Unitarian Universalists are more regional than we’d like to say

I wasn’t quite sure how to put the title — “Unitarian Universalists are more regional than we’d like to say” — and I’m still not satisfied. Our New Englandish habits come out and surely some people — probably in New England — like it that way. Or maybe it’s just me.

I thought about this blog post at the Sunlight Foundation TransparencyCamp a couple of weeks ago, in a session about mapping, and particularly how misleading bad maps can be. And that sometimes the best data map isn’t a map at all. And Dan Harper has recenly blogged about membership distribution.

One takeaway is obvious, but should be stated: of course, California (and New York and Illinois and Texas) is big.  So, take a look at the demographic map of the UUA, dating back to the printed directory days. There are a lot of Unitarian Universalists in California, but of course there are; it’s the largest state.

I thought a plain ol’ bar graph would be better than a map to show relative density of Unitarian Universalists. The sources of information: most recent Unitarian Universalist membership, sorted by state, and 2012 US Census population of those aged 18 and greater, via Kidscount.org. The best mapping of adult membership I could manage. The figure on the right axis and on each bar is number of Unitarian Universalists per 100,000 adults. The United States average is in orange.

I knew that New England was the “homeland” and you are more likely to find a small-town churches there; I was still shocked to see the disparity between New England states and everywhere else. I had thought earlier Universalist missions,  the Fellowship movement and subsequent population drifts had smoothed out the distribution.

The Delaware and District of Columbia numbers are the exceptions that prove the rule, each being very small jurisdictions with a single church much larger that its peers. If All Souls, Washington (982) had 550 members (the entry point for the large church class in the UUA)  D.C. would drop to 141.73 per 100,000: still high, but behind New Hampshire. If First Unitarian, Wilmington (425) was as big as the second-largest Delaware congregation, the UU Fellowship of Newark (203), Delaware would drop to 100.42 per 100,000, more like neighboring Maryland. And Connecticut is the New England outlier: too far out for the colonial and Federal-era church growth, and too big, due to its proximity to New York.

As for the other states, it’s harder to comment with certainty, except this: if every state in U.S. had the density of Massachusetts, the UUA would have an aggregate membership of over a million and we’d have different problems today.

No solutions here, but just another lens to see our situation through.

Click the chart to see it in its legible glory!

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About Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 45, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

4 thoughts on “Unitarian Universalists are more regional than we’d like to say

  1. I guess the old saw continues to be true: “Unitarians believe in the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man and the Neighborhood of Boston.”

  2. An interesting map, Chris, and I’m sure accurate based on congregational reports, etc. However, having lived and served in Maine and Massachusetts for my entire 30 years as a leader and parish minister, I know that some of our congregations in those states exist mostly “on paper;” that is, a very few members camped out in the inherited building, having a few services a year, or perhaps able to pay for a very part-time minister or some pulpit supply. If only every one of them was perking along at 150 members or so!

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