Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Are we ready to take advantage of an economic recovery?

At the recent assembly of the Pacific Central District, the Rev. Stefan Jonasson of the UUA told us the implications of recent research by church consultants and denominational organizations about congregations and economic downturns.

One conclusion is that an economic or demographic decline in an area will not necessarily take the church down with it. Our church in Buffalo, for example, doubled in size while the area went into a steady decline.  Consequently, if a congregation’s leadership blames the local environment for a loss of  vitality or flat growth in financial stewardship, it can let things get worse internally.  Leadership in a church can miss the church’s internal signs of under-performance or declining effectiveness and strength.

Remaining passive to what it feels are only external variables, a congregation can ignore the need to evaluate, envision, improve, and plan for the future. Stefan was drawing on the research-based writings of consultant George Barna.

Stefan said:  “If you are under-performing [as a congregation], and then demographics or the economy turns against you, you’re in trouble!”  In contrast, he said, organizations that do thoughtful work on strategy and effectiveness can position themselves to take advantage of a recovery when it happens.  Two corporate examples are Apple Computers and Ford Motor, which were strategically placed to take advantage of the recovery in their industries.  Both are profitable now.

What about us?  Are we ready to take advantage of an economic recovery?

I think so.  Instead of cutting back on programs for members, friends and visitors, we have enlarged them.  New Member Orientation classes take place regularly and bring in new members–even though the local population is not growing, we recognize that new people keep coming in search of belonging, purpose, depth, compassion and hope.  Financial stewardship has been strong, even as the State struggles with financial decline, worker furloughs, education cuts and incredible deficits. (For the second year in a row, our member and friend pledge payments are coming in on schedule and the Sunday shared offering collections are coming in at projected levels– or above them.)

At UUSS, while we can always find good uses for more income–and we do have some major needs for capital repairs and office space, we can affirm that funding for staff is stable, and we haven’t used recent departures as a way to cut positions by attrition.

Furthermore, the Board is using some bequest funds to support a half-time member support position on staff to help new folks connect here and help our existing members to find opportunities for personal enrichment as well as opportunities for service.  Intern Minister Carole Czujko will step into that staff role after her internship ends this summer. But for now, Carole and the new Adult Enrichment leaders are turning survey results and high interest into high attendance at engaging and accessible class offerings.

With such high interest in an economic downturn, imagine how much busier UUSS will be after growth returns to this region.  Given that regular rentals of our rooms and sanctuary to outside groups have declined in recent years, UUSS is positioned to offer more meeting space for our adult, youth and children’s programs, spiritual practice meetings, Ministry Circles, special groups, area youth gatherings, social events and seasonal occasions.

Doug Kraft is talking and reflecting with other staff leaders as well as with trustees, the committee on ministry, and congregational consultants to think strategically about the best way to serve and lead this church in  the future, as he marks 10 years of ministry here.  He and you have built a foundation of inter-dependence and commitment based on his pastoral reliability, organizational healing presence, both challenging and compassionate leadership, his team building with program and senior staff members, consistent quality in worship, encouragement of long-range vision and planning, support of capital improvements and stewardship development. (And you thought he was just a good guy.)

Don’t forget me!  His recruitment, retention and ongoing support of me in the position of consulting Family Minister also makes it possible for me to participate in crucial program areas here and provide more ministerial perspective, presence and guidance as the church grows in complexity, size, scale, activity, diversity, generosity, and numbers of people. In addition, I am active in the UU Pacific Central District and (along with Doug) the area UU ministers’ professional association, and with our wider UUA and a few local organizations in Sacramento.

The Board-led upcoming evaluation of his ministerial leadership will soon reveal new opportunties for effectivness in the church’s relationship with its Lead Minister.  Yet with the wisdom of ongoing conversations and the affirmation of our present momentum, Doug is actively supporting additional planning and improvements for our facilities, ministry to children and families, and hospitality to seekers of religious community.

He’s devoting more time to identifying, recruiting, training and supporting lay leaders in ways that can transform this community as well as nourish their own spirits.

These are not good times for California, but to me–a relative newcomer to this congregation– these are very good times for UUSS.  My answer to the question in the title is:  YES!


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