Below are the preamble, goals and justifications from Second Unitarian Church’s developmental ministry application, submitted to the UUA December 2015.

Preamble

A longtime goal of the church has been to grow and become a beacon of liberal religion in Omaha. Growth should not only be numeric but should include personal growth of the individual members and organizational growth to improve the value of the church to its members, staff and volunteers and to the city as a whole. Many of us have grown personally through our association with this community and the organization continues to evolve, but numerically, our membership has stayed the same. A symptom of being “stuck” is a membership between 115-135 consistently for over 10 years.

Our aspirations are to develop a vibrant, innovative and exciting church environment that attracts and retains young and older persons, including families, persons of color, those of diverse ethnic backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations. We envision a congregation that fosters the connection of those persons with each other and the community at large to carry out dynamic programs that exemplify our Unitarian Universalist values to transform our local area and the world at large.

Goals

1. Be Welcoming and Engaging to Newcomers and Members:

Growing our numbers as a congregation is important to sustaining our church through the energies, ideas, time and resource contributions of both new and experienced members. More members brings a diversity of experiences and perspectives which invigorates us as a church community. Moreover, larger numbers of Unitarian Universalists increases our capacity to bring our values into our community and increases our ability to make a difference in Omaha.

Our intention is to build a multigenerational congregation that connects with new members and helps them find meaningful roles where they can engage with others in our church community. Of course we want to retain members who are passionate about the work they do and want to support them through ongoing training and mentoring programs.

Increasingly, people turn to internet and social media for finding what they need and for connection to others. We need to increase and expand our use of social media for attracting new members and for connecting persons within the congregation. But we must also engage our members in the mission of the church by fostering authentic relationships rather than virtual relationships even though it may create conflict or discomfort. It is only in this way that we may become a transformative community.

Second Unitarian Church is located in West Omaha, which is a thriving, growing part of Omaha. Families locate in West Omaha for the educational opportunities and safe neighborhoods present there. To attract families to and retain them in our congregation, we will need to pay special attention to barriers that inhibit family participation in church activities. We have a number of family-centered service learning projects and one multigenerational service each month, but we have to provide multiple reasons to become engaged with us. We hope to expand our church’s programs and services that support the spiritual and personal growth of families.

Inclusion is a strongly held value of our congregation. However, our current building is not easily accessible for persons who have physical limitations. Access to the sanctuary is provided by an ADA-compliant ramp from the parking lot, but the restrooms and kitchen facilities are on the lower level which is only accessible via stairs or a long sidewalk on the side of the building. As our congregation ages we need to develop plans to ease access to restrooms and navigation between levels of the building or find alternate space that meets our needs.

It is critical that people visiting our congregation feel welcomed and connected to members. As a caring community, we want to deepen and broaden our capacity for welcoming minority populations, including persons with physical or neurological challenges, minority races and cultures, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning persons.

2. Worship

Worship is central to the Second Unitarian community and we enjoy services that inspire, challenge and educate us. We want to strengthen our services by experimenting with styles different from the traditional Protestant service to inspire younger visitors and provide spiritual experiences beyond Sunday. We recognize the need to expand the music program by hiring a Choir Director who can engage and enliven congregants through a variety of multicultural music styles. We have greatly benefited by monthly multigenerational services and want to continue to develop this mode of worship. We would like to reflect our growing involvement in serving the needs of Omaha, partnering with other organizations, in our worship and service learning projects.

3. Change the culture of how we work together to accomplish the mission and vision of Second Unitarian Church.

Transformation is part of our mission. This goal focuses on reinventing ourselves and how we do what we do in order to grow and bring about transformation in ourselves, as a congregation and as Unitarian Universalists both within our church and beyond into the larger community.

We realize that our current organization structure has outlived its usefulness and is in need of transformation. We want a structure, processes and ways of working together to:

  • Better accommodate volunteer needs, strengths and passion of members and align with opportunities to develop and grow.
  • Better enable time-limited, job-defined ministries.
  • Allow for better connectivity within the organizational structure.
  • Be transparent where new ideas can be nurtured and brought to fruition.
  • Reflect a governance structure with clearly defined roles in order to carry out our mission and vision.

We understand that this will require a change in culture within our congregation and that we will need to experiment, be nimble, adaptable and transparent. We want to do all of this and more!

