Multisite Merger as a Growth Strategy, Part 1 of 3
The Catch 22 of Small Congregations
My understanding is that except for the Fellowship Movement– there hasn’t been any successful strategy to grow Unitarian Universalism on a large scale. And those fellowships– with very few exceptions– have been caged in by the Catch-22 that affects them.
In my lifetime, I have personally only known of one congregation that has made this leap (from fellowship with no minister to 500+ member church). Just one. Out of 1,000. Maybe you know of a couple more? Still– Not very good odds.
That phrase Catch-22 comes from a novel. And it means something is a no-win situation. For small congregations– it means that
because the congregation _is_ small,
they can’t afford to hire the kind of staff
that will grow them to the size–
where they could afford that kind of staff.
And, so our smaller congregations try everything they can think of– to grow out of that small congregation box. And they almost never succeed.
These people I’m talking about– these fellow UUs– have poured their heart & money & muscle into creating a viable UU community. And that is great. It is admirable.
They know that. But they want more.
Why? Why this focus on growth? Why numbers? Why are folks so concerned about “numbers? Why is that so important? Because every number represents a person– like you & me.
And they want something else– something almost all UUs want.
They want a building to call home. And they want a minister to serve & lead them. They want to make a difference in their community.
They want to be a safe haven for religious liberals. And they want to be a shining beacon of liberal religion in often hostile world.
But that Catch-22– is still there. And it seems to keep their dreams– just– out of reach.
How many congregations are we talking about? In 2011, there were 995 brick and mortar congregations listed in the UUA official list. Of those, 350 congregations listed membership of 150 or greater. That number is significant to me because I believe that is the minimum size a congregation should be in order to have a full time, fairly compensated minister and the necessary part time staff.
This means there are 645 congregations that are too small (in my opinion) to support full time, fairly compensated ministry (and additional part time staff). That is 65% of all UU congregations!
This tells me that a significant impediment to UU growth is the Catch-22 of small congregations. Don’t get me wrong– there are plenty of UU congregations WITH ministers that don’t grow, but there are lots that do.
That’s the dilemma. What’s a possible solution? What if we could take the unique identity of a small congregation and provide it with the resources of a large one? That’s the focus of a future post.