16 February 2005

Why We Lose Our UU Children When They Grow Up

On 15 February 2005, Peacebang wrote the following:
"Meanwhile, my own Unitarian Universalists are still arguing about whether or not we should be using a "language of reverence," failing to welcome visitors at coffee hour, hemorrhaging youth members after high school graduation, and cheering when our certified membership climbs by a little over one percentage point of a miniscule 100,000 souls. Because see, we don't evangelize."

One reason for losing youth members after high school graduation is the perception that our congregations cater to those who are older adult converts.

We rarely attempt to provide a worship experience with youth or young adults as part of our religious community. Or if we do offer this experience, we expect youth and young adults to conform to older adult worship norms ... we're not even attempting to meet them half-way.

"Children of a Different Tribe: UU Young Adult Developmental Issues" by Sharon Hwang Colligan is worth checking out. As a former Young Religious Unitarian Universalist who was also active as a UU Young Adult, she provides the perspective of what it's like for the adult who was raised as a child and youth in our Religious Education programs. Sharon's work is part of the theological foundation for the The Bridging Program: Workshops and Guidelines by Colin Bossen and Dawn Star Borchelt (a longer online version of the review of this curriculum prepared for the Liberal Religious Educator Association newsletter can be found online here).

Another resource you may want to check out is "Congregational Hospitality: Growth By Young Adults: Worship, Programs and Outreach," a workshop presented by Dr. Michael Tino (Director of the UU Young Adult Network and Campus Ministry) at last summer's General Assembly in Long Beach, CA. The slides for his presentation can be downloaded using this link. Here's what was recorded on the General Assembly web site about young adults and worship in UU congregations:

Young adults need other young adults, so it's good to start with some sort of social gathering. However, without other programs, such as contemporary worship, classes, and workshops geared towards their needs – programs that engage them fully (rather than just "doing the dishes") and other spiritually-enriching programs – they are not likely to stay. Covenant groups of mixed ages and covenant groups solely for young adults are also ways to assimilate them into our congregational life.

Tino compared the traditional UU service to a sandwich with the "chunk of sermon" in the middle. Young adults, on the other hand, prefer contemporary services that are likened to an Ethiopian dinner where everything is served in a round platter or bread basket and participants share the meal by breaking off pieces of the basket. A long sermon of 20 minutes, for instance, could be broken down into three short homilies separated by musical interludes or a short drama and still get the message across.

Multimedia and audio-visual aides, including overheads, slides, and photographic projection, are used more often in contemporary services which also use more music – and not all pieces of music are by dead white guys.

Young adults tend to gather in coffee shops, campuses, daycare centers, schools, bars, and places with live music, so bulletin boards in these areas would be good places to post events to attract them to our programs.
Finally, I've got a question that's been puzzling me for many weeks about folks who write their blogs like Peacebang.

Peacebang, why do you write behind a pseudonym without any links to your real-world non-online identity? Many bloggers do make reference to who they are (name, community, etc) on their blogs.

The danger I can see in anonymity is a person writing from a pseudonym could be finding a slippery slope into the extremely rude and insulting without any sense of accountability for what he/she has written.


Katie Erslev said...

Hi all,
I've interviewed 82 lifers on why they did stay UU's, since I've been interested in this question for quite a while. The biggest commonality was a strong high school youth group experience - by far. It's something very problematic in our programming. Mormon teens can be found being taken on ski trips by their bishops. Would our UU leaders spend time on a raft trip with our YRUUers? I think not at this point. So for me, that's where our growing edge is. I wrote a book called "Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UU's" that addresses this. It's available on my website and at the UUA bookstore.

Steve Caldwell said...

Katie ... thanks for the tip on your book.

For those who are interested, here's the link to your web site and here's the link to Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs.

UUA Bookstore info for your book can be found here.

Your findings are nearly the same that Rev. Terry Sweetser reported in his "Born UU’s - Who Stuck and Why" report prepared during the 2002 "Mind the Gap" Youth and Young Adult Ministry Sunday (Terry's report requires Adobe Acrobat Reader software).

Rev. Sweetser found the following statistics concerning lifelong UUs and youth groups:

** 94% of lifelong UU’s interviewed were involved with a Youth Group or Program.

** 91% reported their participation in these programs as being a vital and/or significant experience.

** 74% reported it being important to them because of peers & adults who cared.

The Emerson Avenger said...
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Steve Caldwell said...

Robin ... please don't use my blog comment area for any personal gripes that you feel you may have with UU clergy who post using a pseudonym.

Thanks for your cooperation.

The Emerson Avenger said...
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