Monday, May 17, 2010

The Seven Principles of Vital UU Congregations (Blogging the UUA Growth Consultation)

At the UUA Growth Consultation held from May 5 to May 7, one of the most interesting documents that the participants developed was a list that we wound up calling "The Seven Principles for UU Vitality." This document was produced using a process of brainstorming, the grouping of emerging themes, and reflection on our own experiences. These seven principles would inform the growth initiatives that we developed later on in the meeting.

The Seven Principles for UU Congregational Vitality

1) The Congregation has a clear and powerful Purpose and Mission
• The congregation posesses a compelling narrative that connects past, present, and future.
• The congregation's story is constantly embodied and rehearsed.
[Thom's commentary: Even though my chapter in the book The Growing Church is on "mission," I was not the leading brainstormer of this principle.]

2) The Congregation is aware of & responsive to the world around it
• Another way of saying this is to say that the congregation has a "sense of place" that is theologically informed.
• The public mission is owned and embodied by the congregation.
• There is strong leadership and high levels of participation in living out the public mission. [It is not just the minister doing it or a committee or a group of people who are marginal in the life of the congregation.]

3) There is vital worship and a vital Sunday experience for all ages
• "It's gotta sing": vitality and energy are felt throughout the congregation on Sundays.
• There is coherence in the church's programming. Sunday morning is an aesthetic whole.
• The worship service is relevant and meaningful in people's lives.
• Music inspires and moves the congregation.

4) Church is done well [this principle is in reference to administration and leadership.]
• This principle has to do with Policies, Practices, and Places.
• The above are clear, adaptable, and responsive to the evolving needs of the congregation.
• There is a sense that we must be willing to change ourselves in order to "do church well."

5) The Congegation cultivates religious community
• The community participates in shared practices and rituals.
• The congregation provides connections where there is disconnection. [This is another way to describe the building of the beloved community: It encompasses multiculturalism, multigenerationalism, and other forms of diversity.]
• The congregation provides a safe atmosphere and environment where healthy relationships can be built.
• The congregation recognizes and overcomes its own idolatries in how it envisions community.

6) The Congregation builds skills to lead and nurtures gifts to serve
• People who come to a church discern a call in community.
• The community nurtures, trains, honors, and trusts leaders.

7) Strong ministerial leadership supports the fulfillment of the previous six principles.
[Thom's commentary: Originally we developed a list of six items. Following a break we looked at the list and asked ourselves, "Does this feel right?" "What is missing?" Members of the UUA staff quickly spoke up and said that the parish ministers had tremendously devalued their own role in promoting congregational vitality. The seventh principle is intended to signify the role of the minister in promoting the previous six principles.]

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