Sunrise, Sunset: Generational Trends in Stewardship

Photo copyright: https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson/
Photo copyright: https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson/

Many of our “solid” congregations noticed a drop-off in giving that was not a result of a drop-off of membership during the past two or three years.  We don’t have much data (the trend is too new) but we do have some anecdotal information that seems to align with greater generational shifts.

The Baby Boomers Are Retiring

With the recovery of the stock market, many baby boomers–who were holding off on retiring–are now ready to retire.  Nationally, the Baby Boomers are the largest source of charity gifts.

The good news is that most hold steady on their pledges and have more time to serve in volunteer roles.  The bad news that many of them are moving away from their congregations to be near their grandchildren, resulting in the congregation losing substantial (1st quartile–see below) donors.

There also seems to be a trend where Boomers are not dipping into their nest eggs for their daily living expenses, but instead use that money to splurge on big ticket items or vacations with their children and grandchildren.  This may mean they might be more likely to give to a capital campaign rather than raise their pledge to the yearly operating budget.

Generation X Can’t Possibly Fill the Gap

Nationally, the 76 million Baby Boom was followed by only 55 million babies born who are known as Generation X.  That means that there are around 1/3 fewer Gen Xers than there are Baby boomers.  We don’t have hard data, but I suspect that the ratio of Gen X (roughly age 40-54) to Baby Boomers (55-70) is even smaller in our congregations, if we reflect national trends.

Gen Xers also did not have the financial advantages of previous generations.  Those who went to college often graduated with high levels of student debt. Limited job opportunities, cost-saving employment practices, the reduction of employer benefits, the volatility of the stock market, and the bursting of the housing bubble have all contributed to a sense of financial insecurity that is not always acknowledged in our congregations.

Also, Gen Xers are known as a generation of hackers and slackers (stay with me!).  Their small numbers kept them from having an impact on “stuck” institutions–including our congregations–so they either gave up on the institution (which labeled them as slackers) or found work-arounds within the system (acting as hackers). Their experiences probably affected their sense of loyalty to the institutions.  (Again, this observation is anecdotal.)

 Millennials Have a Different Mindset About Giving

The number of Millennials is eclipsing the number Baby Boomers.  Their job opportunities are a mixed bag, with some Millennials finding great jobs and others struggling.

They are suspicious of institutions, but–at the same time–they appreciate that institutions can be used “for good.”  And yet–they can be generous givers.  They want to know where the money that they donate is going, and that it is changing lives.  If your congregation’s message and actions reflect solid core values, you can invite Millennials to support your work with integrity.

Healthy Pledge Distribution ChartWhat you can do:

  • If possible, do an analysis of the distribution of pledges by quartile (i.e. look at your total amount pledged, divide it by 4, and see how many of your pledge units are in each quartile.   According to Wayne Clark:

The first 25% of total dollars should be coming from the first 10% of the household donors
The second 25% of total dollars should be coming from 15% of the donors
The third 25%of total dollars should be coming from 35% of the donors
The final 25% of total dollars should be coming from the last 40% of household donors

 If you have less than 30% of your members in the top two quartiles, you may be at risk.

  • Make sure your leaders are transparent, trustworthy and act with integrity.  Your donors want to know that your congregation will be a good steward of their financial gifts.
  • Be crystal clear when it comes to your mission and vision.  Let people know how your congregation makes the world a better places and transform lives.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

Resources:

Committee, Team or Task Force?

many ways to participateAs we reimagine how to do the work of a congregation, we need to take into account that younger folks (and by “younger” I mean people under 50) are wary of making commitments without fully understanding the implications.  These people want to feel like they are making  a contribution that makes a difference.  Expecting members to attend meetings out of a sense of duty (with no pragmatic objectives) will repel the next generation of leaders.

How should we pragmatically organize the groups that do the work of the congregation? The Rev, Marian Stewart offers this framework:

Committee:

Long-term groups that have legal and structural responsibilities. In some models, these are referred to as Standing Committees.

For example: Endowment, Finance, Human Resources, Rentals.

Team:

Ongoing responsibilities but membership terms/commitments may be informal or formal and can vary from short to long-term. Mostly these  groups are responsible for the church programs and activities. In some  models, this group forms a Program Council that meets several times a year  to do calendaring, find partner groups to sponsor events, etc.

