Your Trustees held the last meeting of the fiscal year on Tuesday night. We welcomed Heather Root to the board, Craig Stiles will serve as Secretary, and Jeff Lensman our Treasurer will continue his appointment to the board. After heated debate, I was asked to continue as President. Now we have a five-member board and a nucleus of officers. Our end-of-year board meeting is usually occupied with reflections of the past year and visions for the coming one. First and foremost, trustees are fiduciaries, meaning that we're entrusted to oversee the financial affairs of the church. We’re also entrusted to use our resources to pursue the mission of UUCO, by supporting basic operations and programs. The past few years have been lean ones, and our operational framework has been focused on the core ministries of Worship, Religious Exploration, staffing and governance by the board of trustees.
One of the areas we’ve neglected in recent years has been membership. To understand how important this is, I repeat to you a common question I get from folks in our congregation: “Are we planning to have a minister again, and do we have plans in place to get one?” This has been my answer: “We will attract a minister only after we can demonstrate our ability to support one.” In other words, hiring a minister is conditional upon some other things happening. The selection process for calling a settled minister, a contract minister, a consulting minister, an interim minister- any kind of minister- is a two-way street in which the prospective minister and the inviting congregation examine each other for compatibility of ministerial goals, and to gain confidence in each other's ability to sustain a financial & spiritual partnership. The prospective minister needs to be confident that a congegation is willing and able to provide financial, programmatic and energetic support.
So- we need to devote attention to membership- not only to ensure the energy, vibrancy and financial health of our congregation NOW, but also to achieve any ministerial aspirations we might have in the FUTURE.
This illustration was produced by Jeff Lensman our Treasurer, and the Trustees discussed it at length at our last board meeting. At the top is a table showing income received and the number of active members over the past seven years, 2014 through 2021 (based on current data). The column “Delta 2021 to 2014” shows the percent change in income- 56%; and the column “Delta 2021 to 2014” shows a decline of active members of -60%. At the bottom of Jeff’s illustration are two bar graphs showing these related trends.
This is alarming.
What do we plan to do about it?
Trustee Holly Leake has stepped up to the task of developing membership recruitment for UUCO. She needs a team- she needs you and she needs your ideas and energy. She sent out a letter to other church leaders, asking for their ideas and support. Following this preliminary outreach, a team will form a plan of action, and implement it. The board has already talked about some of the things we could/should do, and they all have the common theme of “getting our message out to the community about who we are, and INVITING participation with us in the things we do, including virtual worship (our new form of outreach, which we can build upon). Many of the things we do are aligned with the activities and goals of other entities in the Ogden area, involving environmental issues, climate-change planning, and social action. Plus, we have this large building to offer as a venue for church-sponsored events. Sounds like a win-win scenario to me- the idea of mutual support for mutual benefit.
As always, this will require energy of action from our congregation: give ideas to Holly; join the Membership team; invite your personal friends; volunteer to help us stage events at the church (when it’s safe to do so), and so on. This UUCO membership initiative is about as fundamental as it gets. For without sufficient resources, we won’t function as we would like, we won’t have as many new friends and allies as we’d like; and we won’t move forward in ministry as we’d like.
I have fiduciary and covenental responsibilities to our congregation, is why I tell you these things. But I must also tell you that “the money” is not the point of all this. Increased income for our church is a welcome benefit, but it is not the point. Our ministry is- how we serve ourselves and others who come to us by accident or invitation. We need to take giant steps toward INVITATION. We need to widen our vision of “community.” We need to cultivate partnerships. We need to show & tell others what we have to offer.
Here’s the gist of what I tell others: “If you seek religious community with other people, our congregation is a loving group where you can be yourself; where you can explore freely with others. We have no fixed dogma or creed, but we do follow a set of principles that emphasize how we should treat each other and the planet. Unitarian Universalism is a modern embodiment of moral & religious principles dating back to the Middle Ages. We promote religious tolerance and we encourage spiritual & intellectual growth.” Or something like that…
Success in fundraising, membership and all related activities is not dependent on “selling a product.” Success is achieved mainly by forming one-on-one relationships among people and organizations. All of us have a role to play in this, and I’m asking you to do a couple of things just for starters. First, have your own “elevator speech” in mind, for delivery when the time is right. Second, don’t be afraid to make invitations to join us in our virtual or live activities- to dip toes in the water. Third, if you believe we should, as an organization, be cultivating relationships with certain other organizations around here, then let us know. Fourth, consider joining Holly’s Membership Team. And finally, be aware that membership growth isn’t going to arrive through the efforts of a few church leaders. It will succeed in proportion to the level our entire congregation is behind it.
The Trustees support this initiative. We’ve informed you about it. We invite your participation. We need your participation. And together, we’ve got a lot to offer any folks who don’t yet know us.