Two more questions from the UUA Staff's Strategic plan for Ministry
Why aren’t we able to convert more religiously defined “none of the aboves” to
Why don’t the neighbors who live near our churches attend them?
The second question is easier. It remains the case that most people who want to be religious are perfectly well-served by orthodoxy and wouldn't be well-served by a UU church, no matter how well it was doing at outreach and welcome, program and social justice. We're a niche market in the religious world! Most neighbors of any church will never be members. We can only hope that they can at least say about us, "I don't believe what they believe but they are good neighbors and do interesting things." (that is a lot more than most of our churchs' neighbors can say about us.)
Now, about those "none of the aboves" (as in, not Christian, Jewish, Moslem or any other world religion). This group, 3% of the twenty year olds in the WWII generation, 6% of 20 year olds in the next generations, has increased since then and is a whopping 26% of current 20 somethings.
Here's what has changed in 50 years. Fifty years ago, people who were not comfortable in orthodoxy went looking for other congregations to belong to, because congregations held a privileged place in the social structure. When I was a kid nobody mowed their lawns on Sunday mornings in my suburb and there was no store open bigger than a 7-11. This has changed. Now people who don't want to be religious are free not to be in all parts of society (although in the southeast and Utah, church still has social privilege). Most people who define themselves as "none of the above" are perfectly happy with their non-religious lives. They don't go to church looking for freedom, they use their freedom to shop, play sports, do chores, work, and spend time with family on Sunday mornings.
There is a group of folks who say that they have no religious preference BUT are spiritual. They don't like "organized religion" because they don't agree with the creeds, because they think church fights about homosexuality are really lame, because they don't believe in Hell, and because they don't have much experience with churches anyway, and when they go they are usually faced with music they can't sing, rituals they don't understand, websites which are not kept up to date, and a lot of talk, talk, talk which, if they are under 40, is completely foreign to their experience of the visual world.
Now, if they knew about us, they might like us because we don't fight about homosexuality, don't believe in Hell, and encourage folks to find their own theology. But we also talk, talk, talk, sing from books in the foreign language of "musical notation" (not to mention German, Latin, French, and Cree), and in general don't do a very good job of living in the young adult world.
They might even brave all of this; learn our tunes, get PDF newsletters, and learn to love sermons full of quotations, except for this one little thing:
When people who are "spiritual but not religious" go looking for a religion, they go looking for spirituality; for heart, depth, warmth, spiritual practices, lessons in prayer, clues to a relationship to god.
These things are not easy to get in UU churches. If we focused on them more, trained our ministers to provide them, helped lay people to tolerate, if not enjoy them....THEN we might attract some of this group of folks to our churches. But not before.