For example: Communications, Membership, Religious Education, Social Justice, Worship.

Task Force:

A group of people who gather around an identified need that  has a defined goal or time-limit.

For example: Bylaws revision, policy creation,  insurance coverage change.

Despite its name, a Search Committee might also  be defined as a Task Force, although it has a much longer impact and  involvement in the life of the congregation.

Event Organizers:

A group of people responsible for one-time or short series of activities.

For example: anniversary party, social gathering, ordination service.

All of these groups have a defined mission and purpose. Each fits into the overriding Long Range Plan, which has very distinct and accountable short, medium, and long term goals.

While the above structures and defined purposes are extremely useful, the real purpose of almost all groups is to learn to work together, build relationships, find meaning or experience spiritual growth, and do something to make this world a little better – even if that world is helping the church operate more smoothly as its fulfills its larger mission and vision.

…And That’s Where the Magic Happens

Photo Copyright Brad Bolton
Photo Copyright Brad Bolton

It usually starts with one person with the beginning of an audacious idea.  It has enough form so that others can visualize the possibilities.  It also has enough open possibilities that others can see where they can bring their creativity and energy to help co-create it.  And woven fine within the interactions and planning that lead to the actual “product” is a feeling of there being some mysterious additional energy that enables the group to create something that feels almost magical.

It happened at my home congregation.  One woman, after reading the first couple of Harry Potter books, imagined creating a “vacation church school” based on the books.  Adult teachers would take on Hogwarts alter egos and create a version of Hogwarts where they emphasized liberal religious values.  Each teacher used their creativity and skills to create a unique experience in their classes. “Defense against the Dark Arts” helped the students respond to bullying.  The “Potions” class encouraged the love of science through chemistry.  Children who aged out of the program could become prefects or even professors.  Over ten years after its inception, the program is still filled to capacity.

Camp BeagleSomething similar happened at the congregation in Annapolis, Maryland. A group of UU parents wanted to offer the children of their congregation and the community their own version of a Vacation School, with liberal religious values. Because their church sits on 7 acres of woodland, they developed a nature camp. Their mission was to encourage questioning, active exploration, a respect for interconnectedness of all the earth, a sense of adventure, and—most importantly— a sense of awe!

They named it Camp Beagle, after the H.M.S. Beagle, the ship that took Charles Darwin on the voyage that changed the course of how we view our place in the world.

The adults planning the activities used their creative energy to serve the camp’s mission of exploration and awe. To explore the idea of evolution, children tried out different size binder clips to pick up seed and beans of various shapes and sizes.  To see the effect of meteors hitting the earth, they dropped various rocks into a pan of flour.  Teams of campers competed to come up with ways to recycle and reuse items in a pile of trash.  The camp has become so popular that they fill up soon after they open registration.

I think of these stories as examples of Creative Interchange, as described by UU process theologian Henry Nelson Wieman.  He described it as a sacred inspiration that encourages us to deepen and widen our connections with the rest of creation in service of goodness and love. When we come together with openness to including diverse gifts, the result can be transformative – for the participant and those around them — and even the world!

Our congregations are natural places to nurture opportunities for people to bring their gifts.  The savvy leader can spot where energy is flowing and help turn that into synergy with Creative Interchange.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff, Central East Region

 

Teamwork for the Win!

Our Guest Blogger today is Jan Gartner.

