I read a lot of non-fiction books. Or (since many of them are about religion) books that the author and I agree to call nonfiction in spite of certain declarations by others. Recently, I’ve been reading up on missionalism and evangelism.
I found some new resources, and I figured I should learn as much as I can if I am going to keep trying to lead people to include those concepts in their view of Unitarian Universalism.
In reading up on Evangelism, I have found that many people break it down into 3 crucial steps. They are important steps in sharing any idea, and Unitarian Universalists are generally good at the most important of them. The thing is that without the other two, the one in the middle doesn’t matter. If we neglect do the first one and don’t learn to the last, then we are going to lose the chance to do the things we are good at. Worse, we can make movement seem irrelevant to a lot of visitors, even after they sit through a service. It doesn’t matter if we are on the street or in our own place of worship; if we can’t follow through to this last step, we are going to fail to convince anyone to join us. Worse, we risk reenforcing the stereotype that UUs don’t really believe in anything, and that we aren’t really a religious movement at all.
To explain why that is, I need to examine the 3 steps individually and explain their importance.
The first is to make a statement of faith. People have to know what you believe if there is going to be a conversation started. This can be almost anything; a pair of flaming chalice ear rings that people take notice of, a social action event where you let people know that your participation is part of your spiritual practice, or a simple statement that you are a Unitarian Universalist might all lead to an opening when someone asks, “What’s that mean?”
The second step is to have an honest conversation and really try to connect with the other person. We are good at this part, generally. Any of us can listen, and we can all learn how to listen to hear rather than listening to respond. Give the other person equal time, and make them feel heard and appreciated. Let them know that their experience matters to us in our search for truth and meaning. Be genuinely kind and considerate, and people will appreciate the time they spend talking to you, even about religion.
The last part, though, we tend not to be very good at. I have written in my personal blog about how we are really good at “Free” and not so good at “Responsible”, and this is where that kills our efforts to change and shape the way people see us. That is because, at some point, if the conversation goes on long enough, we will have to defend our faith. It is a very different thing for us than for the typical evangelical Christian, but it is no less important. Someone might be coming to services, looking to get involved, ready to sign the book, and we can still lose them if we don’t know how to defend our faith against the mainstream view that each religion has to be “right”, more so than any of the others. We can still leave people dissatisfied if we can’t explain how we really are a faith-based religious movement.
Worst of all, there are plenty of active UUs who are vital to their own congregation who don’t understand these things. There are even some out there who will argue, from the inside, that we aren’t a real religion with faith in anything.
Later this week, We will post information about the best tools we have for defending Liberal Religion, and even Unitarian Universalism. We may be so liberal a religion as to be self-injurious, but our faith can still be wholly justified by James Luther Adams’ writing, as collected into what has become known as “The 5 Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion.” These 5 tenets of liberal faith should help you explain to anyone how Unitarian Universalism is not only a religious tradition, but a vibrant one that could have a very bright future.
The promised follow-up has been posted here.