Top ten best things about liberal religion in 2011, pt. 7

3. This year, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) reported the fourth year of decline in religious education enrollment in congregations. This decline came after a couple of decades of steady growth. Worse yet, 2007 marked the highest number of births since 1961, at the height of the Baby Boom, which means we should be seeing an increase in the number of kids in our congregations.

Why is the fourth straight year of decline a good thing? Because now this is a trend that can’t be ignored, nor dismissed as a statistical aberration. Congregations are going to have to face up to the results of years of nibbling away at the infrastructure for religious education — cutting hours and salaries of religious educators, giving away religious education office and storage space to other age groups, deferring maintenance on classrooms, neglecting to place parents in leadership positions, and treating children and youth as a burdensome expense rather than as a central part of the congregation’s mission. And the UUA is going to have to face up to the results of cutting staff positions, producing uninspiring curriculum and other resources, not having parents in positions of leadership, andand treating children and youth as an extra expense rather than as a central part of our shared mission.

Not that I am silly enough to believe that congregations and the denomination are actually going to change their behavior, and begin treating children, youth, and their families as central to our reason for existence. But at least congregations and denomination can no longer pretend that they care about kids — no longer can they cover over the fact that they’re trying to make liberal religion into an over-55 community.

4 thoughts on “Top ten best things about liberal religion in 2011, pt. 7”

  1. We’ve hired an outstanding Church School administrator. Seems like a quaint title but the individual is very professional with outstanding credentials in Education.

  2. Dan wrote:

    Not that I am silly enough to believe that congregations and the denomination are actually going to change their behavior, and begin treating children, youth, and their families as central to our reason for existence. But at least congregations and denomination can no longer pretend that they care about kids — no longer can they cover over the fact that they’re trying to make liberal religion into an over-55 community.

    Dan,

    I’m thinking out loud here … I wonder if the shrinkage in UU RE enrollment for children and youth and the concern you’ve raised in this blog post and others in the past about Unitarian Universalism becoming an over-55 club are both linked a deeper problem.

    Perhaps both of these developments result from large portions of congregational and denominational life reflect baby-boomer sensibilities? I’m asking this as a baby-boomer parent (1959 birth year) with two young adult children.

    Take care,
    Steve

  3. I think Steve’s on to something here. What’s a UU Church Program offer the now pretty standard single-mom household? A UUism that can be amazingly smug sometimes about a divorce rate lower than Evangelical’s. (Read Doug Muder’s Red Family Blue Family sermon). Muder’s fighting a baby-boomers war there, but what to we offer the reality of today’s family? Economically well off over 55ers living on Teacher’s Pensions (count the retired teachers in a UU congregation)? That single mom, if inclined towards Church, is going to head to that big box lite church with programming targeted specifically to here, with support groups, and plenty to offer her child.

    My Church has largely avoided this because the congregations strongly committed to the Youth Program, but I think we’re an exception and not the UU rule.

  4. Steve — Yup, the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation are running our congregations, and the denomination, and now that they’re past their child-rearing years, they place a much lower priority on kids. Yes, they are running congregations and the denomination like an over-55 club.

    I’m fortunate that my congregation places a pretty high priority on kids — they’re paying me as a full-time minister of religious education. I should also add that I just did the end-of-year numbers, and we saw something like a 15% increase in church school attendance in calendar year 2011 — so making kids a priority pays off in terms of increasing attendance of kids and their families.

    Bill — You write: “What’s a UU Church Program offer the now pretty standard single-mom household?”

    Exactly the question to ask. All too often the answer is — nothing.

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