Like pruning inactive members from our rolls, should we remove disconnected congregations from our Association?  In a lively conversation at our Heartland District Assembly, one of us suggested that we should rescind the charter of any congregation that has neither made any financial contributions to our UUA nor sent any members to a District or General Assembly over the last five years. This is not intended to be a punishment, but rather a way of strengthening our Association, and encouraging real engagement between congregations (Alice Blair Wesley is not the only person who believes in lateral accountability, or the “communion of congregations”).  Because it is not a punishment, it would not be an immediate event–a deadline could be set, a few years hence, and significant efforts made to reach out to (and assist) those churches, fellowships and societies who have become somewhat estranged.

Others among us were not convinced that our less-connected fellows should be removed from our Association. At least one thought that removing them from the “find a congregation near you” app would be sufficient.  After all, if we haven’t had any real contact for a while, is it ethical for us to send a stranger there?

Along that line, another suggested that we could do some “quality control.”  Nearby congregations could send “undercover newcomers” to participate in worship, then report back to the visited congregation about their experience, just like “secret shoppers” in stores and restaurants.  In the above-mentioned “find a congregation” app, the user can choose to find only Welcoming congregations, or only accessible congregations.  Maybe there could be a “certified friendly” checkbox, for visitors seeking congregations where someone will actually talk to them if they are holding a yellow Newcomer’s Mug.

A fair number of church consultants agree that a congregation of 100 active, committed members is better (more effective in the wider world, more fulfilling to the members) than a congregation with 200 uncommitted members and friends. Generally speaking, I agree with this sentiment. So do I agree with pruning un-connected congregations?

I am not sure.  I haven’t seen any data about whether pruning such churches actually strengthens the association/denomination/group to which they belonged.  It does make some sense, but it also feels a tad drastic. 

I was about to type “Perhaps instead of the stick, first, we should try a better carrot” but that seems so stereotypically Liberal namby-pamby.  Maybe we need both, right away: a three-year deadline and some incentives to work with the neighboring congregations and/or district.

As I searched for this week’s voicemail quotation, I came across these words from William Ellery Channing: “I have insisted on our own activity as essential to our progress; but we were not made to live or advance alone. Society is as needful to us as air or food.” I do not doubt that a congregation who calls itself UU, but does not contribute money nor attend UUA events, might do wonderful work in the world. But as a covenantal faith tradition, we ought to be in communion.  I am not ready to prune them quite yet, but I do think we ought to research how many there are, and try to re-engage them.

3 comments to pruning

  • This post has been changed–the original referred to “paying dues.” Scott Prinster corrected me: congregations do *not* pay dues to our UUA, they make voluntary contributions.

  • Robin Edgar

    Hi Chip,

    I just submitted a comment that disappeared into thin cyberspace. Perhaps you will find it in your SPAM folder.


    Robin Edgar recently posted..Were Not In Kansas Any More UUs Butt We Could Be In Kahns Ass -

  • Miriam

    Seems to me that this is a Prodigal Son moment. We should be asking ourselves which congregations would Jesus cut? Perhaps rather than sending a letter to a bunch of people letting them know they are no longer Unitarian Universalists, a better idea would be more active engagement by district and denominational leadership to figure out why these congregations are unwilling or unable to make a ‘donation’ or participate in the yearly UU reindeer games and provide assistance. Not because we want to clear out the dead wood, but because it is the right thing to do. And if congregations are actually forgoing denominational participation for philosophical reasons, perhaps we could “gasp” make room under our tent for dissenters.

    Your ‘quality control’ idea is intriguing. I worked once for an establishment that had mystery shoppers and I seem to remember that it caused more anxiety and hurt feelings than it improved customer service.



Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge

so may we categorize: