12 November 2005

Pathways Church Funding Cutbacks

Today, while checking out UU blogs, I read that the Unitarian Universalist Association's large church startup project in the Dallas-Ft. Worth TX area (Pathways UU Church) is experiencing financial difficulties and has not met the planned growth goals.

Details about this can be found online here in this 21 October 2005 letter from Rev. Laurel Hallman (Senior Minister, First Unitarian Church of Dallas TX). The letter requires Adobe Acrobat or other PDF viewer software. Some excerpts from Laurel's letter are printed below:
The church was formed in the recognition that our usual methods of starting churches have been self-limiting. We had a vision of planting a church which would have the resources to grow quickly as many other denominations (and non-denominational churches) have done.

The DFW area had all the right elements: entrepreneurial UU donors in the First Unitarian Church of Dallas who were willing to underwrite most of the projected $1 million budget; NTAUUS, the North Texas Association of UU Societies which was willing to purchase and hold land for the future of the congregation; the willingness of the UUA Administration to contribute the remainder of the money needed from the UUA Capital Campaign monies; the conservative religious climate in Texas which challenged us as religious progressives to come out, gather together, and to be bold in our faith.

Since this had never been done before within our denomination, we knew that much of the wisdom and practical skills for such a project would have to come from sources outside our usual circles. A donor in First Church gave money to provide for training in "planting" such a large church start. UUA and Pathways staff attended a United Methodist conference on large church life that included visits to the six large United Methodist congregations in the Houston area to observe and analyze best practices. We contracted with the Texas-based Easum, Bandy Associates, a consulting firm specializing in church growth, that included extensive on-site consultations with Tom Bandy at Pathways.

We formed a local search committee that carefully researched many of the large churches in the DFW area to glean the qualities necessary for the minister of such a church. After interviewing several very good candidates, the committee was excited to choose Anthony David, who had the tenacity, entrepreneurial spirit, and excitement we believed would make this experiment a success. He accepted the challenge and moved to Keller with his family to plunge into the process of learning "church planting."

The plan was to spend a year preparing the staff and programs for the church and provide enough publicity to gather 300 people at the first service. While the first public Sunday worship service on September 19, 2004 had an attendance of 140, we knew that the UUA Media Campaign that was being tested in Kansas City and Houston would be coming to Dallas/Ft. Worth within the year, and so missing that first goal did not seem as important as the enthusiasm generated on that Sunday.

Despite this planning and enthusiasm, however, we must regrettably report that Pathways has not grown as rapidly as we all had hoped. After more than a year of public worship, Pathways has 71 members. At current spending levels, the UUA's financial commitment to Pathways would be completed in a matter of months.

Due to these circumstances, Pathways leadership needs to adjust staffing and expenditures to match the reality of their current size in the near term. This adjustment will not be easy, but the Pathways vision is strong, and the church will continue to bring Unitarian Universalism to an unserved part of the Dallas/Ft.Worth region. With 71 members and 110 average attendance at worship, Pathways has a pledge base of $110,000, with an average pledge of $2,600 per pledge unit. They have a strong membership and a committed board, and they remain undaunted. It is our sincere hope that Pathways will continue to grow even if at a less strenuous pace. The Dallas/Ft. Worth UU Churches have just enjoyed a significant media campaign as part of the Metroplex Growth Strategy which was funded by NTAUUS and the UUA Capital Campaign. All the UU Churches in the DFW Metroplex area are "coming out" in significant ways and we hope that Pathways, in spite of their current task of reorganization, will also be able to enjoy the benefits of that campaign.

We are disappointed that we could not achieve our goals for a large church at Pathways. But we have learned much from the Pathways experiment, learnings that we are already using. We have learned that we need to have more experience embedded in the new congregation and available to church leadership right from the start; that the new congregation needs to have a close and clear relationship with a mentor congregation for guidance; that all understandings, financial and otherwise, between the new congregation and the UUA must be in writing; and that there must be clear benchmarks for progress reported to and analyzed by the mentor congregation and the UUA. At the same time, Pathways has much to teach the rest of us about the process of planting a church, including "start small and slow to grow big fast." These lessons were hard-learned, but they will serve us well in the future.

The UUA Board of Trustees has requested an independent review of the Pathways effort, and an independent committee will submit a report by April, 2006. We did not want to wait, however, until that report was received to inform you of the situation at Pathways.

Our disappointment that the Pathways experiment did not result in the outcome we dreamed of must not distract us from our mission to grow Unitarian Universalism. Pathways has been a bold undertaking by some brave and generous UUs who have done the best they could. Pathways will continue to do good ministry where our voice so desperately needs to be heard. In addition, the skills and experience gained at Pathways are being applied as we support the next large church plant which has emerged from the Mainline UU Congregation in Devon, Pennsylvania. We may have fallen short of our immediate goals with Pathways, but what we have learned will be invaluable as we continue our efforts to grow Unitarian Universalist churches.
So ... it appears that we have some feedback on the "church planting" process and metroplex growth strategies for Unitarian Universalism.

Last June, Mary McIntosh and I trained several members from Pathways to be Our Whole Lives (OWL) Grades 7-9/10-12 facilitators (OWL is the lifespan comprehensive sexuality education program jointly developed by the UUA and the United Church of Christ). Pathways wanted to use OWL as a way to provide outreach and ministry to the wider DFW community. I hope that they still have the resources to provide OWL as part of their ministry.

Good luck to Pathways as they plan they future with these cutbacks to funding and paid ministry.

More information on UUA metroplex growth strategies can be found online here:

Growing UUism: Regional Strategies and New Congregation Formation - Overview: Regional/Metro Strategies 1999-2005 (October 2005)


David Dodd said...

So. Can we please now go back to a normal, proven method of growth for UU churches, as demonstrated by the Extension Ministry program for so many years? OUr completely unfunded startup effort, The Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma (California), has the same number of members as the Pathways Church after our first three years, and a budget totalling no more than $50,000 for all three years. We could really use Extension Ministry support, or SOME support from the UUA, which has been focusing, wrongheadedly, on the large church planting strategy.

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Jeff Wilson said...

Howdy Steve, just saying thanks for the farewell note you left and the well wishes. I'm sure I'll still run into you in the blogosphere. Have a great new year and take care!