Friday, November 16, 2007

The Other Side of the Story

I had imagined, as had the organizers of this growth consultation, that each of the ministers would have pet programs to share, tips about how to grow, and firm opinions about what had done the trick. This worried me because I wasn't sure what I'd say. I've got an interesting program going on now; our development of branches in small towns, but that has not yet been a very large factor in our growth. My church gets great marks for openness to newcomers and willingness to restructure, but we have not done anything to create growth, and which of the things we've done in the name of good ministry that have caused growth..well, who can say?

The session devoted to nuts and bolts was on the agenda but it turned out that most of the participants felt about like I did, and the conversation at that session turned to love. Our love for our churches, for this denomination, for our work. We all agreed on how key that was. Some of us told stories of our call to our churches that bordered on mystical. When called back to nuts and bolts, we mostly talked about worship, spiritual programming such as covenant groups (and Ken, do tell them about your month of gratitude!). There was some talk about the importance of staff work and how unprepared we all felt for the growing task of supervision, and how this always fraught subject is nearly impossible in our UU World. But then we returned to the relationship between minister and congregation.

I wondered what kind of a consultation this would have been if lay leaders have been invited, and if I were following up on this, I'd invite groups of lay people from churches which have grown to a special lunch at, GA, or the Large or Medium Sized church conferences. I'd feed them well, tell them how special and wonderful they are , and ask some of the same questions. I have a feeling they'd have an entirely different perspective.

They'd talk about good preaching much more than we ministers did, I'm sure, (it was a remarkably un-braggy group) but beyond that, I'm not so sure, and I think it's important to know.

What about it, lay readers of this blog? If your church has grown over the past five years, what has caused that growth? What do you think people come for and what keeps them? What has your hard work been devoted to and why have you done it?


Anonymous said...

As a former layleader for many years, I would like to respond to your question(s). First, I would like to believe (however naively) that part of the reason for congregational growth has global meaning: the more evolved we humans are, the more we long for a universal, all-inclusive practice. I realize if this were really true, we would've elected a different president...and UU congregations would be growing across the board, nationwide. Ok, so secondly, at my church, while I was a layleader, and now as I sit in the pew and observe, I agree with you that it is the consistently worshipful atmosphere and structure of the service that provides stability and keeps folks coming back. As you predicted, I would be one of those layleaders who would say without a doubt, it is also your sermons that are particularly magnetic...but hey, look at Broadway...would you rather see a hot Broadway show with the actors that have made it famous, or go when those actors are on vacation? Ok, yeah, if you're in NY and you have only one day to see a show, you're gonna go...but if you can see the mainliner, come on...So, you are indeed an attraction, and you can't help it, so just enjoy it. Anyway, a final reason that the congregation is growing is due to the "community" it inspires -- all the activities, the changing events, the continual invitations to the congregation to participate in events; the community is vibrant -- which is largely due to volunteerism, participation in committees and general enthusiasm for such planning.

I don't think I said anything here that isn't obvious and hasn't already been said...but there you have it!

Peter said...

In talking about sharing our faith, our work with congregations, and what ties it and us all together, we keep coming back to LOVE and UNDERSTANDING as the bottom line. I'm very glad to hear your report. ;-)