So, how many children do you think have attended UUSF since September 10, 2017? How many do you think we should have expected? Whether we admit it or not, Unitarian Universalism has for the last 50 years relied on its religious education programs as the primary growth engine for our denomination. This strategy is predicated on the assumption that when young couples have families and their children "need something" (AKA "religious upbringing") and those parents don't want for their children what they had growing up, then we Unitarians "get them." Voila! New spiritual home. Problem is, that assumption is no longer working for us—or any denomination.
Let me answer that question: how many children attended? Sep 17 Answer: 11. Sep 24 Answer: 8. What should we expect? Well, it's different for every area and church, but generally, in a UU church of 200, we can expect around 60 registered children and youth and about half that attending on any given Sunday. Doing the math (and adjusting for our demographic), we’re about half of what we should be. I am still trying to find out why that is and with your help, what we do about it. What does this mean for our future? Should we care? Let's look at another fact: the average congregation turns over 50% of its membership every five to seven years. That means we must add about 20 members every year just to remain the same size we are today. To survive, some of those need to be families.
We have as many as five generations in our church. The Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) is dying. "The loss of one Silent in a congregation takes 15 Millennials (born 1982-2000) to make up the same level of financial support over a lifetime (Strauss & Howe)." Oh, and I hate to tell you this—but there are no baby-boomers being made anymore either. So, we're back to Millennials—the generation which is now starting families. What do you know about them? Why are they oftentimes called the "None’s"—the non-religious? Why don't they come to church on Sunday morning "like everybody else?" Why are they so reluctant to pledge money?
Nadia Bolz-Weber, ECLA minister, compares the contemporary church to a phone booth. People still want to communicate by phone—but with a cell phone, not a phone booth. If we are more concerned about our phone booth than the people we hope will use it, it will be at our peril. Said less metaphorically, Millennials still want what church offers, just not the way we currently offer it. If true, our challenge is this: UUSF must get smart, very quickly, about this current family generation—the Millennials—and then meet their needs in innovative ways. This is a complicated and vital challenge. It won’t do to just “redecorate our UUSF phone booth” and hope this new generation will “use it.” We must meet this new generation where they are at. We must augment our ways and our worship to attract and nourish this new generation. I don't know what our future holds, but I know who holds our future.
See you in church.
Lifespan Religious Educator