Monday, January 23, 2006

Fixing UUism: Inreach to the "Unchurched"


Inreach to the "Unchurched"
Somewhere around two-thirds of Unitarian Universalists are not members
of UUA congregations. Some of these are probably active but not
'signed-the-book' members, but why aren't the rest coming in? We need to
find out what is keeping these people away, change it, and let them
know. These are people who already consider themselves UU, they should
require relatively little convincing. This could be an easy way to
triple our numbers.
Yes, it is herding cats, but that just means we need a can-opener.


TheCSO said...

Well, my reason for being a non-UUA UU is the UUA's insistence on speaking for me on political and social issues.

In a broader sense, the problem is that the UUA has become too insular. I don't see 'inreach' as being all that effective unless the UUA addresses that issue. This isn't just about politics and social justice work, although those are the most blatant problems in my view.

And no, it is not possible to be inclusive of differing political beliefs when you're taking strong political positions as an organization. Especially when those organizational positions are consistently FAR to one side of the spectrum.

Now, I do think that a "fatten the rolls" program that didn't worry about integrity of belief or actual ministry of any sort COULD work. I also think that would be wrong.

UUpdater said...

From the studies/reports I have heard quoted I would expect a very large portion of the "self identified UUs" who are not actually members of a congregation are the born and raised UUs who have no interest in being involved in a congregation. Back in 1997 (I think) when i heard the report it stated that somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% of the folks raised UU go on to join a congregation. The "Mind the Gap" program and other programs geared towards raising lifelong UUs would be a step toward addressing this issue.

It's easy enough to make assumptions regarding what keeps people from joining. I have heard complaints about UUism being to "New Age", "not spiritual enough", etc. and the bottom line is that with such an eclectic group it would be difficult to create something that will appeal to everyone. But I would like to see some survey/research done to find out who and why as opposed to reacting to individual assumptions.

Chalicechick said...

I would think that if we talked a little less about politics, we would end up talking a little more about spirituality if only to fill the silence.


TheCSO said...

(the bottom line is that with such an eclectic group it would be difficult to create something that will appeal to everyone.)

I agree. And that shouldn't be our goal. The best thing we could have is the UUA getting out of the way, not supporting either side on these issues, and letting the congregations actually have REAL polity by deciding for themselves what approach to take.

In order to make this work for more groups and more people, it would require an emphasis on more, smaller churches. I don't know how to make the economics of that work, but it would be more in line with our ideals. Except then you're Balkanizing UUism even more, and in many ways that's the last thing we need.

UUpdater said...

CC - And when we talked more about spirituality and less about politics the humanists would complain about too much spirituality, and not enough focus on "real issues".

Different people show up with different desires and needs from a religious community. I have met a fair number who attend because they figure it's the best religious education for their kids, and who frankly seem to have little other interest in the local congregation, and even less interest in the UUA, UUAWO, etc. (certainly not all people with kids in RE fall into this category).

The point being that I would be behind this suggestion if the first step in fulfilling the outreach to the unchurched was to try and determine the actual reasons they are not attending. We should not try and fix things based on assumption. If there is some report somewhere that I have missed talking about the droves of UUs who, like TheCSO, are staying away because of the politics please point me to it.

I have seen the reports regarding the loss of born and raised UUs, from what I recall politics wasn't on the radar as reasons for lack of joining.

Chalicechick said...

Over fifty percent of the country voted for Bush.

Yet we regularly make it clear that Republicans aren't welcome. Sometimes even from the pulpit.

Whether they answer our surveys after we've insulted them or not, it's pretty clear that they aren't welcome and if they do join, Sinkford will express political opinions that they don't agree with on their behalf.

Bearing that information in mind, do you really have to have a survey to believe that this is part of the membership problem?


Robin Edgar said...

Well over eighty percent of Americans and indeed Canadians believe in God.

Yet some UUs, particularly the fundamentalist atheist variety, quite regularly make it clear that God believing people aren't really welcome in UU "Welcoming Congregations". Sometimes, possibly even more than sometimes. . . even from the wayward pulpit, as proven by the well documented words of Rev. Ray Drennan and other like-minded U*U ministers.

Whether they answer our surveys after we've insulted them or not, it's pretty clear that they aren't welcome and if they do join, fundamentalist atheist UUs, including UU clergy, lay leaders, and the UU World magazine etc. will express religious opinions that they don't agree with on their behalf. . .

Bearing that information in mind, do you really have to have a survey to believe that this is part of the membership problem?

I have been warning UUs about how the acceptance and even the condoning of anti-religious intolerance and bigotry within the Unitarian Univesalist "religious community" is almost certainly a major contributing factor to low membership but UUs don't seem terribly interested in doing anything about it as far as i can see. . . Certainly they have done absolutely nothing to responsibly redress the demeaning and abusive anti-religious intolerance and bigotry that I was subjecte to by Rev. Ray Drennan, Frank Greene and other like-minded fundamentalist atheist UUs over a decade ago now. Not only have UUs done nothing to redress my legitimate grievances but they have gone to extreme lengths to obstinately ignore them, deeply deny them, and unjustly punish me for sharing my "obviously deep concerns" with them and later the Montreal public via peaceful public protest.

