UUWorld.org reports that at the October UUA board meeting UUA President Rev. Peter Morales announced plans for a comprehensive review of UU ministry. According to the article President Morales said “the comprehensive review of the UU ministry was necessary considering the changing demographics of the United States”.
Sounds good to me. Why?
As someone who has spent a decade studying relational growth strategies* I’ve been working with the resources put out by the Willow Creek Association for years.
*Relational Growth Stategies is my umbrella term for relationally driven group based ministries including small group ministry and group based youth, young adult and campus ministries. More on this another day...)
So it was quite a surprise to me to learn that Willow Creek did an assessment of their ministry around 2004 and came up with shocking results. Seems when they asked the right questions they discovered there were some real problems. They identified a series of clear faith development steps and some sort of barrier keeping people from moving beyond a certain point. Sound familiar?
In 2004, key leaders at Willow Creek Community Church connected with Eric Arnson, the founder and director of ORIGINATE, a cutting edge research and strategy consulting firm. While meeting together, God revealed in their hearts a new vision about spiritual development. Cally Parkinson, Greg Hawkins, and Eric Arnson collaborated to write Reveal: Where Are You?, which presents REVEAL’s approach, key findings, and heart for the church. As the number of churches involved with REVEAL and the Spiritual Life Survey grew, further research and continued vision produced the second REVEAL book, Follow Me, which picks up where Reveal left off, focusing on movement and growth along the spiritual journey.
Back to the research… They looked closely at what I think is a brilliant and relevant question, one we should also be asking:
“Does Church Activity Drive Spiritual Growth?”
They started this investigation thinking they’d find a correlation between involvement in church activities and spiritual growth. Makes sense. Participate more, grow more. Right? Wrong! They did not find a correlation. What was the headline finding that sent shock waves through the system?
Church Activity Has Limited Impact on Spiritual Growth
Not a good thing to learn if you’re in the religion, church, and or spiritual growth “business.” You can look at their key findings here. When you scroll down to the findings, note that the highlighted text (white on blue) expand to reveal charts and details.
After I read the first two REVEAL books I thought a lot out our faith formation and how it tied in to my work at the time, small group ministry as a vehicle for community building, faith formation, social justice work, and outreach/evangelism.
I’m glad we’re going to take a hard honest look at our ministry. Does UU congregational participation correlate with spiritual growth? What ARE the stages of Unitarian Universalist development? Do we know what these are? What are our ministry objectives? What ongoing struggles within our association of congregations are connected to a failure to understand the way we develop and mature as people of faith?
If you look at our retention of born UUs as an indicator (and it may or may not be) we could be look at being off the “does your church really matter mark” by up to 90%… Urgency anyone?
Note I personally credit our loss of youth as a catastrophic failure in leadership development, failure to develop a relationally driven lifespan group ministry approach, and an associated lack of depth and action in Unitarian Universalism. Our children aren’t going to stay and play in the shallow end of the pool past 6th grade. No depth, no leadership opportunities, no action, no youth.
May our review of UU ministry be as REVEALing as Willow Creek’s!