Unitarian Universalist Faith Formation and Growth


We had a fabulous Ballou Channing Spring Conference.  The sermons delivered by James Ford, Sue Sinnamon, and Erik Wikstrom worked together beautifully.

Again, our conference was using research from the “Faith Formation 2020 National Initiative” of  LifelongFaith Associates (lifelongfaith.com), specifically the following reports:

Thirteen Trends and Forces Influencing the Future of Faith Formation in a Changing Church and World (PDF)
Four Scenarios for the Future of Faith Formation in 2020 (PDF)

The take away from the day?  We covered *so* much in one day. Hard to encapsulate. For me the following are some key highlights I’ve been thinking about following the conference.

  • We can’t assume that we understand what speaks to different groups in terms of worship style, music, and so on — we have to engage with them and ask.  We can’t just add a second worship service with rock music and casual attire to appeal to post-boomers.
  • There is much to be hopeful about in the trends we looked at.  More people are “spiritual, not religious,” post-boomer faith is in many ways a UU style meshing and mashing from various sources.  Younger generations want more freedom and autonomy within an engaged spirituality.  We have much to offer those who are oriented this way.
  • But, we have to change.  You, Me, Us – we’re going to have to give up things we love, things we’re clinging to.  Erik Wikstrom delivered his sermon in three parts.  Rap style, more traditional heady-UU, and then a rousing evangelical close.  In part III of his sermon he had us responding to “Do you love Unitarian Universalism!?” and other questions with the group responding with cheers (with my help) of YES!  This built up to his exclaiming,  “Than you’re going to have to give up something you love…”  We can’t move forward without moving out of our comfort zones.
  • Sue shared what, to me at least, was a very compelling picture of Unitarian Universalism built on a foundation of multi-generational worship and life long faith formation.  Examples were shared of congregations where all come together for worship followed by a myriad of classes and other opportunities for faith formation.   Others where there is worship for all up to the time for the core message, children and adults split for an adult sermon and childrens message, followed by multi-generation classes, and then a final celebration service.  I love this concept.  Sue affirmed that we shouldn’t get rid of things that are working, we can add on new offerings.
  • To offer more we’re going to need to do far more in terms of staff and lay leaders empowering others to serve, gift based ministry, and LAY ministry.  It wasn’t discussed at the conference, but one of my favorite church authors, Carl George, writes that staff should be evaluated based on the number of new leaders they cultivate each year.  Imagine staff reviews where the primary questions asked were things like how many people have you intentionally been mentoring over the previous year?  Who have you trained in a capacity building way this quarter?  and As a result of your ministry, how many new leaders/ministers do we have?
  • How do you institutionalize ministries to/with people repelled by organized religion? We talked quite a bit about four scenarios discussed in the Faith Formation 2020 literature.  In this material a matrix is presented with two dimensions – interest in organized religion and spiritual hunger.  Someone who is drawn to organized religion and is spiritually hungry is going to be quite interested in what we have to offer.  However, this is a rapidly shrinking portion of the population.  There are far more people who are “spiritually hungry” but do not have an interest or comfort with organized religion.  Is there a way for us to engage with this population?   I’ve been thinking we need to launch a campaign whereby congregations have members facilitate small group ministry style groups, not in the church or for existing members, but as a form of outreach in the larger community.  Not UU sessions, but amazing sessions about life, spirituality, and the like.
  • More to come…

7 thoughts on “Unitarian Universalist Faith Formation and Growth

  1. Sounds tremendously exciting!

    Building our capacity to thrive in discomfort is one of our big spiritual focal points right now. How will we encourage and assess our leadership from a grassroots level to help us be more uncomfortable and increase our abilities of living in discomfort and thriving spiritually in the midst of that?

    I love Carl George for so many reasons & that clarity of vision is one of them. But the assessment of cultivation of leaders has two pieces we need to grow more comfortable in cultivating: followership and following through the discomfort to a vision of why we’re here and who we’re serving not to be our own selves.

    There’s much to be done. There’s some great stuff happening. And as we remember our larger and wider calling, even more can and will.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Peter. It’s much appreciated. I don’t know what to think and feel about all of this information. I am wildly thankful to serve a church in what’s been called the most “un-churched” city in the US that is growing like wild. We got the keys to our own building last week, and we are moving in. There are some bright spots out in UU Land! But I am trying to absorb all of this great information so we can KEEP serving our members well. Thanks much!

    1. You’re right. It is a lot. I’d like to see more opportunities for us to discuss these issues. The UUA has offered conference and organizing calls related to various social justice campaigns. It would be good to organize calls around these issues as well. 😉

  3. Belated thanks for this, and the link to the document. I was particularly pleased to see the discussion in the Scenario 2 of “A Third Place” movement since this is what our UU group started by that name back in 2007. I can’t wait to pass this on to our folks too. My own hunch for scenario is 2.5; I lean more toward seeing scenario three all the time

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