Hello, dear readers, Mr. Crankypants is ba-aack! Yes, your favorite curmudgeon (and Dan’s evil alter ego) is here again, still referring to himself in the third person, and still criticizing anything he thinks is wrong with the world.
Today, Mr. C. would like to talk with about the absurd business model used by Unitarian Universalist congregations. You see, as it stands now, Unitarian Universalist congregations operate under a sort of franchise model. If your congregation has the Unitarian Universalist franchise in a given location, that means your congregation has the exclusive right to market the “UU” brand in that location. Thus we have the Prime Rule of UU Franchises: No upstart Unitarian Universalist congregation may set up shop in your location.
There are exceptions to the Prime Rule. (1) If your congregation has an internal conflict, and half your members leave and form a new congregation nearby, the Powers That Be will frown upon the new congregation for a time, and then accept them fully as a new franchise. (2) If your congregation chooses to spin off a new congregation near your present location, the Powers That Be will not frown at all, but will applaud your alleged entrepreneurial audacity.
Now consider this scenario: A certain Unitarian Universalist congregation — call it “UU Church of Halfdead” or UUCH (pronounced “ouch”) — has been the only franchise of the UU brand in a certain city for the past century. Now UUCH’s membership is down to just 20 people — oops, make that 19 people, one of them just died. All the members are over 70, there is no program for children, and UUCH has no intention of changing anything in order to attract young people (“young” being defined as under the age of 60). Did Mr. Crankypants mention that UUCH has no Web site, they never advertise, and they have no sign on their building? Most people in the community don’t even know they exist. And all they do is use their endowment to maintain their big, old, ramshackle church building.
So what do you think would happen if some enterprising and entrepreneurial folks decided to start up a new Unitarian Universalist congregation in that city? Let’s say it’s a store-front church aimed at people in their 20s and 30s. The Powers That Be would gnash their teeth and decry the efforts of those entrepreneurial upstarts. The leaders of UUCH would weep and wail and call them poachers. Everyone would make big frown-y faces at the entrepreneurial upstarts and tell them that they are Bad People. Never mind the fact that UUCH consistently gets rid of all newcomers. Never mind the fact that a store-front church aimed at Generation Y will be utterly different than a dying church for people over 70. No, we would gnash our teeth and wail wildly, because every UU congregation, no matter how dysfunctional, has an exclusive franchise!
So here’s a modest proposal:
Assume that actual and potential Unitarian Universalists constitute 0.5% of the total U.S. population. Any Unitarian Universalist congregation that draws an average annual attendance of less 0.5% of the total population of its service area loses all right to have an exclusive franchise, and opens itself up to the possibility that an entrepreneurial congregation-planter could come in a start a new congregation within that service area. We’ll let existing congregations determine the exact boundaries of their service areas — they can make those service areas as small as they like, so as to be able to claim an average attendance of 0.5% — but entrepreneurial congregation planters can plant new congregations anywhere outside of defined service areas. Congregations which choose not to determine exact boundaries of their service areas automatically give permission to entrepreneurial congregation planters to determine those boundaries for them.
If this modest proposal were adopted, someone might start up a new Unitarian Universalist congregation in a store-front near your present church! And what if the only way you could combat that new upstart congregation was to actually welcome newcomers, to jazz up (literally) your worship service, and to ditch your old Policy Governance (TM) or other outmoded organizational structure — that is, what if your only defense was to change the way you did church, and make it better than it was before?
Mr. Crankypants believes this is what is called a “disruptive” proposal… well, it would be disruptive if their were any such thing as a Unitarian Universalist who was also an entrepreneurial congregation planter. Sigh. Even so, it’s still fun to think about.