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!