... and what the UUA can do to help. There’s a story, no doubt apocryphal, from the early days of the air war over Europe in WWII. Bomber losses were intolerably high, and a crash program was initiated to make the planes more survivable. Boeing engineers were taken to a badly shot up B-17, and were told to improve the armor on all the places most heavily damaged. “No,” the engineers said, “We should armor the places that weren’t hit- after all, this plane came back!” Using that logic, I think the best way to figure out what changes are needed to grow the UUA is not to guess why people that “should” be joining in higher numbers aren‘t, ( see this discussion ), but to look at those who did join, and try to get more like them. After all, they (we) are the ones who are here, whatever the UUA’s faults.
So why do people join the UUA? One classic reason from the past is that UUs were willing to marry mixed couples when no one else would- my in-laws joined for that reason. Now, however, liberal Christian denominations are willing to marry almost as many people as we are, so that’s much less an advantage than once it was. Oh, well, our lost advantage is society’s gain.
A big reason- perhaps the biggest- today is our RE program. As this is one of the very few things that every congregation I know of actually does, it would be something the UUA could run national advertising for. I could easily see a campaign along the lines of “For parents who want their kids educated, not indoctrinated!” Run the ads on Sundays during the news and analysis programming- any parent seeing the ad will feel guilty for sitting there watching the show instead of taking their kids to Sunday School.
Another reason people go to a new church is that they haven’t been since they were a kid, it’s Christmas or Easter, and they’re lonely. We should make sure to have services on the major Christian and Jewish holidays, Islamic and Pagan, too, if you have any local experts, and run national advertising for it. I’m sure a clever copywriter could play on nostalgia and spiritual homesickness, while simultaneously reassuring people that we’re more welcoming even than the childhood services they’re missing.
The reason I joined was that Rev Clear’s sermons were intriguing, and discussions with him were like auditing a college comparative religion class. I was able to reexamine my beliefs and look at new ones. I think an adult level RE class, perhaps on weekday evenings, would be very attractive to just that set of people we would most like as new members anyway. As this would pose an intolerable burden on most ministers, I think the UUA should do it as broadcast classes, on satellite or public access or the like.
None of the things I’m proposing require us to adopt new beliefs, use the language of reverence, or change in any way- except to actually do something rather than just pass a resolution about it. And where would the UUA get the funding to do all this advertising and broadcasting I’m proposing? Well, never once in my entire life have I ever met anyone who ever said that the reason they joined their church was its first-rate Washington lobbying office. I propose shutting down the entire Washington Advocacy office, and transferring its funding to this cause. If that's not enough, I'm sure others could come up with other offices that could be "sacrificed" for the effort. I think it'd be worth it.
Here is the kind of program I was speaking of above. If Yale can do it, surely the UUA can do it. Maybe even attach a forum to it- get people hooked, then direct them to their nearest UU church. Why not?