In my last two posts, I have discussed research findings about Unitarian Universalists from the American Religious Identification Survey. Now…what does it all mean?
More than half of those who tell researchers that they are UU’s don’t belong to a UU church. Some are probably peripherally involved with a UU church, but it seems more likely that the majority of this group consists of people who were raised UU. (This can be inferred from the large number of people who identified as UU’s who said that they had never changed faiths, ie, were raised UU’s. Over 50% reported of the sample claimed this, whereas I have never been in a group of UU’s over age 35 where more than about 20% were raised UU’s; the usual figure is 10%.) So it appears to me that a major question we should be asking is, “What could we do to get our kids back?” (most of those “kids” are now over 40, of course). The answer to that question will have to be found by discovering ways we can serve the religious needs of adults who were raised UU’s, still think of themselves as UU’s, but are no longer participating in a congregation.
A second, more general question would be, “How can we serve the religious needs of those who tell researchers that they are UU’s but are not members of our congregations? (In some polling situations, three times as many people tell researchers that they are UU’s than are members of our congregations) What’s up, here? Are there solvable issues with current congregations that would bring more folks in? (maybe most of our congregations need to find ways to offer Saturday worship? Maybe what people really want is small groups?) Is the problem that we’ve conflated legal membership in the corporation with membership in the religious community? (We need to ask the Puritans how that worked for them!) Are there ways to meet needs on a fee-for-service basis that would allow non-member UU’s to feel a part of things and offer support without joining? (Retreats, RE, Small Groups, etc?) Do we want to do that? This discernment is the work that is being called “Congregations and Beyond”.