A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In discussing the future of the mainline I was wondering about the idea which UUS have pursued over the last several decades; the development of fellowships, even small ones of a dozen or so members, which do not require ordained leadership. Perhaps some certification program could be had for the lay leadership.

One could imagine the possibilities this, for instance, in church planting. Such fellowships could, as many have, grow to be large enough for such things as ordained leadership, but it shouldn’t be a starting requirement for the development of new congregations, something the mainline needs to be serious about.

Also it could provide some means by which smaller churches, which are struggling to keep their doors open, so they could focus on other issues from growth to mission. I haven't read any studies on this, but I'd be curious how this has worked for the UUs. And I'd be interested in seeing how church planting has worked for the mainline.


At 4:27 PM , Anonymous Philocrites said...

The Unitarian Universalist fellowship movement did form dozens and dozens of small lay-led congregations between the late 1940s and the early 1980s, but the history of that effort does raise a few red flags:

The program worked best at founding new groups that met in homes, then rented facilities, and in a few cases eventually in buildings they purchased or bought. But small lay-led groups (if they don't already have sizable endowments) have a terrible time maintaining aging properties or real estate. That suggests that this model might not really represent a way forward for dwindling congregations in large, historic buildings, for example.

Fellowships often grew because they were able to tap into children's religious education materials -- produced by the denomination -- that enabled parents to provide high-quality liberal religious education to the handful or two of kids in the small congregations. It's no coincidence that the fellowship movement paralleled the baby boom. Sadly, it seems that the demographic reality for many liberal churches these days is aging members and fewer kids. Providing good materials for adult groups to use often seems harder -- but lay-led groups depend especially on discussion resources or prepared services. That presents a challenge for denominations, or an opportunity for ecumenical resource developers!

Rick Warren's whole model is based around small groups. I think you're on to something important in suggesting that many mainline congregations could benefit from recognizing the faith-development and community-development aspects of meeting for worship and service in small groups. It would require quite a culture shift -- but I suspect it will be necessary.

Here's a UU World article about the history of the fellowship movement.

At 9:08 AM , Blogger Ron said...

This is a good vision, and one sorely lacking in efforts to "combat the religious right." Hope to hear more people picking up on it. Folks can read more at my blog, www.progressivechurchplanting.blogspot.com.
Ron Robinson


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