My congregation (All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana) is currently in the search process for a settled minister.
As part of this search process, our search committee is surveying the congregation for their views on the role of the minister, personal spiritual leanings, and more. The survey used by search committee is the one recommended by the Unitarian Universalist Association's Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group.
The final portion of this survey is a series of ten open-ended questions. The following blog entry is written in response to the the first question in the list of open-ended survey questions:
What current strengths does our congregation possess that you would like to either see maintained or developed in the immediate future?
In my opinion, our biggest strength is our religious “brand name” and the marketing niche associated with our denomination in North American religious life.
In much of North America and certainly in Shreveport/Bossier City, where can a political liberal go and feel affirmed on Sunday morning at church?
Where can a bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender person and/or family go and be affirmed on Sunday morning at church?
Where can an interracial couple go and be affirmed on Sunday morning at church?
The obvious answer should be “All Souls Shreveport.”
In terms of denominational “brand names” and theological marketing niches, we are the only Unitarian Universalist congregation within 70 miles. This means we have a potential strength that we can use to grow both in numbers and also grow the souls in our congregation.
Being a Unitarian Universalist doesn’t mean we can believe “anything we want to believe.” We are not a “consumer-driven” religion but rather one that should both comfort and challenge us.
As a faith community, we have a history and a shared theology that we have inherited, inhabit today, and will be passed along to later generations after we are gone.
This theology and its components that we have inherited are distinctively Unitarian Universalist and reflect our history as a North American religious movement … how we view humanity and God, how we form church communities, the “end result” of our theology, how we view other faith communities, how we view salvation, etc are distinctively “different” from most Shreveport churches. Hiding this difference would be a grave mistake.
[Note: See Karen LoBracco's sermon based on Dr. Rebecca Parker's Liberal Religious Educator Association talks on UU theology of religious education presented at the 2002 LREDA Fall Conference for details about what I think we offer that is unique in Shreveport.]
We cannot use this unique marketing strength if we market ourselves as a “Protestant-Lite” church in Shreveport and Bossier City … other churches can do “Protestant-Lite” better than we can and we’re the only church in town who can offer Unitarian Universalist theology.
Programs like “Welcoming Congregation,” “Journey Towards Wholeness,” “Young Religious Unitarian Universalists,” and “Our Whole Lives” do run counter to prevailing cultural norms of Shreveport and Bossier City. Given the stifling and unhealthy cultural norms in our community, being “out of step” should be a marketing plus and not a problem for us in our marketing.
Our Unitarian Universalist neighbors in Longview, TX have marketed themselves as a distinctive religious community that is different from other Longview churches. When they offered Unitarian Universalist sexuality education for their adults, they sent a press release to the local paper religion editor. This informed their community that their church was uniquely sexuality-positive. When they started the Welcoming Congregation study process (about a year before they took the congregational vote to become a Welcoming Congregation), they sent out a press release to the local paper again. This informed their community that they were uniquely BGLT-friendly. One end result of the Longview UU fellowship’s positioning of themselves as a unique congregation in the Bible Belt has been numeric growth … so much growth that they are outgrowing their building and will be receiving the next SW District “Chalice Lighter” grant to assist them in growing further.
However, we also have some other strengths that should be mentioned as well:
- Children and Youth Faith Development Programs (“Religious Education”)
- Dedicated church staff who work incredibly hard for us
- Dedicated volunteers who support the life of the congregation.