One of the highlights of my years of guest speaking at Unitarian Universalist congregations happened October 5th, 2014! I was leading the service at High Plains Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado, Springs speaking on “Friendship in the Digital Age.” This was during a service after a weekend training on UU Social Media and Growth. Following my message for all ages, the amazing UU musician Joe Uveges improvised a song reinforcing my message. You can watch both the message and performance in the following video. We joked about going on tour together — anyone up for a UU Growth-a-palooza and Sing Along conference? Enjoy 😉
Note that the message for all ages was about how hard it is to come in to a congregation as a newcomer. This is a very funny message on how to introduce yourself to newcomers. In it I use a paper smiley like face with googly eyes but with an awkward expression, no smile — call it an anxiety face.
It has eyes that can move around which surprises people. I often ask the kids what the persons name is and this time the name offered was Gumbo. I did say I didn’t think we should call all our visitors Gumbo, but that’s the name in the song.
I’ll be at General Assembly all week, including during ministry days, so make sure to connect. Besides helping to lead this series, I’m going to be talking with clergy colleagues about a new series of social media learning opportunities specifically for parish ministers on making your public ministry more public. Yes, if you are a professional minister being paid to do public ministry, I think it is critical that you have a strong online identity — YOU, not just your congregation. Oh yes, I’m talking about using clergy personal branding as a catalyst for Unitarian Universalist growth.
Look for our Leading Congregations ad in the program book. It shares contact information for contacting me and Amy at General Assembly, plus an invitation to subscribe to our newsletter. I’ll be sharing new social media educational offerings and resources via the newsletter following GA. Don’t miss out! Some offerings are going to have limited participation, and I’m going to share invitations with subscribers of our newsletter first.
Recently I had the honor of collaborating with my friend and colleague, the Rev. Naomi King, on the 2013 Minns Lecture “Ministry in the Age of Collaboration.” We were asked to speak on social media and Unitarian Universalism in the 2st Century.
We are both sharing core messages from our talks via our blogs, and videos of the lectures will be available later this month.
For this first post of mine, before I start in on social media, I think it is helpful to speak to the issue of our congregations being out of synch with time. I’ve discussed with United Church of Christ colleagues the fact that the UCC seems, to me, 10 years ahead of the Unitarian Universalist Association in some regards. They in turn chuckle and say they feel the UCC is 10 years behind where they should be. That puts us, if you do the math, 20 years behind!
Our lagging leads to significant problems with our ministry. Most frequent in my conversations with our leaders:
Why don’t our children grow up to be adult Unitarian Universalists?
Why aren’t families participating the way they use to?
Why aren’t we attracting all those spiritual and not religious people, the nones?
And while we’re at it, why aren’t people drawn to, and participating in the work of good institutions like ours the way they use to?
These are complex issues with no one simple answer or quick fix. But there is a common problem plaguing many of our congregations which is directly contributing to them.
Our congregations? They’ve gotten lost in time…. I know, it sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it?
Ministry Time Bubbles
Many congregations are living in what I call “ministry time bubbles.” You see, for many congregations — maybe yours — the world has changed around you. Not a little. Not a lot. We’re talking massive mighty change impacting every aspect of our human society.
How did some congregations get stuck in time? A content membership, leadership and staff with enough money to care for themselves, coupled with sudden rapid technological innovation in the world at large.
When a congregation has stable membership numbers, enough funds to meet its own needs, it is easy to focus on caring for that immediate community. That’s the congregation as “safe harbor.” And believe me, plenty of people are looking for a safe harbor, including being sheltered from change.
With a reasonable membership and sufficient budget, a congregation can go about its ministry in this way, with attention on its membership and little attention on the rest of the world for years.
To create a significant ministry time bubble, take this set up and crank up the rate of change in the larger world. Presto!
In this illustration you can see a congregation starting in synch with the world – blue, then while they were busy with their internal ministry, the rate of change outside picked up. Uh oh…
For a very long time change in our world came at a rate that was challenging, but not too drastic. The difference between “congregational time” and “world time” was reasonable. Leaders were able to slowly soak in the change. Taking time was okay. A decade to get the congregation set up on email? No problem! Five years to debate a new website? Why not!
