How many Unitarian Universalists really?

As far as I can tell, 100% of Unitarian Universalists will, in time, stop being Unitarian Universalists. Death does that.

Whether we experience the Beatific Vision, are reincarnated, subsume into the Monad or simple stop being we share a common experience after death. I’ve never heard anyone suggest we will carry on as a sect (and I hope I never do.)

But before death, many people who have at some time identified as Unitarian Universalists no longer do so. Another Unitarian Universalist Christian minister I know has found a path in ministry in a Christian communion; this has happened before and at one point I thought this would happen to me. Even now, Mama G (Mom to the Left) has been considering leaving her Unitarian Universalist church. This happens a lot, and as the Pew study talked about today shows, happens in many religious traditions. But I suspect it hurts a bit more when you feel small and marginal. I know Universalists wrung their hands about making the numbers work well more than a hundred years ago.

But I don’t think the question “how many Unitarian Universalists are there?” is any more helpful now than then. Some people are very engaged and others aren’t. Some hold on to their church affilations as if life depends on them — yet are not members — while some lifetime members regard their status without a second thought. Numbers only tell part of the story and I suspect it isn’t the most important part.

It follows that I’m not particularly concerned about how many Unitarian Universalists are “missing”? (I do think that good record-keeping is important within a congregation, for some benchmarking, and for resource allocation across the Association.) Why? Each of us only has so much time in this life and each of us shares so much ministry with others and the world.

I am concerned we get caught up in little dramas and dubious joint projects that would never pass in well-functioning secular organizations.

I am worried that, while divergence of opinion is becoming a recognized public virtue, Unitarian Universalists experience pressure to develop singular expressions of identity.

And I think that counts for something.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. One of the biggest issues is that people go where they’re fed, spiritually. Fastest growing Churches and ministries in the world are those where people genuinely feel they’re being fed, spiritually. If they don’t feel like they’re growing, then irrespective of doctrinal conservatism or liberalism, then they’ll either stay home on Sundays and Wednesdays with a good book, PBS, something on cable, perhaps a religious broadcast whether Christian or some other type, or they’ll grab a copy of the New Testament, the Gita, the Tao Te Ching, or a small stack of favorite books on leadership, poetry, and/or really edifying biographies of people who “”became”” as much as they ever did, no matter what type of organized expression, home fellowship, or whatever that that means they’re dissing.

    When they hit the point of sincerely believing they can have their mountain top experience with God somewhere else, they’re out the door. All ministers have to keep that in mind, that we either feed His Sheep, or whether they’re fallen into a ditch or among wolves or whatever, their past ministry associations will be a forgotten matter of yesteryear.

    On the other extreme, I know of people that have moved across the country and been gone from their Church for years, and they still mail a weekly or biweekly envelop back to that Church that career, family, or whatever personal purpose has taken them away from, and they’re still loyal tithers to Churches they haven’t attended in years. Take care of folks — really take care of folks spiritually and in their hours of greatest need, and 9 times out of 10, they’ll genuinely NEVER forget you, NO MATTER WHAT!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.