The blue pins in the emerging congregations map I posted last time have puzzled me. None is less than two years old and yet these are congregations that have been (putatively) developing into UUA-member churches. Today that’s carries the burden of being “full service” (a term I associate with old gas stations) but that’s a far off dream for those who share this ambition. I had supposed that their immediate goal was thirty members, since that’s been the minimum size a congregation could have to be admitted. But at the same time, it’s been pretty well established that a congregation fixes at a size — due to planning, vision and resources — early in its development and it’s very hard for to it to grow later. In other words, grow early, or not at all. When you look at the trickle of congregations that have joined the UUA in the last few years, most came in at around 30 and few are larger today than 50. The scant exceptions were planned as a local or regional extension.
We now can see a substantial corps of locally-initiated, smaller-than-30 congregations that have meeting space and sometimes buildings, often have legal corporate existence and even ministerial support. These congregations are recognized by the UUA, through they have no vote (but neither are they expected to pay into the general fund; a few do), and I gather that they have access to what few resources the UUA and the districts have for a new (and now less-new) congregations. This sounds more like the sometimes-missed, sometimes-reviled Fellowship Movement than not.
And why not? For one, I don’t see the UUA or the districts summoning the resources to deliberately plant churches in high-growth areas. And many of these emerging congregations are in areas that demographically would never be considered likely prospects for any activity.
Plus, there’s a clash of values at play between those who support the Fellowship idea and those who don’t. At the very least, there should be room for both, and it’s not too much for resources and recognition for what’s becoming the norm in our — no, their; for it’s usually entrepreneurial — efforts.