4. Build a clear sense of our identity which defines our purpose and how we can best live our mission.

We value that we are a caring and connected church community. At the same time, we want to challenge ourselves to expand our horizons beyond simply community-building, and broaden our focus to bringing our values to life in the greater Omaha and larger community. We want to define who we are and how we can best give to the world. This goal is about empowering each one of us to have a clear sense of specific practical ways to implement our mission, to be able to say, “We are the church that _________”. This clear sense of purpose will enable us to become known as a congregation which cares deeply and is excited to share our compassion in ways that transform the culture into one of justice. This work will involve questioning our assumptions about how we can best be responsive to social justice needs, being open to new ways of exploring the needs in the wider community, and risking new paradigms for meeting those needs.

Why We Have Chosen These Goals

1. Why we have selected a Membership Goal for Developmental Ministry:

We know from experience that visitors continue to attend church if they are welcomed and get connected to others in the congregation. We realize that some people get involved in church programs soon after arrival but for others, the process is slower. All newcomers need to feel connections to others in the congregation and we need to find varying ways to help make those connections.

Retaining membership means finding ways for people to get renewed and to be supported in their efforts to take on new roles within the congregation. Over the past year, we have offered Leadership Development opportunities. We intend for leadership development to become more infused into our culture, including mentoring opportunities for new leaders.

We are in the planning process to move the information from our current website to a more mobile friendly platform and we have just begun to utilize our Facebook page more strategically. We know there is much more that can and should be done to reach people through internet and social media. We also know there are many more programs and applications for connecting with people that we could be utilizing.

Second Unitarian Church was founded to serve West Omaha. Since our founding in the 70’s, West Omaha has grown by leaps and bounds, and is still predominately populated by families. Many families have searched out a church to provide religious education for their children. Maintaining high quality religious education programs for children and youth is critical to our growth. Families face some unique challenges for participating in church activities including limited family time and child care needs. Constructing programming that supports families will encourage family membership.

While there is a handicapped accessible ramp to the entrance to our church, there is no internal access from the main floor to the basement area. Our basement area is used for many meetings, the church office and for religious education. One restroom in the basement is accessible by wheelchair. There are no restrooms on the main floor.

In order to welcome all newcomers, it is important for predominantly white, middle class, highly educated, AARP-aged congregation to be cross-culturally competent and yet authentic in our relationships. If we are to grow, we will have to engage people where they live.

2. Why we have selected a Worship Goal for Developmental Ministry:

Although this nation was founded on religious principles and in search of religious freedom, the country is even more diverse religiously than it once was. Even so, much of the population, when asked about religious affiliation, replies ‘None’. It is our belief that Unitarian Universalism offers benefits to those who lack a religious affiliation and some feel strongly that the survival of our country depends on our bringing that message to those in need. Ours is a predominantly Humanist congregation but one that is open to exploring other faith traditions and drawing on all spiritual sources that can bring meaning and relevance to the human experience. This is what we can bring to the ‘Nones’, a tradition of searching for meaning wherever it can be found, drawing on the empiricism that is the human experience but lifted up by the wonders that surround us, allowing us to transcend our human failings and cruelty without an orthodoxy that explains it all.

We will need to explore new forms of worship, welcoming in a community of searchers whom we do not know and convincing them that a spiritual experience is best when shared and not vicarious. We need to infuse our worship with many different musical styles knowing that musical tastes differ but also that being open to change will keep our minds and doors open as well. As is often said of Unitarian Universalists, we believe in ‘Deeds, not Creeds’ and worship can be viewed as service to others. We want our service learning projects to help teach our congregation and children the value of giving back but also to make a difference in our community. We are ready for great deeds.

3. Why we have selected Organizational Transformation as a Goal for Developmental Ministry:

As stated above, our current organization structure has outlived its usefulness. We have initiated a team approach for some our church work. We have Hospitality Teams and teams of teachers for religious education, but we need to find ways to engage more of the congregation to help do the work of the church.

4. Why we have selected Identity as a Goal for Developmental Ministry:

A clear sense of our identity will focus our energies and provide direction for our mission. Identity is the foundation of vision. By going through the process of self-identifying our strengths and how we can further develop them in order to give to the community, we will fortify our sense of ownership of who we are and how we give to the world. This will enable us to have a place to hang our hat for how we are visible in the wider community and how we make a difference in the world. It will be easier for others in the community to identify with us, and our clarity will attract people to join us.

 

See Also: 2U Developmental Ministry Goals & Key Outcomes, created by the 2U Board of Trustees, March 2017