Exploring Growth and Change at UCM: August 12th Shared Ministry Retreat

On this lovely summer Saturday the UCM staff and 28 committee and task force chairs and members met for a day-long workshop in the Vestry with Rev. Joan Javier-Duval and Hilary Allen, Innovation and Growth Specialist from the New England Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).  We started and ended the day with a short time of worship.

Participants reviewed the findings and discussed the implications of the UCM Board’s Growth Trajectory Study dated June 20, 2017, which concludes “There is no question that UCM is experiencing significant growth at this time, continuing a trend that began a decade ago” (p. 10).

Ms. Allen presented information already known to some yet new to others – e.g., different size congregations tend to have different characteristics, and transitioning between sizes is stressful for both staff (especially ministers) and lay leaders.  The Board’s Growth Trajectory Study says “For the last several years, UCM has inhabited a transitional size based on our average Sunday attendance” (p. 10). 

Ms. Allen explained that a major source of the stress during transitions is the need to respond to the feelings and ideas typically associated with a “Rollercoaster of Change” (first charted by Gill Rendle of the Alban Institute in 1998).  Unless the change process is managed carefully, congregations – and other organizations – can become stuck in an unproductive cycle and not make progress toward their goals. She also introduced the idea that there are different kinds of growth a congregation can experience – numerical, maturational (spiritual wisdom), organic (organizational health), and incarnational (faith in practice). The group discussed how UCM is experiencing each type of growth.

Rev. Joan reminded those present of the 2020 Strategic Plan,” with its outcomes and action steps to carry out the UCM vision and mission within a time-frame.  She and the Executive/Management Team and Board have identified the priorities from the Plan for this 2017-2018 church year (FY2018) as:

  • All-church Initiatives:
    • Second service exploration
    • Religious education re-envisioning and staffing next steps
    • Growth and Facilities Task Force
  • Sub-group Initiatives:
    • Revitalizing Small Group Ministry
    • Start of Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry certification program
    • Begin Covenant of Right Relations study and conversations.

Rev. Joan encouraged large and small group reflection about these priorities.  Most of the conversation was about the fact that, as the Growth Trajectory Study says, “Over half of our services during the 2016-17 church year have been overcrowded” (p. 4).  The people present expressed both anxiety and commitment to moving forward with offering two Sunday worship services in January, 2018 to test how doing so affects UCM and its ability to carry out its vision and mission to welcome all.

To learn more about the retreat, feel free to reach out to Rev. Joan, any members of the Executive Team or Committee on Ministry, staff, and committee chairs.