Friday, August 30, 2013

The Smart Church: Love of Creation

by Connie Goodbread

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dwight Brown Leadership Experience (DBLE) was the best ever. No, really!  I know we say that every time, and for every class it is true.  I know that because the information is deep and in some ways challenging because it dredges up feelings.  It dredges up feelings in all of us.  For me, and I am not sure why, this particular DBLE was very moving.  Maybe the effect it had on me comes from this being my 12th Leadership Experience as staff.  Maybe it was because they have not all been so wonderful.  Maybe I see it differently now.  Maybe it is because I won’t be there next year.  I don’t know why I was so moved.  But I was moved.  I was moved to tears more times than I can count.  I don’t cry easily so I found myself pretty amazed. I was moved by stories I have heard, and even told, many times before.  I was moved by the willingness of the people to come into community.  I was moved by the struggles of others.  I was moved by my own struggle. 

So I am on the plane headed home.  The sun is setting.  The clouds begin to become that sky-blue/pink that only happens sometimes if we are lucky at sunrise and sunset.  The rays from the sun become more and more slanted, and, in no time at all, the clouds are on fire below the wings of the plane.  There were no flames or smoke like there would be with a forest fire, only billowing branches of cumulonimbus clouds mimicking tree tops, orange treetops.  It looked as though we were flying over a forest of peach, coral and orange trees.  Then in the top branches of one of the tallest cloud trees, a rain circle appears like a god’s eye hanging on a Christmas tree.  It forms and becomes solid.  I hold my breath and then slowly it fades as the sun sinks lower and the plane moves out of its exactly correct position.  Wow, I say out loud.  Tears begin to form in my eyes.  Then I think - What a pretty little planet.  What a miracle of creation.  How lucky am I to have witnessed this?  I am so in love.  I am in love with creation.  Faces of beloved people appeared in my mind - my family first and then the faces of the people I had just been with.  New faces.  Faces of dear friends.  Their eyes.  Their shining eyes.

People cannot spend their whole lives on the mountain top.  People must come down into the valleys and get their hands dirty in the soil and deal with the things of life - but for every moment that I spend on the mountain top, for every moment that is filled with possibility, for every time I get a small look at the magic all around us, I am profoundly grateful.

I would like to thank the staff of DBLE.  Thank you - we all worked really hard.  We work hard every time, that is not new.  But I think that all of the work we have put into the last 12 experiences are beginning make a difference.  I think next year’s DBLE and SUULE will be even better.  I would like to thank the participants who taught me more than they will ever know.  I am grateful to each of you for the time, thoughts and heart you poured into the experience.  I am grateful for the deep sharing we did.  The theme for this year seemed to be, “Why am I telling you this?”  We shared in a deep way and made ourselves vulnerable.  We were open to all the possibilities and each other and that was why we shared so much of ourselves.  Most of all I am grateful for the struggles.  Most came out okay, some are still up in the air and some will most likely go on for a long time.  I am so very grateful for having had shared struggles with you all.  Thank you for staying at the table.  BEST DBLE EVER!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's EvolUUtion, Baby!

By Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Consultant for the Southern Region.

Growth. It is on most church leaders' minds. The mention of the word can either elicit excitement or groans depending on your particular perspective.

Usually when we are talking about growth, we are speaking about growing our numbers, usually by way of converting visitors into members. This type of growth, called Numeric Growth, is just one of four main kinds of development that we are aware of in the congregation. And while many congregations focus on this one type as an indicator of health and vitality, Numeric Growth is merely the result of the other three kinds.

Organic Growth refers to the infrastructure that we build in our congregations to support a growing membership. Organic Growth can take the form of a change in governance structure, adding staff, re-writing the by-laws, or adding physical space to the building. It is about developing practices and putting systems into place which support the acceptance of new members into the life of the congregation.

Maturational Growth refers to the depth of understanding of our shared Faith within the congregation. Opportunities for Maturational Growth may include small groups, listening circles, religious education classes for all ages, or a sermon series on aspects of Unitarian Universalism. It is about developing an inviting and engaging lifespan faith development program that is able to reach new and long-time members alike.

