27 January 2006

Long-Term UUA Religious Education Growth Trends

These questions come from Larry Ladd's report to GA last summer. He's was the UUA Financial Advisor until last summer when he completed his term.

Here are the growth demographic questions that he threw out for discussion in 2002 and again in 2005. So far, there has been no serious discussion about these questions:
For four years in a row I have written in this report that the declines in religious education enrollments should be "a warning signal for our movement." In my report in 2002 I wrote: "We need to identify the causes of the slowing growth in religious education enrollments. Is it that our adult membership is aging? Is it that we are becoming less successful in attracting young families and single parents? Is it other factors? Most importantly, this indicator likely predicts a decline in adult membership in the near future." For the third year in a row, I regret to report that, to my knowledge, there has been no serious discussion within our movement about the implications of this regrettable development.
RE growth is stagnant and we don't know why.

In regard to why it's not being studied, I suspect that congregational RE leaders are too busy with day-to-day parish RE ministry. My partner is a DRE and her life is just too busy with the short-term for this pressing but long term problem.

Any other thoughts?


This Girl Remembers said...

I honestly don’t think it should be hard to figure out. Most UU congregations’ RE programs I’m aware of, several personally and many more anecdotally, are SEVERELY understaffed. That’s a pretty obvious answer right there.

(snipped from a document on the UUA website re: congregational growth)
According to Roy Oswald, author and Alban Institute consultant, the guidelines for congregation staffing breaks out in the following categories:
Staffing for Growth = One full-time program person for every 100 active members.
Staffing for Maintenance = Slightly less than one full-time program person for every
100 active members.
Staffing for Decline = Significantly less than one full-time program person for every
100 active members. (/snip)

I am the full-time DRE at a church with 140 children and youth, about 75 adults who are volunteers, running two services each Sunday, offering all five levels of OWL, a full-year Coming of Age program, a high school youth group of about 35, and I am the only staff person for the program.

Let’s think about this. The size of my program, even if you consider only the participants and not the volunteers or the parents, is larger than the full membership of many UU churches. I currently have, between the two services we offer each week, twelve classes that need curricula, administrative support, publicity, supplies, etc. Add to that advocacy for the program in the whole church community, numerous committee and board meetings, social events and trainings and so forth. I’m also providing staff support for the adult RE program. And somewhere in there I’m supposed to find the time for long-range planning for our program including budgets, program structures, curriculum choices, facility needs and volunteer recruitment and support.

It’s all I can do, some weeks, just to make sure that all the things that have to happen so that THIS SUNDAY can happen get done. I’m pretty damn proud of the work we’ve been able to do around program assessment and development in the last couple of years, given all that has to be done just to maintain the current program.

And here’s the kicker: with me at full time, we’re well staffed in comparison to most UU churches, even accounting for the relative size of my program.

It boggles my mind, honestly, that so many people find this such a mystery. But I think it’s probably because many church-going UU’s have no idea what it really takes to run a successful RE program. (And I’m not counting you among those people, Steve, because I know you know exactly what it takes!)

And I won't even start in on the role of congregational support for professional training for RE staff, nor the incredibly high burn-out rate for DRE's in UU churches.

LaReinaCobre said...

I have started becoming more interested in RE programs in the last few months. I'm really interested in how they can serve youth and young adults in particular, and also where the funding for them comes from. And is there a funding or categorical difference between RE (for youth and kids) and Adult RE? Or are they all lumped in together?

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around how it's all structured. I should ask the DRE at my church. She mentioned a week or so ago that there were 400 kids in the program.

Steve Caldwell said...

LaReinaCobre wrote:
"And is there a funding or categorical difference between RE (for youth and kids) and Adult RE? Or are they all lumped in together?"

In terms of funding, it depends on the local congregation. Some congregations have one budget for "lifespan RE" where one big lump of money covers resources for children, youth, young adults, and adults. Other congregations divide up their budget so that separate line items go to children RE, youth RE, etc.

In terms of categorical differences, there are content differences between children, youth, young adult, and adult curricula. Age-appropriateness is very important when working with children and still a consideration when working with youth and young adults.

However, I found as one moves towards youth, young adults, and adults, it's possible to adapt youth program for young adults and adults, adult programs for youth and young adults, and young adult programs for youth and adults. And this is done intentionally with some curricula.

For example, in the "Our Whole Lives" sexuality education series, the Grades 7-9 program and the adult program share 3 identical activities that deal with anatomy, sexual orientation, and STD prevention.

Finally, it's sometimes fun to use a children's story with adults. This is done intentionally in "Weaving the Fabric of Diversity," a UU anti-bias curriculum. The session on ageism uses a children's book Now One Foot, Now the Other by Tomie dePaola as a closing reading.

In this book, a grandfather has a stroke and the grandson teaches his grandfather how to walk (just like the grandfather teaching the grandson how to walk a few years ago).