Sunday, April 29, 2012

"We have so much of what people are moving to"

Fourth in a series of posts about the April UUA Board meeting

Saying that the Chinese symbol for crisis means both threat and opportunity is somewhat trite (and according to Sinologist Victor Mair, wholly inaccurate)  -- but it really is a good summary of Peter Morales' President's Ends Monitoring Report:  the certified adult membership of the Association has been in decline since 2008, as has religious education enrollment.  Put within the context of mainline Protestant religions, we are hanging on.
Chart from The President's Monitoring Report, March 10, 2012

The difference, points out Peter, is that "we have so much of what people are moving to".  A rejection of a God that seems at odds with Love.  A spiritual home for those with a non-traditional view of God or no God at all.  A place to center social justice with moral values.  A way to incorporate truths from many faith and secular traditions.

This was the basis for much of the marketing work in the past ten years (including in the Bay Area) -- if only people knew about us, they would come.

There is some truth in this.  There was clearly an impact in the Bay Area (contact me if you want to see the results) but not anything close to a silver bullet.  So Peter has taken the Administration in a different direction, made famous in his pre-President days as "repel fewer visitors".

I used to do a workshop at every General Assembly called "Congregations Count" that provided a lot of data about visitors and membership.  I still remember the first time I calculated the number of visitors who came back at least once within a 6 months period for my church.  It was 40%.  I was horrified -- in Peter's words, we were "repelling" 60% of our visitors.

It turns out that was actually pretty good -- I have been collecting data for about ten years from UU as well as Christian mainline churches and "normal" percentages that do not come back is closer to 70-80%.   We are "too Christian", or "not Christian enough", or "the building is too dark".  If we do a good job with our websites (almost 100% of our visitors check us out there ahead of time), our theology should not surprise anyone -- they are looking for fit.  And for many, our welcome and ritual do not.

The UUA has shifted its emphasis from bringing more visitors to working with congregations to help transform us from "a religion that is tied to origins in another time" to one that "reframe[s] our past as a story of a people who saw new possibilities in every age and who embraced those possibilities." Peter goes on to say

If we are to thrive we need a new culture of collaboration within our congregations and across our movement. We need religious leaders who can lead the change we need. We need to find new ways of being moral beacons in our communities—standing on the side of love when others would marginalize and dehumanize.

The full monitoring report can be downloaded here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Third in a series of posts about the April UUA Board meeting

This weekend is the Pacific Central District Assembly, and I typically have some time during the business meeting to talk about "the UUA". This year I intend to encourage people to come to GA2012, so started looking through the preliminary program book to mark interesting programs that I might intrigue people with. 

I typically go through the program each year and put an asterisk by the ones I want to attend -- and later choose between the ones that are inevitably at the same time or are ruled out by previous commitments.  I usually find 10-12 that really interest me and for which I have not seen some sort of previous version.

To my rising excitement, I checked almost every program this time.  This is superb.  Now I really understand a comment to me in January from one of the GA Planning Committee members that this is the most excited he has ever been about General Assembly. 

Me, too.  

Note:  Save $45 (or $30 if a Youth) by registering by this Monday, the 30th!  I understand that many of the "GA hotels" may be full, but that just means the blocks reserved at special rates.  You can find less expensive ones close to the Convention Center that are not part of the UUA reserved blocks, as well as very inexpensive housing at Arizona State University residence halls, or home hospitality with Arizona UUs.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Leaving Beacon Hill

Second in a series of posts about the April UUA Board Meeting

You can't help but get a feeling of history walking into the building -- the big long staircase that leads to the second floor, where in 1965 the UUA Board adjourned to join Martin Luther King in Selma, and William Ellery Channing peers down from every room.  Last week the UUA Board cleared the UUA Administration to sell it, plus two other buildings on Beacon Hill, and move to another location.

Despite its feeling of antiquity, 25 Beacon has been "home" only since 1925 (and then only to the Unitarians until merger in 1961).  Over the past year the Board and Administration have been looking at whether or not these properties fit our values.

First there is the issue of accessibility:  there is an elevator, but there are also ramps that are very difficult for physically challenged people to navigate.  Those of us with chemical/mold sensitivities are pretty miserable, and the offices were designed for 1920s style "command and control" not collaboration - and NOT for energy efficient usage.  The other office building, 41 Mount Vernon, does not even have good Internet access. And then there is this poignant comment from Bill Sinkford, first African American UUA President:

Perhaps the news coverage and protest around the killing of Trayvon Martin can provide a small window for understanding. It is still dangerous for a person of color to be where they are not “supposed to be”. Walking up Beacon Hill always forced me to confront the question of whether I was supposed to be there.

And as a financial steward, it is impossible for me to ignore this:  the Boston market for commercial space is depressed (though starting to come back), while there is still high demand for premium residential space like Beacon Hill. Between the cost to maintain and do significant (needed) repairs to old buildings, and the difference between what we could get for selling the building and moving to a different one that fit our values around people and our environment, we could add a significant amount of money for programming each year -- programming that goes directly to supporting our congregations.

There has been significant conversation about moving out of Boston, but the majority of the Board was persuaded by the arguments of the Administration:  the time and momentum lost (at least 3-4 years, based on the experiences of other faith traditions that moved their headquarters) would be too much in such a crucial time.  We would lose the majority of our staff, who would not move (including senior management).  Though there is no requirement to be Unitarian Universalist to work at our headquarters, most of our employees are, and having these consistent value systems helps.  The Boston area still has the largest pool to draw from.  Though it is appealing to think of us moving into a depressed urban area (like a Detroit) and helping turn it around, I don't think that is realistic.

Next post:  Why I am excited about GA

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Future Focused Agendas

First in a series of blogs about the April UUA Board Meeting

The phrase is heard extensively throughout the Policy Governance® consulting world:  board agendas should be primarily focused on the future, not the past.

A common number for "appropriate" future focus is 60% -- this is typically defined as ownership linkage (dialogue with the Board's Sources of Accountability and Authority), educating the board about Ends-related issues, environmental scanning, and actual Ends revision.   I did a quick scan of the April meeting (thoughtfully color-coded by our Moderator) and came up (conservatively) with just over 30% (see the paragraph below on how it could range as high as 70%).

You can argue with my methodology - for example, I lumped all the working group and committee meetings, along with the motions they brought to the full board,  into a category I called "board work".  Some of that (Finance?) would mostly be past, others (Linkage) would be future, so I suspect a finer analysis would be higher than 30% on the future.  Given that "board work" was a full 40% of the agenda, to the degree that this work fulfilled the definition of "future focused" above, the focus of the board ranged from 30-70%. 

Although my sense is that this was higher than usual, a quick look at past agendas suggests this is about where we have been for the past few years, due to special future-focused reports like ministerial credentialing, and outreach activities like Occupy Boston, or meeting with congregations.  And what is clearly shifting is the amount of time we spend on monitoring reports, with more of them going to the consent agenda (having been evaluated by trustees prior to the meeting) or with minimal need for discussion. 

So the next few weeks will include posts on the future, the past, and a lot in between, including the tone set in our first meeting by -- an olive branch. 

Next post:  Leaving Beacon Hill