Q: I am wondering what it would take to start a new congregation — the closest one to me is just too far!
A: We are glad that you’re looking to connect with Unitarian Universalism, and we understand the longing to have a congregation near to home. Please know, though, that starting a congregation can be a lot of work. In order to be an “official” UUA congregation, you need to have a minimum of 30 people who are not members of any other UU congregations, and who are willing to sign on as charter members.
However, there’s nothing to stop you from finding similar minded folks and getting together for conversation and/or social events. Generally it takes 3 to 6 years to create a congregation, and we can point you to resources. Sadly, we have no funding to help with the creation. We also suggest that groups smaller than 30 join the Church of the Larger Fellowship and use their materials to help you hold informal gatherings.
Q: How do I find like-minded people, or others who might be interested in starting a UU group, however informal?
A: We suggest that you can do a variety of things: post a notice in the local coffee/tea shops, libraries, bookstores, and community centers, with a number/email at which to contact you. Also, we know that some folks have had success finding people through sites like meetup.com, and gaining interest through those kind of social media sites that help you find people in your community.
Q: Can we use the UUA logo?
A: Yes you can—although we ask that you don’t hold yourself out to be a congregation until you are in the process of affiliating with the UUA as a formal congregation. You could say that you’re a group of people uniting around common values and common identity, or a group exploring UU identity and community. We hope that the UU branding will help people find you.
Q: Where can I find more information?
A: There are materials on the UUA website at http://uua.org/growth/index.shtml that talk about growth—and they can give you a good sense of how to be welcoming and hospitable that will help you attract and retain interested people. If you want to find out what’s involved in official affiliation, then check out this link: www.uua.org/uuarelations/new/34675.shtml. You can also contact the MidAmerica staff at [email protected] for more conversation.
Q: How do I begin?
A: Begin by talking with friends and neighbors about their values, and whether they would like to join in a community of those seeking deeper connection. Use meetup.com, and other social media tools to find folks. Meet for coffee/tea in a friendly place some evening or weekend. Talk about what you’d like to see—and remember, becoming friends is often the first step in creating something new.
You might also contact a UU congregation that is somewhat close to you to see if they are available to offer any support, or if they might want to explore possibilities of sharing staff or recorded/broadcast services. Phil Lund ([email protected]) of our MidAmerica staff team is particularly interested in helping congregations think about growth through starting smaller branches or other types of relationships with new groups.
Emerging congregations often are lifelines for people in the communities where they form. In some places they form the only place for open, liberal dialogue on religious and ethical subject. In some places they form the spiritual center of the progressive community. In some places they form the only place where parents can receive support in shaping the spiritual lives of their children in an open, growing and non-dogmatic way.
Whenever a new congregation forms it is a huge task and a wonderful adventure. Those forming a UU congregation have the opportunity to shape a new religious community from the beginning. There may be some in the group who can assist through their experience in other UU groups. But remember, each UU congregation is somewhat different and one of the greatest opportunities in starting a new congregation is to intentionally shape how you do things in accord with your own purposes and mission.
In beginning to shape a new religious community there are a number of balances that need to be struck:
There are surprisingly few resources created specifically for emerging UU congregations—hence the idea for this web site. Yet there are a few good basic resources:
There is one basic resource for new congregation development that provides the best place to begin, the New Congregation Development Manual.
Some other good basic things from the UUA include:
Where to Get Assistance
There are three sources of assistance for emerging UU congregations. All are good and, if they do not have the answers you need, will be able to assist you in connecting with those who do.
Staff of Your District/Region. Each one employs staff people to aid congregations. If you don’t know which district you are in or who your district staff are you will find guidance on the Unitarian Universalist Association website.
Your Neighboring UU Congregation. When asked what resource was most helpful, emerging congregations consistently say their neighboring UU congregations. Many emerging congregations have formed deep relationships with established congregations near them. If you want to find congregations in your area, go to the congregation finder on UUA.org.
Also see the UUA's Growth Strategies Office page for their contact info
Emerging congregations is a hot topic among those who study religious life and in denominations, like the Unitarian Universalists, who seek to grow. Some years ago a noted expert on the subject of congregational growth came to the conclusion that the denominations that grow are those that start new congregations. As on any subject, the subject of emerging congregations-or "church planting" as it is called in the Christian world-has undergone shifting trends in thinking.
Recognition by the UUA as an Emerging Congregation
The UUA regards an emerging congregation as one that is active and meeting but has not yet been accepted into UUA membership.
Official recognition by the UUA as an emerging congregation allows that congregation to be listed in the congregation finder on the UUA website. As more people are finding congregations through the web, this can be an important boost for publicity.