Welcome to the second email in a new series of UUA thought leadership messages sent monthly to all UU congregations and leaders to strengthen our connections and support shared learning. Enjoy!
Dear Congregation Members,
The UUA’s annual congregational certification is in! Every year, congregations report their membership, religious education (RE) enrollment, budgetary figures, and much more. It’s a helpful snapshot of what’s happening in our congregations. And here’s this year’s headline: membership is steady, while religious education enrollment and average Sunday attendance continue to fall.
Adult membership is steady overall, coming in at 154,704, almost identical to last year. We have stabilized a downward trend in membership that had run 2010-2017, but beneath the headline we see substantial movement in membership figures in congregations. Last year 43% of congregations grew their adult membership, and 30% grew their RE enrollment. Growth is coming largely from our smallest congregations – of the almost 400 members we added to brick and mortar UUA congregations last year, 70% were from congregations of under 150 members. Regionally there is also some variation. The Central East, New England and Southern Regions grew this past year, and the Southern Region in particular has been a source of growth over the past five years.
“There is still a hunger for the values of justice, equity, compassion and liberation to which our faith aspires. Advancing these values matters far more than any simple statistics can capture.”
So what do these numbers mean; what’s going on here? First, it’s important to note that Unitarian Universalists, like many faith communities, continue to be impacted by the tide moving away from religious involvement in the United States. We see this in the generational shifts in RE enrollment. And the fact that we are not losing members at the rate of some of our mainline Christian cousins attests to the relevance of Unitarian Universalism in our time, as we tread water against the current trends.
It’s also important to acknowledge that the transition to the new formula for the Annual Program Fund, asking congregations to contribute to the UUA based on their ability to pay rather than their members, means we are not penalizing congregations for membership. The regions that grew this past year are the ones who have fully implemented the formula, and the remaining two regions – Pacific Western and MidAmerica – will complete their transition to the new formula next year.
Most importantly, what I see is that there is still a hunger for the values of justice, equity, compassion and liberation to which our faith aspires. Advancing these values matters far more than any simple statistics can capture. As we have engaged at a deeper level in the past two years in examining how systems of oppression have shaped our own UU institutions, we have not seen big changes in our membership, implying most folx are staying in the conversation. There is much more work to do to build “the power of we” in Unitarian Universalism, and I am glad to be on the journey.
UUA Executive Vice President