The World Cup has been the big talk lately, but I’m never on the leading edge of sports conversations so I’m still thinking about the Basketball playersNBA playoffs! I was not surprised when the San Antonio Spurs skillfully beat the Miami Heat in the NBA finals. Why? Well, to be honest, I don’t pay a lot of attention to pro sports. So you could have told me that the Podunk Potato Heads won, and I wouldn’t have been too surprised about that either.
No actually, my husband, Mike, had explained the situation to me: this was a re-match between the two awesome teams who’d played each other in last year’s Finals. In 2013, the Heat had won after a riveting 7-game contest. Heading into this year’s playoffs, there were a lot of folks who seemed to think – how could the Heat not win again, with 3 players as incredible as LeBron James (even I know who LeBron James is), Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh? So, I was drawn in by the drama…and I found myself hoping that the Spurs would get their turn as champions.
I’m obviously not a sophisticated spectator, but I couldn’t help but notice that the Heat’s offense revolved around the talents of the 3 superstars. Meanwhile, watching the Spurs, I could see that it was truly a team effort. Each player seemed to have this uncanny intuition about his teammates’ strengths and style. It wasn’t about any particular person; at any given moment, it was simply about what was best for the team as a whole. The way the Spurs worked together was cohesive and synergetic.
This got me thinking about congregational leadership. Sometimes we tend to rely on one impressive leader (or a small handful) to rack up the points for us. Maybe it’s the minister. Or the music director. A number of the congregation’s efforts may fall to an exceptional lay leader or two. These standout performers become the focus of the congregation’s attention and activity.
Of course we need strong individual leaders in our congregations! But what will really make our faith communities fly is teamwork. Among the professional leadership, this means staff who appreciate and leverage each other’s talents to create experiences that transcend any individual’s contributions. Moreover, it requires staff to trust one another, to strive for common goals, and to focus is on what’s right for the whole organization. There are no ball hogs.
For lay leaders, roles are not prescribed by job descriptions and the “team” is far larger – effectively (ideally) the whole congregation. This presents the opportunity for intentional exploration of gifts and passions. Are congregants’ time and talent being utilized effectively? Is the work of the congregation (or a particular ministry area) distributed well among the team? What roles and responsibilities tend to fall to your “LeBron” and why?
In their book The Wisdom of Teams, JR Katzenbach and DK Smith define a team as “a small number of people with complementary skills; who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach; for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” The success of the Spurs proves that your congregation can be a winner without LeBron, Dwyane, or Chris – without Reverend Remarkable or Lucy the Luminary Lay Leader. What you do need is a theology of teamwork, with cohesiveness, common purpose, and collective accountability at its core.
So here’s the drill: explore how teamwork can improve your congregation’s score. I’ll be rooting for you!


Jan gartnerJan Gartner is Professional Development Associate for Religious Education and Music Leaders in the Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group of the UUA, telecommuting from her home near Rochester, NY. Her portfolio includes staff team development.

The Gift of Being Called

It was mid-afternoon and my sixth grade classmates and I were in the middle of a lesson.  Suddenly, the deep voice of the principal boomed over the loudspeaker.  “Mr. Doyle, I need your help.  Mrs. Jones will be out the rest of the day and I need someone to be in the office to answer phones and greet visitors.” He went on, “I need someone confident and responsible.  Someone like …” and then he said my name!

I didn’t really see myself as a leader.  I didn’t think the principal even knew who I was.  What did he see in me that I didn’t see in myself?  I was just a kid, after all.phone

Of course, my teacher excused me from class and I walked down the glazed brick hallway to the office.  I timidly opened the door to find the principal sitting at the secretary’s desk. “Come in! Come in!  Thank you for helping us out!” he said warmly.  He proceeded to show me how the phones worked and how to use a pad with carbon paper to take messages.  Once he was sure I knew what to do he retreated back into his office and I was left alone with the seemingly immense responsibility of the office.

There have been other times in my life when someone reached into me and revealed something that I hadn’t seen in myself.  They remind me that our blind spots don’t just keep us from recognizing our faults but can also be keeping us from seeing our gifts.  The best leaders look for gifts in others, and then help them to develop those gifts.  They encourage others into leadership by providing confidence-building experiences and meaningful service.

Other than a couple of phone calls, that afternoon in the office was itself uneventful.  But the experience of having someone with so much power and authority not only to see potential in me, but spend unhurried time to help me realize that potential, was a life-changing gift.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Could the “Nones” Become Unitarian Universalists? Part 3

Part 2 is available here.

So the leaders of the UUA have identified the “nones” as a possible growth area for UU congregations.  Now what? What is the UUA doing to reach out to the “nones?”

The first thing to realize is that this is an emerging challenge that doesn’t have any ready solutions, and all religious denominations are in the same boat.  The population of the “nones” has a lot of variety (from new-age spiritual to atheist) so no one answer could be the answer.  There is no “program” that will “fix” this challenge.

