(Part one in a two-part series on the future of the UCC)
While the United Church of Christ continues to lose both members and congregations, the decline may be slowing. Denominational leaders are eyeing these numbers while staying focused on vitality and considering ways to connect with an up-and-coming generation for whom the traditional model of church membership may be obsolete.
Recently-released Yearbook figures for 2009 show a net loss of 33 UCC congregations and 31,492 members. Total membership as of December 31 stood at 1,080,199, with 5,287 congregations.
In 2008, the UCC saw a net loss of 57 congregations and 33,590 members. In 2007, the denomination declined by 141 congregations and 51,193 members — its biggest loss since 1961. The 2005 General Synod affirmation of marriage equality fueled losses in 2007 and 2006, but also led to some new affiliations, church leaders say.
How is the UCC faring compared to other mainline denominations? According to the 2010 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches published by the National Council of Churches, no mainline denomination saw a net gain in members in 2008 (the year for which the NCCs 2010 Yearbook data was collected). The UCC lost 2.93 percent of its membership; the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 3.28 percent; the Episcopal Church, 2 percent; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1.92 percent. The United Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant denomination at 7,774,420 members, lost 1.01 percent in 2008, according to its own figures.
During the same year, the Catholic Church, the Latter-day Saints, the Assemblies of God, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) gained between 1 and 2 percent. The largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Church, lost 0.24 percent of its members.
Denominational leaders in the UCC are paying attention to the decline, but are interested in other factors besides the number of people in the pews. "We're not looking at membership as much as we used to as an indicator of church vitality," says the Rev. Stephen Sterner, executive minister for Local Church Ministries.
One sign of vitality is a diversity that increasingly reflects the changing U.S. population, says Sterner. Within local churches, worship attendance, the number of adult baptisms, and members' involvement in mission or service are also key indicators, he says. A small church that looks like its community and is engaged in ministry there may actually be healthier than a larger church that does not reflect its community's racial mix and is located where people must drive some distance to attend, Sterner added.
One trend impacting churches is the religious habits of young adults. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research, says young adults are marrying and starting families later. They live with roommates or partners and juggle busy schedules, but appreciate opportunities to get involved with groups and issues they care about, Jones says.
Jones and others who study religious engagement patterns among Millenials (ages 18 to early 30s) say young adults don't have strong denominational loyalties. Those who claim any religious involvement are likely to connect with a number of different faith groups and organizations for service, mission, study and worship.
"This is different than a membership model, where you're at services or Sunday School on a weekly basis," says Jones. While Millenials' affiliations may be less regular or institutionalized, "those connections are important to them," he says.
The UCC's progressive stances on issues such as marriage equality have led some members and congregations to leave. These stances may attract youth and young adults, says Jones, because the treatment of gays and lesbians is "a huge factor in how younger generations are evaluating religious institutions."
His findings are similar to The Barna Group's survey of 16 to 29 year-olds outside the Christian faith about their perceptions of contemporary Christianity. The results were the basis for the 2007 book unchristian, by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman. Barna's subjects described contemporary Christianity as "anti-gay" "judgmental" and "hypocritical" — qualities they saw as antithetical to Jesus' life and teachings.
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the UCC, says the challenge of connecting with youth and young adults often comes up in his conversations with local churches, conferences and associations.
Black, Sterner and others are in the final stages of preparing a denomination-wide strategy for youth and young adult engagement. That strategy, Sterner insists, must go beyond trying to figure out how to get 18 to 30 year-olds into the church. "What we need to figure out is how do we get the church to youth and young adults," he says.
This could require "a rethinking of what it means to be church," he adds.
Black's travels around the country during his first year as general minister and president have given him much reason to be hope-filled about the denomination's future, he says.
"We're trying to work through some things, but the church, in its many configurations, is really alive and vibrant and poised to engage those questions and to do that reaching out."
[Part two in this series will explore the question: Can the UCC grow and stay true to its identity?]
The Rev. Rebecca Bowman Woods is a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor, former news editor of DisciplesWorld Magazine, and a regular contributor to United Church News and StillSpeaking Magazine.
How am I called to be Christ's servant in the service of others? What does the Church need from me in order to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil? How do I discern a call to ministry in the United Church of Christ?
Do you find yourself asking any of these questions? If so, then these pages are for you! Here you will find resources to support your journey of discernment and an invitation to:
- take time to listen to the video testimonies of six women and men who experienced the call to ministry
- prioritize space in your life for prayer
- ask questions about ministry formation and authorization
How is a person formed for ministry? When we are called and claimed by God, we are also opened to the action of the Holy Spirit. Formation is God's work within us which is ongoing and creative. We cooperate with God's formation of us as we grow through our participation in the following:
- Church community
- Spiritual life and practice
- Education and study
- Service and learning in the world
But now thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1) God has called us and claimed our lives. What shape will that call take in your life?
