Monday, January 30, 2012

help them grow

We all want and expect different things from our church. Some of us come here to find peace and healing; some come to get informed and energized to go out and fight against injustice. Some want classical music; some want show tunes; some want silence.

Some come to connect with friends; some come for the service and race out the door, as soon as the chalice is extinguished.

There is a lot of discussion, these days, about what people need and want from church, and how to engage them most effectively. The President of our Unitarian Universalist Association, Peter Morales, has even published a paper challenging us to find ways to deliver the feelings, or the power, or the practical effects of our spiritual community to people who rarely set foot inside of a church building.

In Peter’s paper, called “Congregations and Beyond,” which you can find on the website, he states that half a million people identify with our values, but are unlikely to ever join a church. He asks: how are we to engage these folks? How can we help them evolve, as individuals, and how can we encourage their assistance as we work to transform our world?

We may explore those questions in a sermon some other day, but I imagine that we engage these others in the same ways that we engage our current members: we provide the things that they value, and we ask them to do things that will help them grow.

Fortunately, I happen to have some data about what it is that church members value. Specifically, I have about 152 post-it notes which indicate what *this* congregation values.

Once all the notes were separated into categories, the top five overall responses were “a feeling of community,” “a chance to lead, to participate in something larger than myself,” “good worship services,” “opportunities to do justice work,” and “rites of passage”—-like funerals, weddings and child dedications.

Now, we know that what one person considers the “best worship service ever” may leave another person cold; and we have different priorities and approaches in our justice–making efforts; and the activities that feel like robust community to one may actually annoy another.

Still: in general, these do seem like good characteristics of a functioning church.

Especially if we add the sixth most-appreciated aspect, religious education, for all ages from toddler to retiree, then our list seems pretty powerful.

A sense of community, active participation, worship, justice work, religious education and life cycle rituals—how many of you come here for at least one of those things?

–the above is from yesterday’s sermon, “Mirror, Mirror,” at the First Unitarian Church of Hobart, Indiana.

I know the post-it notes and categories mentioned above are from people who *do* set foot in a UU church, and I still think they identify common human needs / desires. Whether in a church building, or out in nature; at a coffee shop or in somebody’s home, these are certainly the things I need. I believe others do, too.

And we need not be even as place-specific as that. We can be creating religious community in the virtual world. We can use Twitter and Tumblr, etc., to create connections, and to hold each other accountable in our ongoing evolution.

I am almost always encouraged and challenged by my conversations with the Rev. Ms. Naomi King. Recently, she blogged about “open source church.” She wrote, “Let’s focus more on connection, the meaning of rather than the form of, membership. Let’s focus more on using the gifts each of us has to work together in aiding and abetting the growth of goodness in this world. We can be an open source faith, crowd-sourcing wisdom…making [our] faithing more relevant, connected, and stronger through generous and courageous innovation based on gifts and needs.”

Speaking only for myself, I still desire face-to-face meetings on a (semi) regular basis. Yet I *do* use Twitter, etc., to maintain some contacts. I still expect that we’ll create open-source covenants to help shape our connections & our accountability (see previous post, below). And what options are there for open-source financial support? I am glad that there are open-hearted and smart people, like Naomi, who will be joining Terasa Cooley‘s consultation this week. I wish abundant blessings on their work.

(original post, with links, at So May We Be)


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