Emerging congregations 2010, mapped

Almost exactly two years ago, I mapped the emerging congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association. That is, those that had begun the process of organization, but which had not been admitted to the UUA. This is our defacto model of church development.

I revisited the list and mapped the changes.

  • Blue pins mark congregations that were emerging in 2008 and still are.
  • Green pins mark congregations that began to emerge in the last two years.
  • Yellow pins mark congregations that finished “emerging” and joined the UUA. In conventional terms, these are the success stories.
  • Red pins mark congregations that disbanded or whose fate is unknown to me. In conventional terms, these are failures.
  • Added later. Light blue pins mark congregations noted as emerging or the like on district websites, but are not (yet) referenced at UUA.org. (Pre-consolidation churches or those not noted as moving towards UUA members are excluded here.)

I’ve seen district-level references to emerging congregations that were not listed at UUA.org, so there is a difference of opinion between Boston and the district, old or missing reporting on someone’s part, or a combination of these. Take the Summerville, South Carolina start: by its own website it’s been disbanded for more than two years but still comes up at UUA.org.

Of course, success, failure and emerging are only as meaningful terms as shared standards allow. But more about that next time; for now, I’d like you to examine this map carefully. What do you see?

View Emerging UUA congregations in a larger map

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Observation: There is little emerging UU activity in the Great Plains, Upper Rockies, and Pacific Northwest.

    Observation: The “failures” are in the East.

    Obervation: Two-thirds of the “successes” are in the East.

    Comment: I am a member of the blue dot in southern Illinois (Mt. Vernon UU Fellowship, legally organized in May 2006). We have 26 members on the books, despite having had three members die in our short time together. Growth is very slow in this small-town/rural area. It could be years before we have the requisite number to join the UUA. But the intention to join when we meet the threshold is written into our bylaws. So…

    Question: Is there any data available concerning the length of time the blue dots have been blue? Is there any concern about the more remote congregations that are hanging in there but not experiencing growth explosion? Does our presence mean anything to people other than those of us in these congregations? Or is the “success” of moving quickly through the stages to UUA membership what people care about?

    Thanks: Thanks for this map, Scott! It’s good to have a graphical representation.

  2. I worry about the length of time some groups remain “emerging”. Bad patterns that keep small groups VERY small can solidify.

    @Paul – I sometimes travel through your part of Southern Illinois, and would love to visit your congregation. I could even guest preach if there was need.

  3. Hunh, more in the southeast than I would have expected. Looks like the GA next year in Charlotte is a pretty good move looking at this map.

  4. Hmmm.

    First Observation: The UUA says that most of the membership growth is in the West. Clearly such growth is in pre-existing congregations in the West.

    Second Observation: Some of the emerging congregations are split off from older congregations and are composed of angry former members. Ultimately to thrive the congregation must have something else to keep it going. Anger alone is unsustainable.

    Third Observation: Something is happening in North Carolina. First they vote for Obama, now they have many emerging congregations. What’s going on in the South?

  5. Districts without any emerging churches include Ballou Channing District, Mass Bay District, Clara Barton District, and Pacific Central District. Ballou Channing District has had serious membership decline in recent years; I believe PCD is currently in decline; don’t know about the other two. Conventional wisdom in non-UU circles is that in order for a denomination to grow, you need to be doing startup churches.

    Mass Bay District is geographically small and is hampered by the franchise system — there’s resistance to starting new churches because they would have to be so close to existing churches, yet some of those existing churches are underserving their service area.

  6. I went back to all the district websites to see if there were any emerging (or “unaffiliated”) congregations that didn’t make it to UUA.org’s congregation search facility, which coincidentally has been down all day. I’ll be adding in the extras — only in St. Lawrence and Prairie Star. (Also of note: some legacy Maine Universalist churches, associated with the Northeast District, aren’t listed in the Northern New England site.)

    Interestingly, following Dan, the districts with uninformative websites (respecting congregations) are among those which don’t have emerging churches, Ballou Channing among them. Or affirmatively, Thomas Jefferson District makes an effort. It shows throughout.

  7. As far as I know form many years experience, The UUA provides only the link off the website to emerging congregations. No phone calls, no visits, no congregation specific emails.or mail. They are helpful when asked however, but you have to ask.

  8. Thanks, Sue. That’s helpful. In your experience, do emerging congregations get a preferred rate — say, that paid by Fair Share-paying congregations — for meetings or consultants? Of course, this might be on a per-district basis, but might help show why some districts are better than this than others.

  9. I don’t know of any emerging congregations who have looked for a consultant, certainly I’ve not heard of the UUA suggesting one (and I sorta keep up with about 3-4 emerging congregations). Meetings? They are invited to cluster groups and district meetings. Same price as everyone else.

  10. I received a call today from a ministerial colleague in the Ballou-Channing District wanting some support from my congregation regarding a start-up in the district: she wanted to know if someone from my church could help the new start with INTERIOR DECORATION.

    No, that’s not a joke, and that is the punch line. We are one of the largest congregations in our district (sad, because we’re not even solidly mid-sized), with one of the most talented lay leadership I’ve ever known. And yet … INTERIOR DECORATION. Because that’s what the new church is all about.

  11. Well, PB: I’d think making plans for how their space looks to others puts them ahead of the curve — God knows there are some ugly church interiors out there — provided they are asking other churches for other skills.

    I hope someone helps them with exterior design — er, web design — too.

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