Saturday, July 15, 2006

Growth Strategies

There's been a recent Blogger discussion about Growth Strategies for the UUA, and the fact that it would be good to get all of our eggs out of the large church rapid start model which, even if it was working well (it's been disappointing so far) is only one basket for all of our eggs.

We here in Albuquerque, which will never be a place for a rapid start congregation, since it's a city of less than a million people and already serves an unusually large number of UU's per capita (have you seen this?) have an idea which we think might be revolutionary, planting new churches as small community branches worshiping as lay led small groups and centering that worship around a video recording from our early service. We've worked out a lot of technical details, are poised to start our own on-campus video cafe worship service, and we would be ready to start forming small groups in towns 30-200 miles from us where we (yep!) have a few members already. The only problem is that it's going to take a staff person a year to get those small groups going, and we don't have the money for that staff person. We think that if we had about $45,000 for a staff person and start up costs, we could bring between 200 and 500 people into the UU fold in 6-9 locations around New Mexico within a few years. We could do this slowly, one group at a time, using volunteer effort, and since there is no obvious way to get more than a $20,000 grant for a project in this denomination (talk about how we think small!) that's what we will probably do. Unfortunate for several reasons, one of which is that bringing on three or four branches at one time will force us into the work of transformation from what we are now, into a "to the core" multi site church. That transformation is what other churches need to watch, so they can learn from our mistakes, and the sooner the better.

I like the foundation idea. It would be a place to go with big ideas. What we have now in the Funding Panel and Chalice Lighters and such are good places to go with small ideas. Of which we have plenty. But it's big ideas that we really need now.


boyinthebands said...

I know you're keen on this idea, but it seems to cut right against the localism idea that makes congregationalism. State-wide pushes the notion of multi-site past recognition. (Indeed, it seems more of a minster polity.)

A Powell Davies was famous for doing something similar here in Washington DC to found new churches, but I don't get the sense that these satellites will ever be independent. Nor, indeed would the model work (like his) given the Washington's extraordinary postwar demographics.

And if something new is being made, on what basis other than sheer will?

Turtle Mountain said...

It strikes me as a superb, imaginative and terribly necessary experiment. "Expansion" and "growth" can no longer be an automatic strategy on a planet which bleeds with every church built, every church addition, every new parking lot. This is certainly worth everything you can give to it. Be careful that the people you service are not required to be members of your church and pledge monies. They will be needing to hire one or two staff people themselves.

Christine Robinson said...

I'm a child of A.Powell Davies' chuch planting stragegy, and I appreciate and am inspired by his "out of the box" thinking.

New Mexico is the third largest state in the union, so as large as this strategy might sound to you, it only covers the area of the state not served by our 8 sister churches and Fellowships. As to stretching the multi site idea, a number of Christian multi site churches are multi state or even international, so this is a fairly modest idea in that realm.

Some of our branches might become independent; the ones in large enough towns that they could get past the 150 member mark that seems to make it possible to have professional leadership of their own. Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing!

But the fact of the matter is that most communities in New Mexico are communities of ten to twenty thousand people, separated by miles of desert, and that kind of growth is not likely. But there are a few UU's in each of them; in several, they've tried to organize Fellowships in past years and have been daunted by the difficulty or hijacked by dysfunction. This strategy seems more likely to serve them.

And for a guy who likes ministerial entrepreneurs, you're being awfully hard on a minister with a new idea! But your comment points out the fact that it's not just lack of support and money from "headquarters" which quashes new ideas, and not just the perrenial nay-sayers we all deal with in the pews. It's also the thought that we might strain collegial relationships by doing something too out of the box.

Christine Robinson said...

It's even better than that, Turtle Mountain! These folks will be members of our church (if they want to be, of course. No pressure to join, and only the same invitation to support their church that we all get each year at the pledge drive.) Anyway, the bills will be paid, just like your church pays your bills, with generous giving gratefully accepted.

boyinthebands said...

Having small churches dependent on a large church for the core of its program is not a new idea.

Ron said...

Go for it Christine. Don't let the money stand in your way. Even doing one pilot to learn/fail on would be great. I bet you and staff can handle that. Sounds like you have already read and shared The Multi-Site Church Revolution: Being One Church in Many Locations book by Bird, et al. Good ideas and stories of experience in there too. Yours is one of the many experiments we need already established churches to engage in.