Our first Congregational Conversation concerning growth was powerful. The Board asked the Congregation to gather December 15 after worship to explore the wonderful opportunity presented by having so many more people attending our worship.
What prompted this conversation is the UUA-reported knowledge that if a congregation gets 90% full, which ours is fairly regularly, newcomers do not feel comfortable coming in. Rev. Steve talked about this with the Board before he completed his interim ministry. He asked that we consider adding a second service.
The Board would not move forward with any action plan, however, until we have the opportunity to spend time listening to the Congregation’s thoughts. And so we begin listening. This Congregational Conversation will be the first of a number in which we explore next steps before the end of this worship year. Could those steps eventually lead to two services as Rev. Steve suggested? Possibly. The steps might lead to something we have not thought of yet – the Board believes accessing the incredible power of all of our collective thoughts will be helpful first and so we begin.
For the Conversation, Joe Flueckiger helped us remember that when we renovated the church, we made the decision to stay in the heart of Amherst, not move off into the fringes where we might have a larger footprint, because we wanted to be accessible to more people. The Congregation at the time decided what to make larger and what to keep the same. And the task force had more services in mind as a future solution for how to use the same-sized sanctuary while concentrating on expanding social space and classrooms.
Rev. Rachael led us in a meditation, asking, among other questions: “When did you first notice that we are growing?” She also noted that a member told her: “I only recognize half the people here . . . and that is good!” Of course it is good, because it means our message of love-fueled inclusion is spreading. Does it also mean we will not have the opportunity to meet everyone, to know them well? Will we miss our friends who we usually see, but have not arrived that morning – especially if we do something like have two services?
We asked the group gathered to create small discussion groups to contemplate our mission with the framework of: What are we currently doing well; What could we do better? Each group applied those two questions to one stanza of our mission statement. The results held great power.
Every group read out a long list of the many, many things we are doing well: Wednesday morning breakfast, the Pride march, Religious Education for our children and youth, Green Sanctuary, pastoral care. And each group added a new list for what we could do better. What stood out for me was that each of the “do better” items ensured getting to know people well, despite the size our congregation might achieve: Small Group Ministry, Life- Long Learning, an expanded Coming of Age program that includes young adults and also elders.
We can grow and we can nurture close bonds. Both are good, both are possible.
More conversations to come.
Yours in faith, Karen