Sunday, March 01, 2009

Church Planters

David Throop, on the UU Church Planters list just posted something interesting:

Last night, I attended a dinner where the Revs Peter Morales and Laurel Hallman (candidates for President of the UUA) debated.

Rev Morales discussed UU growth. He described a plan of large churches planting satellite churches. Typically, an established church of 600+ members opens a satellite campus at another location. E.g. a big downtown church opens a suburban campus. The members at the satellite are full members of the mother church. The Sunday worship is video-streamed to the satellite. The events at the satellite are listed in the common newsletter. A junior pastor has office hours (Sundays & during the week) at the satellite. RE programs are available at the satellite, but the trainings etc are done at the mother church.

Later, in the hallway, I talked some with Morales. He said such a satellite takes less than half a full-time position, but can offer the full-featured experience of a large church. He also commented that, in a metro-plex, large churches eat small ones, without meaning to. People attend a 50-member suburban church, join and stay for a while. Then they visit the larger church. They experience the difference between an RE program with 8 kids and one with 100 kids. They try out all the offerings at the larger church. And they decide its worth driving the extra 30 minutes for the better quality. The small church stays small, even tho it is doing a good job for a church its size.
This is very interesting to me as I'm in a dwindling small church ... a church that does so many things right ... but yeah, we can't offer what the big ones are. I've never heard it phrased as Morales did, but it seems to be very honest and very on point.

I like the satellite idea, but it seems to me it needs to be that way from the inception of the satellite church. Could a large church "annex" us successfully? I don't think so. It's just a completely different way of doing church.

Meanwhile, I continue to ponder what the heck the solution is for the small church in a big area. Our little portion of the universe is filled with gifted leaders -- leaders who are becoming well known in the larger UU community. But our church isn't growing.

Too much to unpack right now ... I'm still at ICUUW. As someone said this morning, "my brain is so full, words aren't making any sense anymore."


ogre said...

Yep, that was an interesting post.

And my thoughts ran parallel to yours, as you'll no doubt see, since I posted...

Satellites--if they're understood as being a sort of spider plant growth scheme idea, seem like a nifty idea.

I'm wondering how some of that can be shared with existing small(er) congregations to avoid the pointless process of devouring them so that a satellite can be set up in the area (not that that would be the plan, just the result). Some of them already HAVE ministers and some of the programs, but not enough of them.

Helping provide some staff support--and even a part-time circuit rider position to make the rounds of such congregations in the area to help make things happen that a solo minister (or a part timer) with little or no staff... just can't.

I suspect that there's a culture that needs to be developed in the UUA and in the larger churches to pull this off, to see sharing those resources now as being a long term commitment that will pay off over time....

But yes, it can't be done in a way that will be seen as being "taken over" or "annexed."

I look forward to your getting your brain unpacked, LE.

Robin Edgar said...

Rev. Peter Morales is going to have to come up with something a lot better than that idea if he was to grow U*Uism from the "tiny, declining, fringe religion" which he acknowledges that U*Uism currently is into "the religion of our time" as per his somewhat dubious UUA Presidential campaign slogan. What else has he got to offer towards significant growth of U*Uism?

Elizabeth said...

Having attended small, semi-rural UU churches in VT, a good-sized UU church in VT, and a church in NJ that struggled in the 90s with whether to make the step from medium to large, allow me to share these thoughts.

Small churches with larger churches nearby get eaten up because
a) they want to grow but they don’t know how
b) they want to stay small but they don’t know how

A church’s vision for itself must include not just a vision of who they are but a vision for WHY they are who they are. Why does a small church want to grow? How large is the unserved community in their area? What are those people's needs? How can the church attract them? It’s not enough to say “Here’s what we offer”. Churches have to answer the newcomer’s question – “What’s in it for me?”. That answer is often NOT in what the church has as programs, worship and activities. The answer is mostly within the newcomer, and often the newcomer isn’t asked.

Why does a small church want to stay small? Simply being comfortable with smallness is a death knell. Why is that smallness valuable? When a newcomer says “What’s in it for me?”, what will the small church’s answer be? Small churches have to be willing to send the families who want a large RE program to the bigger church. They can’t offer that. What DOES the small church offer?

The answer hangs around the concept of “intentionality”. I don’t know how, but it does.

Elizabeth said...

Forgive me. I think in the blog world, for a person to submit two comments is an etiquette error. But I’ve done that before …

You wrote “Our little portion of the universe is filled with gifted leaders -- leaders who are becoming well known in the larger UU community.” Your church, therefore, is a leadership incubator. You let these folks be big fish in a small pond until they can navigate the big pond. Does this throw the church’s ability to lead and govern itself into turmoil, or can your incubating capability become part of your church’s vision for itself?

Kristina said...

I'm new to church in general and to being a UU in particular (only about two years now), so I guess that is my disclaimer.

But as I read the quote from Morales, all I could think is "I don't want to hear my sermons via sattelite!!!!" I want to hear them from a real, live person who is standing right in front of me. I want to go up to that person afterwards and say, "That touched me." I want to attend worship with my community in person, too. I don't want to be a little spinoff, I want to be in the center of my own spiritual universe, not a moon orbiting some larger body.

Of course, as a member, I don't have to worry about this kind of thing; I can leave it to the minister, the board of directors, etc. In reading Morales' words, I'm grateful that I don't have to make those decisions, because I don't like them one little bit.

Maybe I got lucky (Okay, so I know that I did...), but I found a medium sized congregation within walking distance of my home. There is a fabulous RE program (hi, Kari!) with enough children for my six year old to have playmates and learners of her own age group. I've been attending long enough that I recognize enough faces to know when someone is new, and to say hello and use a name with others, and to have found true friendship with others. It's big enough to have lots of activities to reach out to different groups....and small enough that it feels like a community to me, with names and stories behind the faces.

I just don't know if I'd feel the same if my spiritual leadership came from a video screen.

I listen to spiritual podcasts, I read books, I look at blogs. But my church....that is a whole 'nother idea. I don't want any technology between me and that warm body at the front....the person who might catch my eye some time during the service with a look that says, "You - Kristina. I see you."

I don't have any answers, just a strong personal response, so I'll look forward to reading more and figuring out more of where I stand outside of my own selfish desires. :-)

Masasa said...

Yeah, that sounds like an interesting concept to consider. And by the way, Morales has my vote. I've now heard Morales and Hallman debate three or four times, and had a couple personal conversations with each of them. It has taken me this long, but I am now confident that Hallman wouldn't be the right direction for us.

Kari said...

I grew up in a little church and when I moved across the country I tried so so so hard to join a big church with all those good things. Where did I wind up? In a little church. There are needs for both, I think.

Such good stuff to think about. And I'm so glad your head didn't explode. :-)

Lizard Eater said...

Elizabeth -- "can your incubating capability become part of your church’s vision for itself?"

You have just completely exploded my head. Wow. (It's a good thing.)