Tag Archives: church growth

Multisite Merger as a Growth Strategy, Part 3 of 3

Multisite Merger as a Growth Strategy, Part 3 of 3

What is it we are risking? We are risking successrainbow chalice 02

We’ve heard how people tried to grow Unitarian Universalism in the past. And we can see new models of doing collaborative ministry that could benefit everybody. (Eventually, I’ll update this post with a link to how we’re doing collaborative ministry– it’s mind-blowing!)


The information below is from a 2012 sermon explaining the multisite concept to the Museum District campus.
What do we risk? We risk giving up some of how we do things now– for getting what we say we really want.
We risk outgrowing an old, comfortable identity for a new one better serving a larger purpose.
Change is both gain, and loss. Some folks will feel this loss–  more than others.
The caterpillar– dying to her old form– may not be impressed with the promise of birth as a beautiful butterfly.
But really– there is a much bigger risk. We risk–  success. That’s right.

Guess what the success rate is for multisite churches is?

Is it one out-of-4? Is it 50-50? No, the success rate is NINETY percent.

NINETY percent success.

Of course, that is for evangelical churches. I suppose we have to throw in a fudge factor for liberal churches. But still. NINETY percent success.
As Karen Carlson, on our Transition Team, put it in 2012:
This is a big vision. If you want to expand social justice, if you want to be more than just a small island of liberal religion in the Bible belt, this is an opportunity to step up and [be counted]. (Note: this was also used as the benediction).
So the real danger to our proposition isn’t that we won’t succeed– It is that we will succeed.
Imagine that. Imagine 7 women & men– ministers & educators–  in 3 locations, all creatively collaborating on excellent content to be shared at all locations.
Imagine finally freeing up leaders from administration & operations to lead core ministry teams.
Today, we imagine building a new way of doing Unitarian Universalism.
Today, we do– what has never been done before– we move toward being one UU church in three locations.
And why do we do this? To create a brighter beacon for liberal religion.
And to create a more welcoming home for religious liberals. Let us consider the kind of home we want to build….

Multisite Merger as a Growth Strategy, Part 2 of 3

Multisite Merger as a Growth Strategy, Part 2 of 3
Previous Attempts to Grow UU on a Big Scale
Last time, I talked about the Catch-22 of Small Congregations. This post, we’ll look at 3 previous attempts to grow UU on a big scale.
  1. Quillen Shinn.
  2. Fellowship Movement.
  3. Get Big Fast.
Our church website’s very first entry for our history, is this– 1895: Rev. Quillen Shinn first arrives in Houston. Next entry– 1899: Rev. Shinn stays for two weeks. Third entry– 1907: Rev. Shinn dies.
The Rev. Quillen Shinn was an evangelist for Universalism in the early 20th century. He would get billboards & flyers put up in towns just before he came to visit. He would reserve a space– whatever was available– a home, church, or store. There, he would preach Universalism– that we are all already saved. And he’d explain how to form a new congregation.
Then he’d leave town, and come back periodically to check on things. Some called him the greatest Universalist evangelist– ever. Others called him the Grasshopper Missionary because he moved so quickly from place to place.
“Although most of the groups Shinn started failed to survive for long, a number did.”
So, starting congregations like ours back in the early 20 th century was pretty hit or miss– and truth be told– mostly “miss.”
Within 50 years, a new strategy was developed. It was called the Fellowship Movement. The idea was to start new congregations without ministers, to try and catch up with the post-war America population boom. The program was wildly successful. Between 1948 & 1958– in just 10 years! Some 323 fellowships had been organized. They had 12,500 members, 75% of whom were new to Unitarianism.

Can you imagine adding 12,500 new UUs in 10 years? That’s like the entire UU population of Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin combined.

Most of these congregations however, never got any bigger. Eventually, the Fellowship Movement ran out of steam & money. And Unitarian Universalism has not grown much since then. In fact, last year, we shrank a little.
We had Quillen Shinn on horseback. We had the fellowship movement. Now, we move ahead, 40 years later.
At the dawn of the 21st century, came the idea to start a large UU congregation from scratch. Maybe we could have the first UU mega-church. A mega-church is one that has over 2,000 members. In the Dallas area, a local UU endowment fund purchased land for a new church.
“A few generous and visionary UU families (in the area) gave a million dollar grant to lease office space and hire five full-time staff members.”
The main idea was to start a new congregation–  AND–  have it Get Big Fast. Why not fully staff as if you were already a large church? Maybe then you could grow from 0 to 600 members in three years.
That was the original plan. They were going to delay regular Sunday services until they thought they could get 300 on a Sunday. But time passed & they decided not to wait. There first service had 140 people attend– but “many of the people attending that first worship service were well wishers from other UU churches.”
The church’s 2012 numbers are 93 adults, and the original staff– is gone.
To recap:
  1. Quillen Shinn rode horseback all over the country trying to get Universalist congregations started. Many were started, but few survived.
  2. The fellowship movement did start a lot of small Unitarian congregations. But very few got out of the small church box.
  3. The million dollar idea of Get Big Fast did not work out as planned.
Except for the Fellowship Movement–  there hasn’t been any successful strategy to grow Unitarian Universalism. And those fellowships– with very few exceptions– have been caged in by the Catch-22 that affects them. I talk about the small church Catch-22 in a previous post.
Next, what if we took some of those fellowships and merged them to take advantage of creative collaboration and an economy of scale?

Multisite Merger as a Growth Strategy, Part 1 of 3

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.