The Flawed Nature of Unitarian Universalism?

Happy December friends.  Its a new month and you know what that means  — a new UU Growth Blog Book of the Month!   This month we’re looking at The Almost Church Revitalized by Michael Durall.

Before we dive in to this month’s book two announcements:

  1. I’ve had a request to table this months book until January as it is a busy month.  NOT gonna do it.   But I agree it is a busy time so let’s extend our investigation and make it our book for December AND January.
  2. For February (and maybe March depending on how beefy it is)  let’s read a brand new growth oriented book from Skinner House, The Growing Church: Keys to Congregational Vitality by the Rev. Thom Belote.  This title is being released January 15th, but you can pre-order now. I just did.

Okay, housekeeping in order let’s move on…

The Almost Church Revitalized.

I want to start off by bringing our attention to Durall’s description of the “nature and character of Unitarian Universalism itself” (see page 11).   In Chapter one Durall states with great clarity that we are called to be public churches, not private inward focused organizations.  There is an article based on this chapter that was recently published in the UU World Magazine which was widely shared on facebook.  I think this resonated with people.  We are not called to be UU member only clubs. We have to turn our congregations inside out.

So if many of our congregations are not yet truly public and outward focused churches, WHAT ARE WE?

In Chapter 2 “Why Unitarian Universalism Has Not Grown and How to Turn That Around” Durall offers the following list of characteristics to describe our faith. None of which he adds are of appeal to the average church shopper.  The ten characteristics are:

  • Diversity of Belief
  • Low expectations of membership and charitable giving
  • Reliance on reason and intellect
  • Personal autonomy
  • Traditional Forms of Worship
  • Attempts to be all things to all people
  • An abhorrence of evangelism
  • Distrust of clergy leadership
  • An emphasis on the democratic process
  • A hands-off attitude toward encouraging members to lead lives of dedication, commitment, and when necessary. sacrifice for the greater good.


  1. Do you think this is an accurate assessment of our faith?
  2. How many of these characteristics are true of your congregation?

For me, while I agree with this assessment as a pervasive culture in our congregations, I don’t see it as characteristics of our faith as much as how we choose to practice it.  I wouldn’t say that the very nature of Unitarian Universalism is flawed.  And I don’t think that is what Durall is saying.  Rather, the way we “do church” is.  Those bullet items which fall into the “how we do such and such” category can be changed.   That makes me hopeful, despite the challenges of change.

What do you think?

10 thoughts on “The Flawed Nature of Unitarian Universalism?

  1. Well stated, Peter. Thank you.

    I think the ten characteristics describe a pluralistic community that obsesses about its individual differences more than its communal similarities.

    All of the ten characteristics are true about our congregation in AZ, to some degree. As we grow, we are also seeing that some of them are becoming incrementally less true.

    It takes work, but here is what we have done:
    -distrust of clergy – we recently called a new minister who is successfully forming bonds with the congregation

    – (Over) emphasis on democratic process – we are adopting Policy based Governance

    -Abhorrence to evangelism – we are working on internet based evangelism (Facebook, Twitter, etc)

    – Traditional Worship – we have a much more “spiritual” style of worship now, and are trying evening, less traditional services.

    – We still have a lot of work to do in “membership giving” and “leading lives of dedication, commitment…”

    Thanks for stimulating the discussion.

  2. Hi! Thanks for naming my book *The Growing Church: Keys to Congregational Vitality* as UU Planet’s book of the month for February. I look forward to learning what people think of it and how they apply it in their congregations. I also hope to join in on the discussions!

  3. Good list. Some of those 10 pts, while unatteactive to most church shoppers, are attractive to our core demographic. Others are just bad habits.

    Another one I’d mention is the generally high level of politics that we mix in with our faith (e.g. The uuawo opposing specific candidates for judgeships) I read a study earlier this year that said UUs had the highest level of politics in our sermons out of a bunch of denominations studied. My own congregation has gotten better about this. But I visit other uu churches and am often appalled at the amount of politics present in , say, the Joys and Concerns candlelightings.

  4. My congregation in San Antonio has:
    * Diversity of Belief–check
    * Low expectations of membership and charitable giving–check, though we do talk about expecting more
    * Reliance on reason and intellect–uh, no, and I wish we had more
    * Personal autonomy–if you mean we don’t force anybody to do anything, check
    * Traditional Forms of Worship–checkity check check
    * Attempts to be all things to all people–check and a half
    * An abhorrence of evangelism–checkzilla
    * Distrust of clergy leadership–oh, my, do we ever, our minister just decided not to renew his contract
    * An emphasis on the democratic process–actually, we have a lot of tension between some who would like to see more personal leadership and those who would throw every question to the congregation
    * A hands-off attitude toward encouraging members to lead lives of dedication, commitment, and when necessary. sacrifice for the greater good–check yet again

    There are some that are part and parcel of being UUs–diversity of belief, personal autonomy, abhorrence of evangelism and reliance on the democratic process–and three of those four I would like to increase, whether or not they’re attractive to a church shopper. (By the way, did Durall say these weren’t attractive or that they are repellant to church shoppers? There is a huge difference.) The others are things I’m trying, with little success, to change.

    My larger question is what to do when faced with such a laundry list of things that need changing?

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