February 14th mark the 10th anniversary of my original letter of grievance arising from Rev. Ray Drennan's intolerant and verbally and psychologically abusive clergy misconduct. I put it to UUs that February 14th would be a very appropriate deadline to set for UUA President Bill Sinkford, the Unitarian Church of Montreal and other UUs to begin again in love with me and finally implement genuine restorative justice that does its best to responsibly and as fully as possible redresses my perfectly legitimate grievances that have been sincerely ignored, irresponsibly and deeply denied, and yes, institutionally stonewalled. . . for about a decade now.

Allah prochaine,

The Dagger of Sweet Reason


Chalicechick said...

I can think of one comment from an athiest from the pulpit that I thought was particularly across the line that I've ever seen.

I talked to her about it and she said she was sorry and hadn't meant it the way it came out.

I believe in God and have never been offended by anything else I've heard about God in a UU church. Sometimes I've heard things that I didn't feel applied to God as I saw God, but I have never seen theists talked about the way Republicans are talked about.

Indeed, there's a guy who has carefully documented all the times he's heard about atheism being insulted.

I think whether you see atheists or theists as mistreated is really a matter of opinion. You and Dr Rieux can fight it out and tell me who wins.

But that Republicans regularly get to hear how racist, stupid, greedy they are in UU churches is kind of a given.


TheCSO said...

I don't think politics is a problem for most "born and raised" UUs - that background means they're more likely to be liberal anyway. Most of the people for whom that is a real problem probably aren't UU anyway, not that we should be actively driving them away as we do now.

I am an active UU because of CC. If it wasn't for her, I just wouldn't bother with organized religion at all. I'm a noninstitutionalist, and UUism doesn't provide a reason it's in my self-interest to bother. If I believed that I had to "punch the God clock" every Sunday in order to be eligible for Heaven, say, I'd certainly do that. Since UUism can't offer me rewards in the next life, I have to choose what to do based on what I get out of it in THIS life - and it's not that much.

Now, personally I won't join a UUA member congregation because of how much I resent being spoken for politically. General apathy (which could also be a reason for me) is a much more common reason - I think this is already well documented.

Obviously UUism can't use most of the hooks Christian churches (especially evangelicals) use to overcome this general apathy - but maybe it's worth a look to see if there are some techniques documented there that would be consistent with our principles.

For that matter, we could probably get impressive short-term gains with a "Finally, a religion that lives your politics!" ad campaign targeted at leftists. That would be wrong and long-term damaging to Unitarian Universalism. But it would work for a while, and I fear it's effectively the path that the UUA would choose at this point.

UUpdater said...

CC - UUism is not immensely popular. Not a lot of people have heard of it, let alone would check it off on survey asking "What religion are you?". Considering a 90% non return rate of born and raised UUs I think it is fairly likely that a decent portion of the unchurched population is made up of these individuals. These are people who have good reason to identify as UU, but may not be necessarily compelled to join a congregation.

If a republican attended a UU congregation and as a result got offended, then I am not convinced they are likely to self identify as a UU. I think they would find another category on the survey, even if everything they read about UUism rings true to them. So, yes, if you are going to make the claim that unchurched UUs are made up in significant proportions by "right wing" UUs then I would like to see some evidence to support such a claim.

Please note, this is not to say that offending a right wing potential member ( or any other potential member - thiest, athiest, etc.) is not an issue, I am just not sure how many of those folks fall into the "unchurched UU" category which is what this specific suggestion is in regards to.

Chalicechick said...

A "morals Republican" would be very unhappy to be happy in a UU church.

But while libertarian Republicans of the Jeff Flake and Tom Coburn school are not currently running the party, there's a lot in UUism that might well appeal to them as they are huge believers in freedom and reason.

Some of my favorite UUs ever have been libertarian Republican old guys, who didn't give a damn about what anyone else said about them. But we can't quite expect our more conservative visitors to be willing to put up with that.


Anonymous said...

I am a born-in UU whose relations with congregations have been fitful. I go to church a lot now because we have a really good minister who doesn't talk much about politics.

My problem isn't that I disagree with UU politics. A product of years of RE, I have been a liberal Democrat all my life. My problem with UU politics is that it is so boring. What is the point of getting the family into the car, driving across town, pulling my share of RE, paying my pledge etc. if the minister is going to read aloud from a Maureen Dowd column? I could be reading the same column at home, in the bath, with a mug of coffee.

I think that most of the people at church grew up in conservative homes and find hearing liberal politics from the pulpit to be something of a rush. I don't really understand. If people want politics, why don't they join a political organisation?

Actually, the number of people in my area who belong to liberal political groups vastly exceeds the number of UU church-goers. So I guess most people do in fact join political groups.

Maybe the UU identity should be "Liberals Against Separation of Church and State", a naturally tiny group.