Purple cows

Peter Bowden, who writes the blog Live from UU Planet, came out to New Bedford for lunch today. Peter and I are both talkative and pretty intense, we are both interested in innovation, and we both happen to care a lot about Unitarian Universalism. We had a great lunch together.

We both think that Unitarian Universalism is far smaller than it should be. I would also say that we both think that much of Unitarian Universalism is, well, stuck in mediocrity. Those two thoughts are connected. Those two thoughts relate to a hypothesis that goes something like this: “If you try something and it doesn’t work very well, don’t keep trying it. It doesn’t work well!”

The basic unspoken motto in Unitarian Universalism for the past few decades has been, “Don’t rock the boat.” (How ironic that we count among our religious heroes someone like Theodore Parker who rocked the boat so badly we realized we needed the new boat he had designed.) We try desperately not to offend anyone.

Peter gave me a book on marketing titled Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable,” written by Seth Goodin. A “purple cow” is something truly remarkable and life-changing (Theodore Parker was a religious purple cow). Goodin looks at the success of companies like Starbucks and Amazon.com, and says the way to succeed in business these days is to develop remarkable products. What’s the opposite of being remakable, asks Goodin? –being very good.

Goodin offers this case study in his book:

The French subsidiary of McDonald’s recently subsidized and publicized a report that urged the French not to visit fast-food outlets like McDonald’s more than once a week. The report caused a worldwide uproar, and the U.S. parent company professed to be “shocked”!

Is this a bad strategy? Perhaps by being honest (and very different) when talking to their customers, the French subsidiary is building the foundation of a long-term growth strategy…. By acknowledging the downsides of the fast-food experience, prehaps McDonald’s France is reaching a far larger audience than they could ever hope to reach the old way.

What would happen if you told the truth [in your marketing]?

In the spirit of being honest with “customers,” let me tell some truth about Unitarian Universalism:

Contrary to popular belief, when you join a Unitarian Universalist congregation, you cannot “believe anything you want.” You must believe, with all your heart and soul and mind, that love can transform the world. Contrary to popular belief, it is not easy to be a Unitarian Unviersalist. If you are a Unitarian Universalist, you will care deeply about making this world a better place for all persons, to the point where you devote your whole life to that end. Contrary to popular belief, Unitarian Universalism is not a comfortable religion that asks very little of you. Unitarian Universalism requires you to give substantial amounts of your time — like fifteen to twenty hours a week spent in spiritual practice, doing sabbath with your family, participating in worship and small group ministries, reading and study and reflection, using your gifts to help your congregation thrive — and substantial amounts of your money — like twice the amount of money you now spend each year on movies, electronics gadgets, and Starbucks coffee combined. And it will make you happy to give that time and money because your will be transforming the world with love.

You know, if we told these truths about our faith, we would upset some people who are now in our congregations but we would also probably grow like crazy. And thanks, Peter, for getting me all jazzed up about our shared faith.

Link to new series on marketing churches.

5 thoughts on “Purple cows

  1. Alison G. W.

    Amen! This philosophy of requiring more, not less, of our members does seem to be sweeping the denomination… but I wonder how many congregations are actually subscribing to this philosophy.

  2. Heather Marie

    I hope you still look at this. I did this test on beliefnet.com, and it said according to my beliefs, I am a Unitarian Universalist. I have only vaguely heard of what that is, except that it is pretty much “believe what you want”. I really agree with what you are saying, but was wondering if you could respond with some websites, or places to look for more information. Thank you.
    Heather Marie

  3. Administrator

    Hey, Heather Marie — Yes, I still look at this.

    On this site, I’ve collected one or two statements on this topic: Link.

    Also try this page on the denominational Web site, written by one of our best theological ministers: Link.

    Unitarian Universalist pamphlets can be found here: Link. Check out the basic introductions, and if you want more reading on a particular topic, check out the “UU Views” series.

    I also like the statement by Tim Berners-Lee. Tim was the fellow who invented the World Wide Web, and he happens to be a Unitarian Universalist (he’s also quite simply a nice guy). He tells how the Web and Unitarian Universalism are related here.

    I’m also happy to answer additional questions directly via email (use email address in menu) — as a minister, I get quite a few inquiries from people new to Unitarian Universalism.

    Cheers, Dan

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