Every congregation talks about growth. There are Facebook groups, websites, blogs, and even offices in the UUA devoted to the topic. Growth is important to the health of a congregation and of a religious movement. If we aren’t growing, at least a little, then we will fade beyond obscurity and into irrelevance. The thing that is often glossed over in these discussions boils down to two essential questions: What counts as growth, and why do we want it?
That may seem silly to those who haven’t served in church leadership, and even some who have, but they aren’t always easy to answer honestly.
(These next two paragraphs will just be a list of questions intended to examine those two issues. If you are familiar with the topic, fell free to skip ahead.)
Is growth a matter of the number of commitments (generally in the form of pledges) or the amount of commitment overall; if the people we have give more, is that still growth, or do we need to add names to the membership book? What if more people are showing up regularly but aren’t joining; is that still growth, or a sign of a problem? What if we are attracting new people who don’t have as much time or money to give as what we hoped? How do we gauge our growth, and how do we cope if it takes a different form than we hoped for?
Why do we want to grow? Is it to expand our programing? To pad our budget? To hire more staff? Do we want more people just to keep our traditions alive? Are we looking to validate our Principles by bringing more people in? Are we serving the community that we have well enough to support more people?
Growth is an important topic, and it is far from simple. The most important part is probably asking why we are seeking growth, because it will answer the question of what we are looking for. Here is the answer I hope you will all strongly consider:
We seek growth because we feel we have something to offer, and we want to share it with as many people as possible.
Then, the trick is figuring out what you are offering. Focus on your mission, your purpose, and if it meets a need, growth will come from it.
Rev. Beth Miller put it this way:
That’s the key: Find out how your congregation is best equipped to increase love and justice in your community, and do that to the best of your ability. When people see that, and hear how your faith (whether it is in humanity, divinity, or just the power of love) drives your congregation to fulfill its mission, folks will want to be part of it. Growth depends on being committed to our moral and theological foundations as well as embracing all of our sources and truly aspiring to make our Principles real in the world. Growth requires standing for something, and giving people something worthy of their trust and commitment. As I have said here before, part of what makes being in a community powerful and appealing is being able to add your strengths to those of the other members, and coming up with a somewhat stronger effect than you all would have achieved working separately. Success is always attractive.
Offering good RE and OWL classes leads to growth. Standing with the local immigrant population, the minimum wage workers, or the LGBTQA community leads to growth. Supporting the local food bank or a voter registration drive leads to growth, especially if you can make it clear that these actions are an expression of our values as a community. The often overlooked part is making the statement that our giving is an act of faith. When we do the right thing, and let people know where we find the strength, the inspiration, and the community that drives us to be positive influences, people will want to check that out for themselves. That is organic, sustainable, healthy growth.
What do you offer? How do you serve your community in a way that stands out? What are your points of growth potential, and how are you maximizing your influence?