For me it started in 2009. Sue Sinnamon, who was a colleague at the Unitarian Universalist Association at the time, had sent out an email about something called Faith Formation 2020.
That email couldn’t have come at a better time.
After many years of slight but steady growth, membership in the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations took a slight dip this year. The number of adult members in the UUA, including in its international congregations, declined by 74 for a total of 164,656 members, according to membership data collected by the UUA in February 2009. The total number of congregations remained 1,050.
“A slight dip,” they called it. But I had a sense that it was something much more significant. I was pretty sure that once membership in the UUA started to decline, we’d see similar headlines every year from then on.
- April 12, 2010: “UUA membership declines for second year“
- May 21, 2011: “UUA membership and attendance declined in 2011“
- August 15, 2012: “UUA membership declines for fourth year“
- April 29, 2013: “UUA membership is flat in 2013“
- March 24, 2014: “As membership stagnates, UUA looks to emerging groups“
(That last headline, by the way, is “featured online” with more upbeat wording: “Emerging, alternative groups at UUA’s growing edge.”)
What happened in 2009 was inevitable. We had joined our oldline Protestant siblings in what was sure to be a long, slow, and painful decline.
It was clear to me that the old way of thinking and doing things was not going to cut it anymore. We were going to need a new approach. To church in general, and to faith development specifically.
That’s where the Faith Formation 2020 email from Sue came in.
John Roberto of LIfelong Faith Associates had been working on a way to think about the future of faith formation called “scenario thinking.”
Without going into too much detail about how Roberto arrived at these scenarios (they’re built on a quadrant grid with these axes: a high or low “Receptive to Organized Religion” and a high or low “Hunger for God and the Spiritual Life”), he came up with this:
So the four scenarios are:
- Vibrant Faith and Active Engagement
- Spiritual but Not Religious
- Unaffiliated and Uninterested
- Participating but Uncommitted
If this were all Roberto had to offer, it would still be useful. Indeed, the purpose of “scenario thinking” is to generate ideas about how to respond to an uncertain future. So just having a conversation about these possibilities would be constructive.
After all, the UUA was clearly moving out of the top half of the grid (scenarios where people were at least coming to church) into the bottom half (scenarios where folks were getting their spiritual needs addressed outside of traditional religions or not caring about the spiritual life at all).
But Roberto did (and does) have something more to offer. Some ideas (or strategies) for “designing the future of faith formation in each scenario.”
And it was in those strategies that I found my way of “responding creatively and proactively to the religious and spiritual needs of people—today and into the future.” More on that in my next post.