A different kind of emerging church

The Emerging/Emergent church phenom is mature enough to spawn its own internal humor and debates about its next institutional steps. It is hip, and edgy, and mod, and I think I’ve completely lost interest in it. I don’t even have facial hair any more.

This post isn’t about that. No, it is just a list of those congregations that are emerging — perhaps aspiring would be a better term — towards membership in the UUA.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. So what do you think? Any trends you’d identify here? And I’m sorry to hear you’re over Emergent Church stuff, as I am just starting to learn about it and had hoped you would be one of my chief resources. Are you totally over it?

  2. What do I think? That for all the talk of a megachurch future that the real current model is an old model: (relatively) few resources for small congregations. Looks like some districts do better than others, and that some are really falling down. That population shifts might have more to do about the success of a church start than existing support programs. That some clever work is being done around small groups. And that small churches tend to put their worst face forward in their websites (or lack of sites) — not that this last one is super-meaningful.

    As for the Emergent movement, well, it seems to be essentially a reforming movement for Evangelicals and a lot of their issues aren’t ours. We might have a parallel re-orienting move, but I don’t know quite what it would be.

  3. Saludos from Puerto Rico and another Emerging Congregation on the list. We started our 5th year this week.

    I hope, despite your lack of interest in us, you will publish the list of congregations that are admitted to the Association at GA and take their names off the list.

    I have often thought there was a need for an emerging congregation list. I am sure no one in an emerging congregation has time to inspire and moderate that list. I know how much time I have to spend supporting the congregation here – write up a service one week and give it the next. Even though it is just small group format. It takes time to prepare and print an order of service and all its components and translate it into Spanish (since our services are all bilingual).

    I would like to say that we found the “How to form a congregation handbook” irrelevant at best and a work of fiction and fantasy at worst. It was clearly written for the northeast corridor where by keying in a zip code and 50 miles you come up with over a 100 churches. Try 02138, my former home church and 50 miles, the distance I now travel one way to get to our congregation and the number is about 125.

    The handbook assumes there are many resources – financial, human and physical within a short drive. That a neighboring church is just down the highway to help you out. That visiting ministers will come once a month. It also warns you that if the demographics are not right it may not be the time to start your congregation.
    What about the spiritual need!! In Puerto Rico the demographics were very wrong, but the spiritual need was overwhelming for those of us who started the congregation. Yet all of the original founders have left the island because of high (over 25%) unemployment, especially among college educated. My own position under a National Science Foundation grant has been eliminated because of lack of funding. The work is still there, but there is no money to pay anyone to finish the research. I will be leaving the island within the next six months.

    Yes, the district can be a great resource. It is painfully difficult to read about great one day workshops and weekend programs where you are encouraged to fill your car and drive down. For us it is over a 700 mile flight to anywhere in Florida and would always involve at least 2 overnights. The day before, so we can arrive by 9am and the day of the workshop since we couldn’t get a flight until the next day. Yes, Puerto Rico and the two congregations in the Virgin Islands may be extreme cases, but there must be other groups and other places almost as isolated. Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts or any congregation on an island where you must take a ferry to the mainland understand the difficulty of getting to district workshops.

    Nowhere in our RE programs for children or adults do we ever say ” and if you arrive somewhere without a UU congregation, start one!” Never is there anyone in our pulpits who relates start-up stories. UUWorld does not highlight the Emerging Congregation of the Month. Yet nine new
    congregations affiliated with the UUA last GA. I don’t think CLF talks about success stories when some of their members get together and formed a
    start-up. The Church of the Larger Fellowship does not have 2841 hermits living on hill tops, it has 2841 opportunities for new congregations! But
    these formations will only happen if there is a denomination wide mentality and support for Start-ups and their Heroes and Heroines. Our denomination must also develop programs that show their recognition of the spiritual need that drives these people. It is not about demographics and finding places for all our new ministerial graduates, it is about values and spirituality. Every person has an inherent worth and dignity, demographics should not determine congregational locations.
    I think many towns that support a college with an enrolment of 1500-2000 students would have a teaching staff of 75 plus administration and
    spouses. Within those demographics and the 40% unchurched in this country I think you might find the core of 10 committed people who could
    start a congregation. Please note the might and could. We are not a denomination that encourages start-ups.

    We don’t send our new divinity graduates to a likely location with the “How to form a congregation handbook”, ask them to get a job to support themselves and in their spare time start a congregation. We only ask that of lay leaders with desperate spiritual needs . Maybe we need a “Preach for America” program modeled after “Teach for America”.

    As to the comment about Web pages. I think ours is coming along nicely. It is all done in house. I am 60 years old and picked up a bit of HTML on the web. We can’t afford the $200 for Pagemaker and don’t even have Word. Any emerging congregation that would like help with putting up a page, I will be glad to answer any questions. This is another place where UUA could help. They have all this fancy software. How difficult could it be to put up 10-15 web pages a year. Especially after they develop a template. A good job for miniserial interns at 25 Beacon. No one should be fellowshiped today who can’t put up a web page. It is like not being able to dial a telephone. It is essential communication in the 21st century.




    Cada persona tiene un valor inherente y una dignidad
    Every person has an inherent worth and dignity

  4. Do not let cost of technology deter you. Free software is out there, and it’s good. Used hardware can be gotten for a song, and it’s good enough. You can even get a video projector and laptop computer for less than $500 if you’re careful and patient. And if you’re a schmoozer, you can probably get a local corporation to donate old technology to you for the tax write-off.

    The Website I built for Mosaic UU (a new church!) was built using free and legal tools, if you don’t consider that I am using Microsoft Windows as an operating system, and Photoshop Elements ($40) But you can even use Linux, and free graphics programs with similar capabilities, if you don’t mind the learning curves.

    Free Software I used to create the site:
    Nvu http://www.nvu.com
    Alleycode http://www.alleycode.com
    Art Rage http://www.ambientdesign.com

    We don’t use Micosoft Office (Avoid MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access, unless you think Bill Gates needs more money), we use Open Office (free) at http://www.sun.com

    Donner’s right about the UUA’s myopia, IMHO. The probably paid someone’s brother-in-law thousands for “The Uncommon Denomination,” and they call it a marketing program. It doesn’t address the audience, their concerns, unique selling propositions, etc. It’s about as milquetoast and inoffensive as it could be. They’ve got so many redundant youth organizations, it’s unclear who does what.

    I heard a story about a Mormon adressing some UUs saying, “UUs get more vitiors than any other church. But you can’t hold onto them. If you could find a way to hold onto these people, you would be dangerous.” My church members say they want to be dangerous, but it seems to me they’ll never be able to hang onto the visitors until they can be “in your face” about the war, global warming, etc.

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