There are many good things about TUS. One of the them is our size.
Our size allows us to get know one another (if we make the effort). We enter the sanctuary and it feels cozy. There are enough seats, but not too many.
I have heard from many folks who are checking us out that part of what keeps them coming back is our small(ish) size. Now, I don’t get to talk to those folks who don’t return, so we don’t know if our size contributes to their leaving us to find a larger congregation.
Congregational Size Theory tells that there are four sizes, listed here from small to large: family, pastoral, program, and corporate. TUS falls into the “pastoral-sized” category.
Size can be about a numerical measurement: how many people are Members, Involved Friends; how many people attend on any given Sunday; what is our enrollment and attendance in Religious Education; what is the size of our budget.
Size can also be about behavior and attitude. How decisions are made, the roles of the Minister and lay leaders, and the structures of formal and informal power – all these influence congregation size – reflecting the size, as well as restricting it. If a congregation chooses behaviors that are sized for a smaller congregation, it will actually keep the congregation from growing. If it chooses behaviors that are sized for a larger congregation, it cultivates that possibility (but does not guarantee it).
For example, when a congregation chooses not to have nametags – or chooses not to wear them — it conveys that everyone already knows each other. This is not particularly welcoming to new folks. This is acting small (and is common in family-size congregations).
Not having signage so that people can find the child care, the restrooms, the special activities you hope they will take part in (like buying scrip), or on the street about what time and day we meet – this is acting small.
Congregations where the greeters focus on their conversations with each other, rather than on greeting folks who are arriving – this is acting not only small, but unwelcoming. (I’m really glad that we don’t this problem at TUS!)
There are numerous traditions and dynamics in Unitarian Universalist congregations that are generally regarded as helping to keep congregation small. Spoken Joys & Sorrows is typically at the top of the list. Asking visitors to introduce themselves during the Sunday service. Holding hands at the end of a Sunday service. Worship space not being fully accessible. Feeding the past, rather than the future. Focusing on happiness of individuals, rather than the overall health of the congregation.
Why does this matter?
As your minister, I actually do not know if TUS would like to grow. It would be a good conversation for us to have.
I do know that TUS would like, at the very least, to sustain itself. To do this requires a consistent stream of new folks checking us out, deciding to stay, and making friendships. The literature on church growth tells us that the number one thing a congregation can do to grow its stream of visitors is for congregants to invite people they know to attend.
I am proud that we have been addressing our relative lack of visibility, a contributor to staying small:
- Our Love Is Love sign on Tices Lane
- Our new sign that says when we meet, also on Tices Lane
- Increasing ways we serve the community outside TUS walls
- Growing our presence on social media
- Cultivating media attention through press releases
This is a great start. But it will only work if we also pay attention to the ways we inadvertently (or sometimes on purpose), behave small in ways that inhibit growth.
I am blessed to be on this journey with you,