I’ve spent a couple of days now at this event, in Louisville. 10 ministers of churches which have had significant, sustained growth over several years, two ministers of churches we all hope will grow significantly, and a dozen lay and ordained members of the UUA’s growth team. The ministers were chosen to have a good mix of geographies, genders, generations and situations. I feel the honor and the responsibility of the thing, and I am very aware that a different dozen ministers could have been easily and productively chosen. Our conversation has mostly been trying to get at what causes churches to grow, how we encourage or cope with growth, and what qualities of ministry and denominational leadership make for growth. Although all of us, I’m sure, have thought about these questions on our own, read about them, and experimented, when there is only you and your church, there are no controlled experiments. My church has grown…from 400 to 500 members in the 90’s, and now from 500 to 700. My first church grew from 90 to 210 members. What did I do?
Well, gosh, and gee…I just did ministry and then struggled as open-heartedly as I could with the aftermath.
That’s no small issue. However growth happens, it is very clear that all it takes to stop or reverse it is inattention, exhaustion, a good church fight, unwillingness or inability to re-structure, unwillingness to relentlessly change old patterns, guide people in the paths of hospitality, mourn change and move on. In other words, growth is hard work. The observers have repeatedly commented on how much centered energy we 12 ministers seem to have. It’s a contrast to other groups of ministers that I don’t see as clearly as the observers seem to, but I trust them. Is the energy and centeredness the cause of the growth? It seems likely. But it also seems likely to me that the centered energy is a result of the growth. We’re shaped by what we do, and those of us who have managed, by hook or crook, to grow churches have, perhaps of necessity, developed an intensity by sheer dint of hard work and the focus it takes to lead a changing institution.
There's more. I've got lots of reflections and notes, which I'll be posting over the next week. A video is also planned.