Incarnational Growth refers to the congregation's willingness and ability to live out their shared values. Incarnational Growth may take the form of a strong social justice program, being recognized as a Green Sanctuary or a Welcoming Congregation, partnering with the Red Cross to become a disaster relief shelter, offering addiction ministries, or providing an LGBT Prom for the community. It is about incarnating Unitarian Universalism in the world.

Focusing on Organic, Maturational, and Incarnational Growth leads to Numeric Growth. When we put structures in place that support membership and give every person an opportunity to deepen his or her faith and live that faith out in the world, membership grows. In reality, however, we can focus on all of these kinds of growth in all of the ways listed above, but the results will only be short-term unless the congregation that is gaining membership can also embrace change.

When membership in a congregation grows, the relationships between the members and their relationships to the called and hired staff changes dramatically. There will inevitably come a time when the membership is very economically, culturally, and theologically diverse.  A time will come when it is impossible to have a relationship with everyone in the church, as well. If a congregation is not prepared for these changes, it will continue to grow to a certain size and then lose membership again, as if it is hitting a glass ceiling.

These issues in a congregation can be complicated, and it may take a variety of different solutions and options before a congregation is ready to break through their plateau and create long-lasting, meaningful, and effective changes that leads to stable growth. Luckily, there is an opportunity to explore growth and change in your congregation in November in the Southern Region!

Please join us at Fall Harvest Training this year in Glen Rose, Texas from November 8th to November 10th where we will explore growth and change in the congregation through our theme of EvolUUtion! We will have seven tracks that delve deeply into all aspects of growth and change in church life.

For the third year, we will be offering the EvolUUtion Camp for children ages 5 to 13 where we will explore the Unitarian Universalist Creation Story, which is nothing short of the creation of the universe and evolution itself. Youth ages 14 to 18 are invited to participate in any track which will be beneficial to their ministry as youth leaders, including, but not limited to, the Youth Chaplaincy training. A full track listing with detailed descriptions and registration information can be found at

We recommend sending teams from congregations to get the full benefit of the program! Special housing rates are available for Youth and Advisors of Youth. We hope to see you there!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Aiming High by Kathy McGowan

Leaders Need to Aim High
I believe that we expect too little of our congregants and congregations.  People want to make a difference in this world and they want to work along side people who are “movers and shakers” -people who are putting their values into action.  
I see many congregations that collectively have a low sense of self worth.  It is no wonder that they are not thriving.  I do not think the answer is giving them small tasks so that they can achieve small goals in order to feel better about themselves.  I think that we need to have a big vision of the future; a vision big enough to rock the world with our Unitarian Universalist values.
We can create this vision by embracing leaders who challenge us to become our best selves and whom we challenge to ask the big questions.  It is through asking the important questions and challenging our assumptions that we can make the impossible, possible.  Our liberal religion demands of us nothing less for this hurting world.
Think about a time in your life when you felt good about something that you achieved. Was it easy?  Probably not.  Did you feel more capable once on the other side of that challenge?  Probably.  People actually get smarter by being challenged.
In their book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smart, Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown wrote of a certain kind of leaders, “multipliers”.  They write, “Multipliers understand that people grow through challenge.  They  understand that intelligence grows by being stretched and tested.  So even if the leader has a clear vision of the direction, he or she doesn’t just give it to people.  Multipliers don’t just give answers.  They provide just enough information to provoke thinking and to help people discover and see the opportunity for themselves.  They begin a process of discovery.”
I believe that in our congregations we do not set the bar high enough.  There will always be solid reasons for not doing things in congregations.  Always.  But if the purpose is clear (mission), the good questions are asked, the assumptions shaken off, there is no telling where we might go.  
So I say raise the bar high.  Let’s create congregations where people are challenged, smarter, confident and making a difference.  Let’s rock the world with our wonderful UUness.