that?
What are your ideas? How would you encourage 30 new Unitarian Universalist congregations in 2008?