The real reason why I review church figures

If in the micropolitan — soon to include metropolitan — data series I make no other impression, let it be this: Unitarian Universalists, in their different theological stripes, are made not found. Anyone can become a Unitarian Universalist; we need not wait for some unbidden force to convince the stranger that he or she belongs. If might be easier so to do: it helps preserve our historic class prestige, takes less effort and invites fewer conflicts over resources or self-identity. It is, of course, unfaithful and self-defeating, as evidenced by our years of stagnant membership and institutions.

Further, not only may Unitarian Universalists be found anywhere, but (generally speaking) congregations may be gathered anywhere. While I have been an open critic of a creeping form of congregational fundamentalism that’s taken hold in Unitarian Universalist circles, I would agree that it is our basic locus of discipleship. Unitarian Universalists are made, and are usually made in congregations.

Congregations may be found just about anywhere, but that does not mean that we can expect them to follow a common kind of success. In low population areas, just keeping a congregation together — with occasional worship, a ministry of personal support and some kind of enriching faith sharing — might be success, and worthy of attention, even praise. And so the second take-away, if we really think we have something worth sharing, it needs to be available where people are. First, in their own towns. But also, in their own class and culure, language and expectations.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Thank you, Scott, for publishing all your statistics, and for guiding us in their interpretation. I am interested in your last statment, that we should being doing church in our “own class and culture, language and expectations.” I am not sure that I disagree, but this does seem to have significant implications for our efforts to make our congregations not merely diverse, but truly inclusive. Am I reading your statement correctly? Do you have some specific data to help make your point?

  2. Chip – I am not going to speak for Scott, but I have an annecdotal observation I would like to share.

    When we have had successful congregations that have been outside the mainstream of the UUA (eg. mostly African-American, or rural, or blue-collar) the local congregation has not functioned as a franchise of some generic UUism articulated from the national Association. But has instead been deeply rooted in a locally articulated liberal religiosity, that expresses itself in its own words, and empowers the local congregation according to its own spiritual needs and calling.

    I once served a rural UU church in a farm town of 800. The congregation was liberal in a way that would be different from liberal in New York or Chicago. The use of reason had more to do with claims of “common sense”, and less to do with collegiate style scholarship. We talked more about community service than about social justice. Service had less to do with national crusades for different causes (eg immigration reform), and more to do with very pressing local needs (rural health and poverty). Preaching was expected to be thought provoking, but plain spoken. Ministers were expected to be available to people of all politicol affiliations, and as such should not appear too Democratic or Republican from the pulpit.

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