The big discussion happening right now in the Unitarian Universalist circles is Rev. Peter Morales' essay on Congregations and Beyond, an essay on the future and growth of Unitarian Universalism. There's a wiki collection of the discussions happening, along with a pretty great storify, summarizing the earlier part of the conversation.
As I read the conversations in the various facebook growth labs, I often want to hand everyone a copy of Michael Kaiser's The Art of the Turnaround. Michael Kaiser is the current director of the Kennedy Center and has been involved with saving multiple struggling arts organizations, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, whose performances rank up on my list of most spiritual experiences. Kaiser is a somewhat controversial figure in the arts community, because while he is one of the most gifted public speakers for the arts, he is also one of the most inept bloggers. (Which is why I would direct Unitarian Universalists to his book or to one of his speeches, NOT to his blog.)
I often feel that the church could learn from the arts and vice-versa. But Kaiser has a pretty intelligent overview on how to grow arts organizations that I believe could be translated for congregations.
It's a simple four part plan.
1. Create Good Art.
2. Institutionally Market Your Art
3. Grow your family of people invested in your art.
4. Use the raised income from your now larger family to create good art.
Of course, there are some more details. Institutional marketing isn't about promoting a specific show, but promoting your organization. Good strategic planning is listed as a part of artistic programming (which falls under the first step). Some of the pitfalls that happen to arts organizations also happen to churches. Instead of using new income from increased donations to make good art, many arts institutions try to build a better building (which Kaiser called an "edifice complex" -- a term that makes me chuckle) or use the money to create an endowment. Instead, resources should be used to create better art, which in turn will grow the amount of people interested in the art, and continue the cycle.
I'm pretty sure that basic plan would work for any non-profit. Do good work, let people know about it and get them excited about what you're doing, use that excitement to create more good work.
I think the simplest answer to grow Unitarian Universalism is to do good church.
We spend a lot of time in growth labs focusing on bad church. And I know from experience that there is a lot of bad church out there. And sometimes you need to vent. I get that; I took about a year off from active participation because I needed a break.
But I think there's so much systematic anxiety about losing the free range Unitarian Universalists, lost to time commitments or bad church or whatever. There's anxiety about naming. There's anxiety about all sorts of things that gets in the way of our ability to do good church.
Of course, the question becomes what is good church. With arts organizations, there are many that do what I find to be quality art, but I'm not a member of their "family" as Kaiser puts it. But there are some arts organizations that create art that touches me so profoundly that I am an evangelist. But you know the groups that you feel passionate about, the groups that make you want to do something you personally loathe just to help them out. It's the groups that provide a profound experience -- and it's a profound experience that would be at the heart of good church. It could be a profound service experience or it could be a profound worship experience -- but good church involves doing the things that really touch people.
But once you find that bit of good church (and I know its happening places because I see people evangelizing Unitarian Universalism the way I evangelize for the House Theatre or Alvin Ailey), keep growing it. Focus on what is profound and moving, on what makes you want to bring others to your congregation, and grow that. Put energy around that, market it well, and see how it grows.
(And seriously, if you can find a talk by Michael Kaiser, go to it. He's really smart. Except when blogging on the Huffington Post.)