Quick links and resources for those who are considering – and who wish to be considered for – authorized ministry in the United Church of Christ:
Resources for COMs on the Ministry Issues Pronouncement (General Synod 25)
From the work of the Ministry Issues Implementation Committee in 2009, the following materials were developed to help Committees on Ministry explore the 2005 Pronouncement and the 2009 Draft 3.1. These materials are designed as two-hour workshops or as educational pieces for committee members to read in advance of their work with Members in Discernment.
- Assessing Knowledge and Skills
- Local Churches
- Ministry of COMs
- Personal and Professional Formation
- Regional Programs
- Seminary Programs
Using the Marks
The Committee on Ministry Toolkit
The COM Toolkit is for use by persons such as Conference and Association staff or others who provide committee leadership and are involved in the training and orientation of Committee on the Ministry members. The Toolkit is also helpful to committee members engaged in individual study in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of committee members' roles. The purpose of the Toolkit is to:
- Provide a comprehensive tool for the orientation and training of new and renewing Committee on the Ministry members;
- Assist committee members in their individual efforts to understand the scope and breath of the ministry they have been called to in and on behalf of the church;
- Offer an interactive resource that engages participants in a variety of activities to introduce and broaden committee members' knowledge and understanding of the ministry they are called to perform, in and on behalf of the United Church of Christ.
The Toolkit consists of four key components:
- PowerPoint Presentation consisting of 115 color slides with commentary;
- Presentation Leader's Guide for use with the PowerPoint presentation;
- Facilitator Resource with detailed information on each of the eight units;
- Committee Handouts for each unit.
As you consider the most productive use of this resource with your committee(s), we recommend that you consider using the Committee on the Ministry Toolkit in the following ways:
- Retreat settings that enable a complete overview of the resource and allow for in-depth committee discussion about the total work of the committee;
- Regularly scheduled meetings of the committee where you can engage the committee in discussion of one (or more) aspects of the work. The material is arranged in units making it easier to focus on particular aspects of your work in manageable sessions.
- Immediate resource in response to questions about any aspect of committee work.
UCC Resources - Formula of Agreement
UCC Resources - Guidelines for Resourcing
UCC Resources - Interim Ministry Guide
UCC Resources - Manual on Church (MOC)
UCC Resources - MOC Discussion
UCC Resources - MOC Feedback
UCC Resources - Manual on Ministry - Table of Contents (MOM)
UCC Resources - MOM Section One
UCC Resources - MOM Section Two
UCC Resources - MOM Section Three
UCC Resources - MOM Section Four
UCC Resources - MOM Section Five
UCC Resources - MOM Section Six
UCC Resources - MOM Section Seven
UCC Resources - MOM Section Eight
UCC Resources - MOM Section Nine
UCC Resources - MOM Section Ten
UCC Constitution and Bylaws
Ministry Issues: Forming and Preparing Pastoral Leaders for God's Church.
The Ministry Issues Pronouncement approved by General Synod 25 in 2005 seeks to address the needs of the UCC for well prepared and faithful ministerial leadership for God's mission in the world both now and in the future. In order to have such well prepared leaders who are able to engage with a geographically and economically diverse, multicultural, multiracial church, it is necessary:
· to expand our definition of learnedness and leadership
· to provide multiple means for persons to be formed and prepared for authorized ministry in the UCC
In order to do this, we must pay attention to:
· our theologies of ministry
· our understanding and practice of licensed ministry
· how we engage in deep and authentic discernment of both call and gifts for ministry
· how we help form leaders with an abiding identity and affinity with the UCC
Ministry Issues Draft 3.1, from the Ministry Issues Implementation Committee in 2009, offers an in-depth exploration of the work and conversations since General Synod 25, including the shift to "Member in Discernment" language and the "Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers."
- Las Senales de Los Cristianos Fieles y Ministerios Authorizados
The Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers
The following materials help Committees on Ministry explore Draft 3.1; they are designed as workshops that take about two hours, or as pieces to be read by committee members in advance of their work with Members in Discernment.