Things are different today. We’ve recently gone through three major technological revolutions:
Development of the internet
Creation and proliferation of social media
All that tech in your pocket thanks to mobile computing
These technologies are fundamentally changing the culture, norms and expectations of human society. And not just once, they’re impacting human behavior day after day after day.
While many congregations have been going about their business of faithfully changing the world locally (focus on core membership), the very world they’re called to change — it changed. Result? A congregation out of synch with time, technology and culture.
These ministry time bubble, they may be fine for a while. But increasingly the discrepancies are too great to maintain. And what was chalked up to technology becomes a matter of clashing cultures.
New Norms for Humanity
These discrepancies between how our congregations are going about ministry and what is increasingly mainstream culture – big problem. It is easy to discount technology we don’t care for. But we can’t minister effectively if we discount a changing human culture. And that’s the scale of what we’re talking about.
Think about that. Your congregation, if you aren’t actively staying in touch with present day technology and resulting culture — and this is a moving target — will be increasingly out of touch with the culture of those people you are seeking to minister to and with.
What culture am I talking about?
We’ve been globalized, interconnected and sci-fi like devices have been placed in our pockets giving us mind boggling creative, collaborative, and coordinating powers! These powers are rapidly changing how we do everything from work and play, to how we learn and organize ourselves to face the injustices of our time.
Unfortunately, this growing culture clash isn’t readily apparent to many of our leaders. Why? Because our culture being out of whack with what is becoming mainstream present day human culture simply results in humanity wanting nothing to do with us. It is like a silent force gently pushing people away from us, including our young people who want to be active and effective agents for change.
You might say that we raised our very smart children well enough for them to know that our congregations, those stuck in time, are not the best places to invest their time and energy. Great leaders (and aspiring leaders) don’t suffer through mediocre leadership. They find an institution or revolution ready to help them be of service.
The Good News!
The good news is that our mission, our purpose, that change we and our congregations are (hopefully) called to make in the world — there are more people than ever interested in that. We know this because we’re increasingly networked together.
But…. (Drat! You knew there was a but.)
But the people we are trying to minister to and with are different now. You see, we’re all adapting to this new world. We are learning to do amazing things with the creative, collaborative, democratizing, gamified, hierarchy crushing, grassroots coordinating, rapid response, instantaneous, “fail often, fail fast, fail forward” tools and culture of this time.
We need your Unitarian Universalist religious leadership more than ever!
We just need you to be a religious leader differently.
We need you to understand the cultural shifts that are reshaping our human society, reshaping the world, and how to harness them to unleash our shared ministry in a world increasingly characterized by connectivity and openness.
If you can get to Fairhaven, MA on May 5th, please join me. This is going to be a fabulous event. Here’s why I’m excited and hope you’ll make the time to join me and promote the heck out of this event within your home congregation…
I can’t wait for this event as it will feature a keynote by the Rev. Ron Robinson who is doing amazing work in Turley, OK with a missional approach to Unitarian Universalist ministry. This missional approach marks one end of what we’ve been discussing online as a growing “bandwidth” of what church can be. There are a lot of ways we can go about being congregations and Robinson’s way is at one end of the spectrum. I can’t wait to meet Ron in person and learn from his truly innovative ministry.
Congregations and Beyond
After our morning meeting, worship and keynote, we’ll have lunch and then go into five different conversations. I will be facilitating one on the “Congregations and Beyond” paper written by UUA President Peter Morales. This paper has people talking across our association. As someone dedicated to helping congregations adapt to life and ministry in the 21st century, I am *so* excited that we are having this conversation. Too many of our congregations are slipping behind as technology and culture change at an accelerating pace. Friends, this goes far beyond needing a better website and Facebook page. If your congregation is going to be here in 2020 there are some very specific trends you need to be following, skills to master, and ministry strategies to implement. In other words, we gotta talk…
But don’t all come to my conversation – we have five of them!
A Missional Progressive Guide to Changing A Neighborhood Rev. Ron Robinson
Engaging with Hot Topics Rev. Amy Freedman
Rev. Ken Read-Brown
Exploring “Congregations and Beyond” Peter Bowden
Gathered Here Janet Richardi, Eva Marx & BCD Board Members
Whether you attend my program or not, all Unitarian Universalists are encouraged to read, discuss, and share the the Congregations and Beyond paper. You may visit my Congregations and Beyond page to read it, find related articles, and online forums for discussing. I also have a range of related sermons and workshops I’m developing for next year. If you want to book an event or guest speaking date for Fall 2012, I recommend contacting me by the end of April.
