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.