- Assessing Knowledge and Skills
- Local Churches
- Ministry of COMs
- Personal and Professional Formation
- Regional Programs
- Seminary Programs
Using the Marks
The November 2010 Background Document offers a closer reflection upon the covenants of authorized ministry, in conversation with the Marks. This background document may be helpful in discussing constitutional changes and new understandings fo proposed language. Additionally useful background material includes the 1996 lecture by Clyde J. Steckel; Steckel asserts that Committees on Ministry are the innovators of polity and ecclesiology in the UCC as authorized ministry and denominational ways-of-being shift in ways not imagined by our founders.
For those who must move quickly, a detailed guide has been added to help you develop policies in just a few months. Click here for More Help. The Time Is Now!
LETTER TO LOCAL CHURCHES
The Insurance Board's recent transmittal of safe church information and encouragement
that our Local Churches adopt written policies in this regard is an important contribution to the United Church of Christ's continuing effort to make our churches safe for all. The Insurance Board (IB) sample policy is appropriately characterized as a "starting point" from which churches are encouraged to write a more comprehensive policy as soon as possible. As counsel, I want to facilitate further work in this area.
Drawing significantly from the work done by the Parish Life and Leadership Team, I have prepared a sample safe church policy concerning abuse prevention that I believe complies with the expectations set forth in the IB's August 21, 2006 transmittal letter and Zurich's "Supplemental Application for Abusive Act Liability Coverage" previously sent to insureds (questions 9 - 16 in particular).
Download a generic version of this policy suitable for use by Local Churches and readily adaptable by other settings of the church, together with supplemental information. Generic version in Word format with disclosure forms.
Why is compliance important? It is important in part because to the extent that Local Churches or other settings of the church represent in an application for abusive acts coverage that they have adopted a safe church policy that contains material components itemized in the application for such insurance when in fact they have not, the insurer may have a basis for declining to cover a claim under the policy.
I hope you find that the sample policy and additional information posted on the PLL website is a helpful contribution to our ongoing effort to make our churches safe for all.
Important note: This is a "model" or "sample" policy. It does not cover every issue that you may want to consider in the development of such a policy. Nor does it reflect the law of each and every state. Consistent with UCC polity and practice, Local Churches and other settings are encouraged to consider adopting policy as adapted, revised, or changed to meet their own unique circumstances, state laws, or other factors. It is very important that the policy you adopt and implement complies with applicable federal and state laws regarding employment, privacy, and inquiries regarding criminal history. All laws are subject to change from time to time by action of state legislature, Congress, and state and federal courts. Therefore, you should develop and periodically review your policy with the assistance of persons knowledgeable in these laws. Parish Life and Leadership is not engaged in giving legal or professional advice or services by providing this model policy. You are encouraged to consult with your own legal counsel and professional advisors before adopting any safe church policy.
United Church of Christ General Counsel
The Manual on Church: Perspectives and Procedures for Association and Local Church Covenantal Partners explores the covenantal relationships between local congregations and Associations/Conferences acting as Associations. MOC is to be used by and with Committees on the Ministry, Association and Conference staff, and local church members to foster dialogue and increased understanding of what it means to walk together in all God's ways as expressions of the church.
The Church Shaped by Covenant
Autonomy and Oversight in Covenantal Relationships
Expectations of Associations in Covenant with Local Churches
Expectations of Local Churches in Covenant with Associations
Entering into Covenant
A Chart Summarizing the Procedure for Entering into Covenant
Dissolution of Covenantal Partnership
Characteristics of Faithful Covenantal Relationships
Glossary of Terms
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer is the Acting Executive Minister of the United Church of Christ's Local Church Ministries.
The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, former conference minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC, is the ninth general minister and president of the United Church of Christ.
Prior to his role at the Southwest Conference, Dorhauer served as associate conference minister in the Missouri Mid-South Conference, and also served local churches in rural Missouri. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary, where he studied white privilege and its effects on the church.
Dorhauer is passionate about justice. Two statements that shape his theology are: "God is love. God is just." Along with his passion for justice, Dorhauer has a passion for and love of baseball – specifically the St. Louis Cardinals – music, literature and poetry. He has been married to his wife for nearly 31 years and they have three children.
Dorhauer was chosen as the GMP candidate by an 18-member search committee in February 2015. His candidacy was confirmed by the UCC Board of Directors by a two-thirds vote in March. He was elected at the 30th General Synod, which met June 26-30, 2015 in Cleveland.
Local Church Ministries is one of four Covenanted Ministries in the United Church of Christ. Our purpose is to encourage and support the church's congregations in the fulfillment of God's mission. Local Church Ministries' specific thematic areas can be found below:
These teams support local congregations in their concerns about growth, finances, liturgy and education; support ordained and lay ministers in their vocations; and manage with the Office of General Ministries, the UCC's publishing houses and distribution services.