I was excited to see an article about a “dinner church” in Brooklyn passed around last week. St. Lydia’s is a new model (good) and makes careful use of a “micro-space” (another blog post, that) in a high-rent area (also good) but then founding pastor Emily M. D. Scott said something that made me stop short.
Not just small church, but micro-church, in reference to her church, a “gathering of 30 or so folks.” To be fair, the undefined term micro-church attracted me to the article since in the current resource-poor Unitarian Universalist mission climate, I’m looking for models that can be bootstraped. (One of the reasons I’ve looked over the fence at unprogramed Quakers and various Eastern Orthodox groups.)
Gott im Himmel. If an attendance of thirty makes a micro-church, what does that make Unitarian Universalists? A fellowship with a large proportion of small congregations, that’s what.
Using most recent data, 199 United States congregations have an average attendance of 30 or fewer. That’s 246 at 35 or fewer, and 294 at 40 or fewer. And that doesn’t even count the 27 congregations that report no attendance, but have fewer than 50 members. So I think it’s fair to say that at least a quarter of all United States Unitarian Universalist congregations are “micro” by the scale above. And while we talk about large congregations — and these are much larger than “micro” — there is only one (First Unitarian, Portland, Oregon) that reports a Sunday attendance of more than 1,000. Our large isn’t others’ large.
And since new congregations these days (no grand pulpiteers handy) start small, I think we need to own that experience and use it to encourage new congregations, no matter their setting or how big they eventually end up. A part of the mission long-game is to build church-planting talent.
And While you’re at it, consider donating to the UUA’s newest member congregation, Original Blessing, about the same size and also in Brooklyn. Their $30k crowdfunding appeal just ended
with more than $15k in donations with the last $15k donated on the last day, but there’s always their website…