Recent United Church of Christ studies show ONA congregations – those that are publicly open and affirming to LGBTQ people – are attracting, on average, more new members and are less likely to close than the UCC average. "The results refute the 'urban legend' that UCC churches typically lose money and members when they vote to become ONA," said Andy Lang, executive director of the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition.Read more
United Church of Christ ministers will take time out for all kinds of creative renewal, and their congregations will have special spiritual opportunities while they're away, thanks to grants announced by the Lilly Endowment and Christian Theological Seminary. Eighteen UCC churches are among 150 congregations of various denominations that received 2019 National Clergy Renewal Program Grants.Read more
United Church of Christ clergy and lay members from diverse traditions and backgrounds, plus two ecumenical partners, have been named to gather in March 2020 to start years of work on writing a UCC Manual on Church.Read more
Entrepreneurs came to First Congregational United Church of Christ in Janesville, Wis., and found soil for their seeds of community hope on Saturday, Oct. 19, during a Love Your Neighbor Social Innovation Challenge – something its local, Conference and national organizers hope will spread throughout the UCC.Read more
The Rev. Edwin O. Ayala, who led Latinx congregations of the United Church of Christ in Connecticut, served on the denomination's national staff, and headed an ecumenical agency in Hartford, died of pancreatic cancer Sept. 23. He was 71.Read more
(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:
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:
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."
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.