Someone said this in a Unitarian Univeralist (UU) group in Facebook and it really annoyed me:
The UU local churches turn over half of their members every five years. One quarter will still be present in ten years, one eighth in 15 years, with only about 1/16 of the original crowd in 20 years.
UUs maintain their ranks through the constant influx of refugees from other denominations, most of whom want to keep their kids in church. People who leave their previous denominations are often people who had a conflict of conscience in their previous religious home.
Some UUs just wandered in, but most were leaving something.
Ironically, ninety percent of folks who grew up UU want nothing to do with it as adults and, unfortunately, this is just fine to most UUs.
We call it the upstairs/downstairs division in UUism. So, it helps to understand that UUs are a “standing wave” phenomenon of people moving into and out of local churches at a brisk pace, with little growth.
The serious discussion of religious beliefs is not what UUism is mainly about, so much as finding a place where religious beliefs are not discussed much.
The internet provides more of a place for discussing UU beliefs than a typical Sunday at church does.
Most UUs believe that most other UUs have similar religious beliefs, but nothing could be further from the truth. We just don’t really talk about our religious beliefs much once we get to church.
I see these as serious problems and think we need to make changes to get younger UUs to WANT to remain loyal to the UUA and its churches. So let us discuss how. What can we do to make the UUA one of the fastest growing religious groups in America?
Fortunately, other UUs are just as concerned about this matter as I am. Thomas A. Earthman, who is the “Lifespan Religious Educator” at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church, wrote the following essay several years ago:
Unitarian Universalism has a reputation of being the rehabilitation clinic for people who are leaving religion. That is a sad statement on how we view faith. People don’t come to us because they want to leave religion; they come because they want a religion that speaks to a broader world view and inclusion. People aren’t coming to church, even a Unitarian Universalist church, to get away from religion.
What many are looking for is community, encouragement, hope, and mental or ethical stimulation, and maybe some music or ritual. They are looking for religion when they show up, just one that is liberal and offers them a chance to explore theology, philosophy, and morality safely and sa part of a community. They are looking for a faith that allows them to be honest about who they are as a heretic, a doubter, or maybe just a hippie. It is when they don’t find anything fulfilling, for whatever reason, that they leave, often leaving religion behind for good. We need to tell them that we are believers, and that their faith, whatever shape it takes, maters [sic] as part of our shared identity.
“…we are believers. We believe in intellectual freedom; we believe in justice; we believe in compassion and concern for each other and the whole world. We believe in commitment to those ideals which make us caring and active in the struggles for human dignity. We are Unitarian Universalists.”
~ John M. Higgins
We are sometimes the last chance for religious community to embrace a person and make them feel welcome. Even after they are welcome, they have deeper needs we are obligated to meet. Our principles call on us to encourage one another to spiritual growth. They require our congregations to be laboratories for free, but responsible, exploration of the world and our role in it. That means we have to be communities of faith as well as covenant, or we’ve devolved into social clubs that are easily replicated in coffee shops and on-line message boards. Even sermons can be read in blogs or watched on YouTube. We have to offer more than Sunday services and coffee hour.
That is why Life-span faith development and small group ministry matter. That is why the focus of Unitarian Universalism needs to be open to change. It is why our mission is making the ideas we hold dear easy for people to share with their friends and family, so that we can spread them through human connections. It is what we ask you to support by being part of the I Am UU community.
The future of church is to offer what libraries, coffee shops, and the Internet cannot: a place where all of that is given freely, and supported by the folks who believe in the power of human beings, working together, to build a more just, more loving, more connected world. Is that what your congregation is? Tell us in the comments what is being done to take those ideas into the real world.
Thomas then said directly to me in Facebook:
People don’t come to a UU church because they are fleeing religion. They come looking for a religion they can believe in. They leave if they don’t find it…
Also, if you actually talk to young adults who grew up UU, they leave because the way adults do church isn’t the way we taught them to do church (most congregations force their kids out of their worship service) and we haven’t embraced the small group style that they are used to.
So now I want to use the blog to explore more the possiblities of UUism to become a true force for change in American society. And that can’t happen if we do not commit ourselves to growth to have many millions of members from all walks of life!