Lots of questions to consider. First, we have to set some definitions, and some guidelines about nomenclature.
First UU Church of Houston was the Adopting Church, at 360 members. Northwest Community UU Church, at 50 members and Henry David Thoreau UU Congregation of Fort Bend County, at 70 members were the Joining Churches.
Combined, we’re now at about 480 members.
We look at everything through the eyes of simplification and context for newcomers. This meant changing the informal name of the church and the names of the campuses.
Some people wanted First UU to be called “Main” or Main Street or another nearby street name. But Main Street in Houston, runs more than 50 miles long, so you’re not really helping. And “Northwest” doesn’t really help in a city the size of Houston, and there is no Thoreau, TX.
So, we are Copperfield Campus, Museum District Campus, and the Thoreau/Stafford campus.
Copperfield had just lost their 1/4 time minister. And while Thoreau/Stafford had a couple of full time interims, that did not look to be financially viable going forward. Why is that important? Because it made the leadership more open to radical ideas about their future.
What is merger about for the Joining Churches? It’s about giving up control for a new chance at success that has previously been out of reach.
It’s frequently about a significant jump in ministry quality. And it is especially about long term thriving.
What is merger about for the Adopting Church? It’s about creative collaboration, economy of scale, better use of resources, and expanding Unitarian Universalism in their geographic area.
As you might imagine, as the first senior minister of a 3 campus UU church, I have been approached by colleagues who are wondering if times are ripe in their neck of the woods to consider a massive change to “How We Do Church Now.”
Let’s say you are a minister or a lay leader at a potential Adopting or Joining church. How should you even begin your journey of inquiry?
Read “Better Together,” have your leadership read it. Meet to discuss. It is an eye opener. And it is extraordinarily helpful to set the context. It puts everyone on the same page.
Now, let’s consider a typical scenario for an Adopting Church and 2 Joining Churches and just ONE of the many advantages, which can best be described as:
A quarter time minister is there (almost) every Sunday of the year, and becomes the “face with the place.”
Let’s say each of the potential joining churches can each afford a quarter time minister. Normally, that would mean they’d get a live preacher once a month. That preacher probably wouldn’t be on the same level as the senior minister of an Adopting Church, and newcomers would “never” see the quarter time minister because they’d usually come on a day the minister wasn’t there.
If those quarter time ministers worked with the senior on sermon development, they could be the ‘campus minister,’ the face-with-the-place, and be there almost every Sunday, conducting the liturgy, doing each part of the service, except the sermon. The quarter time minister would preach live once a month, and the video recorded sermon would be on screen the other Sundays (lots of people fear video sermons, but research– and our own experience– doesn’t bear that out).
Our model– one church in 3 locations– means we really are just ONE church. It meant the Joining Churches gave up their non-profit state charter, and all joined the Adopting Church. That’s pretty radical, but it also– almost guarantees– their survival and thriving.
Can the multisite model be done with out that? Maybe. But I wouldn’t want to try it. Because we commit to that campus’ thriving. We don’t just provide sermons.
We provide children, youth, and adult RE, which is tied into sermon content. Plus, we have taken over all operations, administration– everything.
Our two satellites dissolved their non-profit corporate charters and are now officially part of us. That’s going ALL the way.
Needless to say, this whole thing is made possible by policy governance, which is often a shock to leaders in small congregations– usually a welcome shock, but a shock nevertheless.
If you’re interested in exploring the idea of UU church mergers in order to become a multisite church, then
The number one thing you should do right away is get the book “Better Together” from Amazon or wherever and read the whole thing, as fast as you can.
It will provide some context for the next steps. If I were you, I’d also get a few copies for the leaders at the two congregations you are talking to, so you all can be on the same page.
I suppose at some point– probably not this GA in Providence, we should think about putting together something like a 4 day midweek boot camp to thoroughly soak folks into “How We Do Church Now.” I have no doubt that this model is going to take off.
Seriously, read “Better Together,” but don’t be put off by the evangelical credentials of the authors. It is ground breaking work.