We do know that congregations need to re-think aspects of how they “do church.”  We do have some bits and pieces of information from current studies.  In other words, this is a classic adaptive challenge where we need to function as a learning community, with high-learning, low-risk experiments.

That’s why the Congregations and Beyond initiative may be disappointing, maybe even confusing.  We are expecting a program.  We are hoping for a program. Instead we have a framework and tools that are helping us to creatively address the challenge with innovation and cross-pollination.

The 2014 General Assembly theme of “Love Reaches Out” will provide an opportunity to continue the conversation.  The GA Program Application (Due November 1) instructions specifically asks for innovation:

Because this is an adaptive challenge, there is an understanding that there are no easy or sure answers, so we encourage the spirit of experimentation, e.g. learning from mistakes as well as from successes. Workshops that share examples of something that you are currently trying are encouraged—even if your experiment doesn’t feel “ready for prime time.”

If you don’t want to wait for General Assembly, here are some tools that you can use immediately:

From the information gleaned from the Pew and Barna research (mentioned in the first two parts of this series) we understand there are two areas of young adult ministry that we need to pay attention to.  One is facilitating opportunities for developing relationships with other people in the congregation.  The other is innovating to provide the engagement and depth in addressing the questions and needs of young adults in today’s context.  The UUA Young Adult office has created a handy self-assessment and other resources to help your congregation, especially in the relationship-building area.

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Could the “Nones” Become Unitarian Universalists? Part 2

Part 1 is available here.

The descriptions of  the values of many “spiritual but not religious” people line up pretty nicely with what our UU Man and a Woman with Their Heads Together Smilingreligious communities could be, or at least what they should at least aspire to be.   We have young adult UUs living out UU values in newly-formed “beyond congregation” communities such as the Lucy Stone Cooperative and Beloved Café.  But we are have hundreds of traditional congregations–communities of people with checkered histories and institutional baggage.

Another study, by the Barna Group has discovered what is working–at least with Millennials–to enable young adults to stay connected to church.  Here are some highlights from the article (translated for UU theology) that can help inform our existing congregations of ways to help our congregations be relevant for younger generations (though the Barna study focused on Millennials, many of these are also true for younger Gen Xers):

    1. Making room for meaningful relationships.  …Seven out of 10 Millennials who dropped out of church did not have a close friendship with an adult and nearly nine out of ten never had a mentor at the church.
    2. Cultural Discernment.  …Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities. In many ways, pop culture has become the driver of religion for Millennials, so helping them think and respond rightly to culture should be a priority.
    3. Shared Ministry.   “Effective ministry to Millennials means helping these young adults discover their own mission in the world, not merely asking them to wait their turn.”
    4. Vocational Discipleship. Taking shared ministry a step further, today’s young adults are more interested in making their faith a part of their daily lives.  (See the “beyond congregations” examples above)
    5. Faith Formation. Provide opportunities for young adults to “go deep” within the church’s own faith development programming.  Many large congregations (such as First Unitarian Rochester) have created programs that are available by subscription.

Next:  What does this mean for UU congregations?

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Consultant

 

Could the “Nones” become Unitarian Universalists? Part 1

Young Adult ministry has been a challenge for congregations of all liberal protestant denominations for decades but the game is changing in ways we couldn’t have imagined back in the post WWII chufourteen year old teenage with aggressive bully expressionrch building boom.  There has been a lively conversation on the UU-Leaders email list about how to address the rise of the “nones,”  i.e. people who do not identify with any religious denomination.  Many of our leaders believe that this is a fertile ground for UU evangelism.  In this blog series I will share why I agree.

The UUA does not have the financial resources to do our own research. However there are plenty of other organizations that do have the resources, and we pay close attention to their findings.

The latest research from the Pew Institute shows that close to 20% of the population and 30% of the Millennial generation (born after 1985) state “no religious preference” i.e. “none.”  40% of those who identify as politically liberal also can be labeled as “nones.”

This is not to imply that these rising number of “no religious preference” means there is a corresponding rise in atheism or even in humanism.  Indeed, a year ago, in research published by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, they found that:

that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

(The study elaborates that many of the social political issues, such as protesting gay marriage and reproductive rights, are the ones that most concern this group.)