Mission-Driven Congregations: Living into the Community
“A passion for a mission can transformed people and can transform the world.
So a congregation’s mission must be grounded in, and meaningfully connected to,
its theological self-understanding and all of its congregational life.”
— Tom Berlin, coauthor Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results
Being a mission-driven congregation gives meaning to a congregation and can by a means for outreach and a way to for a congregation to make a real difference in their community. This conference will explore various aspects of being a mission-driven congregation from working with the economically disadvantaged in a community to determining one’s own spiritual outlook to be the foundation for justice work. The keynote sermon by the Rev Ron Robinson with his sermon, “Reshaping the World: church in likeness to a different God” will start the conversation by having participants consider the questions, “Where in a hurting world should we be?” “How as progressives and liberationist can we create a different church that will bear different fruit than just maintain our religious organizations of like-minded souls?”
Rev. Robinson is the Executive Director of A Third Place Community Foundation, a non-profit formed by The Welcome Table, a missional, emerging congregation in the UUA located in Turley, OK. He is also the Executive Director of the UU Christian Fellowship and adjunct faculty of Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK. He has served on the board of the Southwestern UU Conference and is a recipient of the Von Stilli Award for his work in helping churches grow.
The afternoon will have four Conversations to further explore the theme by looking at various aspects of becoming mission-focused. There will also be an opportunity to engage in a Gathered Here exercise. Scroll down for full write up of each.
The BCD Annual Meeting will be held in the morning at 9:15 as part of the worship service.
A Missional Progressive Guide to Changing A Neighborhood Rev.Ron Robinson
A conversation on the Three R’s, the Four Paths, the Seven Acts that guide the work A Third Place does in Turley, OK and the lessons being learned as they have been engaged in renewing neighborhoods that are the lowest income and have the lowest life expectancy in the Turley area. Robinson’s ministry in Turley, OK was featured in the Spring 2011 issue of UU World Magazine. Read article, “Cultivating an abandoned place.”
Engaging with Hot Topics Rev. Amy Freedman
What if our congregations actually encouraged people to explore the very topics that seem too hot to handle? The Rev. Amy Freedman, who helped members of a congregation she served to openly discuss several controversial topics during her tenure will offer three strategies for encouraging robust engagement with controversial subjects. Facing controversial issues, including what kind of mission a congregation should have is important for a congregation to be healthy.
Spiritual autobiography Rev. Ken Read-Brown
Creating one’s spiritual autobiography can deepen individual spiritual journeys to provide a foundation for doing missional work in a community while also fostering a richer experience among participants in our congregations. Rev. Ken Read-Brown, has led spiritual autobiography groups several times during his twenty-five years as minister of First Parish in Hingham (Old Ship Church).
Exploring “Congregations and Beyond” Peter Bowden
UUA President Peter Morales’ recent white paper, “Congregations and Beyond” offers a vision of the opportunities and challenges that face Unitarian Universalism if we are willing to push beyond pre-determined boundaries. Senior UUA staff recently has been in conversation with congregation and district leaders, including BCD Growth Consultant Peter Bowden (read more). Building on these conversations he will facilitate a discussion about this important topic and its impact on congregational mission.
Gathered Here Janet Richardi & BCD Board members Gathered Here is a UUA initiative using an appreciate inquiry model to let UUs share their experiences with and aspirations for Unitarian Universalism. The UUA Board and staff and District leaders will use the information assembled from these conversations taking place across the country to determine future course of the Association.
8:15 Registration, Mix & Mingle, Delegate Credentialing, UU Mall
9:00 Worship Service Opening
9:15 BCD Annual Meeting *
10:45 Hymn sing
11:00 Keynote sermon
11:45 Worship Service Closing
12:00 Picnic Lunch
1:00 Conversations & Gathered Here
2:30 Closing in Conversation Groups
* No fee to only attend the morning worship and District Annual Meeting Other Information
* UU Network Mall: An assembly of informational displays and items for sale, Vendors, congregations, and organizations that wish to have a display should call the BCD office (508) 599-6650 to reserve a space.