Churches have potential to meet the spiritual needs of this group, but they have developed a bad reputation.  Conservative churches are too restrictive.  And the liberal churches have not been all that compelling (What is the “there” there?) as an alternative.  This is changing.  Books such as Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church by Michael Piazza help congregational leaders to imagine frameworks for liberal religion that allow for transformational ministry, not institutional maintenance.

Next:  What is working to keep Millennials in church?

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Consultant

The Law of Fried Potatoes

potatoesOur congregations often have habits, traditions, or attitudes that are in tension (or even in conflict) with their mission and vision.  These are grounded in “accidental values” that may be invisible to the members but glaringly obvious to the newcomer.

An accidental value is something that we have a strong emotional attachment to and probably inherited from our ancestors (either from biology or tradition) but does not really serve our core purpose and aspiration of who we want to be in the world.

Part of our own faith formation–especially as leaders– is bringing awareness to our own emotional attachments and whether or not these attachments serve who we aspire to be. This is a part of becoming self-differentiated.

Church consultant and author Peter Steinke offers a metaphor for this phenomenon:

Self-Differentiation is the capacity to “like the way your mother fried potatoes but not to be overwhelmed by anxiety if someone else’s mother fried them differently. This means you don’t try to convert others to your mother’s fried potatoes, nor do you give in to another’s need for fried potatoes of a certain kind. And you do not disconnect from another until they fry their potatoes your mother’s way.”

Here are some examples of “Fried Potatoes,” (i.e. “accidental” congregational habits or traditions that might be interfering with what the congregation hopes to become):

  • I had a bad experience in a Christian church so I don’t want any Christian language used in my congregation.
  • The Beatles and Bob Dylan are great for worship but there hasn’t been any new music since 1980 that would be.
  • The donated furniture in our social hall looks awful, but we don’t want to hurt the feelings of the members who dropped it off in the middle of the week.
  • The only way to be a committed member is to serve on a committee and attend meetings faithfully.
  • You need a car (preferably a hybrid) to participate in the life of our congregation.

What are some other examples of fried potatoes?

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Let’s Not Say “Show Me the Money”

There can be a significant cultural divide between baby boomers and millennials in our congregations, which is obvious to the millennials, but often invisible to the boomers.   I was reminded of this after seeing various reactions on Facebook to a recent article on CNN’s Belief blog, Why millennials are leaving the church, and the video Church Shop created by a group of spirited Presbyterian young adults.

There are two major themes in the message that millennials are trying to deliver.

The first is that the message coming from the church should not be opposed to science nor to lived experience. Millennials understand that they can be spiritual and ethical and believe in evolution and support gay marriage.  We Unitarian Universalists are way ahead of the curve on this and are pretty good at saying so on our websites.  Millennials should be flocking to our churches, right?  They often do check us out if they are willing to give church a second chance.

The second theme in the millennials’ message is the one I want every congregational leader to hear with an open heart:

Millennials are looking toward faith communities as a way of helping them deepen their own faith and to make the world a better place.  They also are wise to the fact that they will likely never be as affluent as those born before 1958, but instead of reacting with bitterness or cynicism, Millennials  are responding with a creative energy that is outwardly mission-focused and pragmatic.

HStressed Over Moneyere is where our UU congregations often fall short.  Instead of seeing the gift that this generation can bring to our faith communities, financially comfortable members often characterize Millennials as a drag on the church because their financial contributions aren’t at a comparable level.  Older members might see Millennials’ reluctance to join committees as disinterest, where in fact these young adults aren’t interested in joining committees unless their time will result in some significant mission-focused action.  The physical building is not as important as what happens inside, and what happens inside is not as important as how that affects the world outside.  The core values between the generations are similar, but the emphasis has changed.

Generational theory shows parallels between the G.I. Generation and the Millennials.  Both are civic-minded institution-builders.  The G.I. Generation had the resources to focus on the financial, and many church endowments are the beneficiaries of their providence.  This new generation will not have the same financial opportunities as their earlier counterparts, but they are creatively meeting today’s challenges with the resources that they do have.  I hope our congregations see their potential and help to nurture and support them as they respond to the future with the limited resources that have been left to them.

(note: this video contains mild profanity)