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Seems that whenever I get a little behind posting to this blog, I usually end up finding some time to catch up when I’m stuck in an airport waiting for a delayed flight. Which is exactly what’s going on right now. I’m sitting at Gate A10 in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul International Airport waiting for a flight to Pittsburgh. When I get to Pittsburgh, my colleague Karen Lapidus will be picking me up and driving us to Juniata College, where we’ll be leading the Lifespan Faith Development track at the UU Leadership Training Institute. I’ll have more to say about that later this week, but for now I wanted to share with you something that has become a basic premise for me: that the “maturational growth” Loren Mead describes in his book More Than Numbers: The Way Churches Grow is actually what we have been calling “faith development.”

If you’re not familiar with Mead’s book, here’s the core idea: building on the work of Ted Buckle, an archdeacon in the Anglican Church of New Zealand, Mead describes four different ways congregations grow. There’s numerical growth, maturational growth, organic growth, and incarnational growth. Each growth area has its own characteristics.

  • Numerical Growth–This growth is in the ways we ordinarily describe it: Sunday attendance, size of budget, and number of activities, primarily growth in numbers of active members;
  • Maturational Growth–This growth is in stature and maturity of each member, growth in faith and in the ability to nurture and be nurtured.
  • Organic Growth–This is growth of the congregation as a functioning community, able to maintain itself as a living organism, an institution that can engage the other institutions of society;
  • Incarnational Growth–This is growth in the ability to take the meanings and values of the faith-story and make them real in the world and society outside the congregation. The congregation grows in its ability to enflesh in the community what the faith is all about.

When we talk about “faith development,” it seems to me that Mead’s description of “maturational growth” really gets to the heart of what we’re trying to do. Namely, nurture mature persons of faith (within the Unitarian Universalist tradition). You’ll notice that there are some key words that are the same here: nurture, mature, and faith. What’s more, there’s a basic concept in Mead’s definition that I think we need to more intentional about: “the ability to nurture and be nurtured.” True faith development transcends the individual’s needs–it must be grounding in an understanding that one must be able to nurture others in addition to being nurtured. And that, it seems to me, is one of the biggest hurdles we face in the mainline Protestant tradition (which both the Unitarians and the Universalists grew out of). I’ll share more thoughts on this as the week progresses.

NOTE: I did, indeed, write this yesterday–Sunday morning–while waiting for my flight to Pittsburgh, but I was unable to get it posted. It wasn’t until I arrived there that I found out about the shooting at the UU congregation in Tennessee. I’m going ahead and posting this anyway, and I’d say more about the shooting in the future.

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I’ve been seeing a lot of both these words lately, and that’s a good thing. It means that more and more people in our congregations (and in our association) are thinking about the benefits of having multiple generations interacting in various ways. Of course, the most obvious way the word intergenerational has been used in our congregations is in reference to worship, as in “Today is an Intergenerational Sunday. Children will be with the adults for the entire worship service.” And that’s one of the main reasons I prefer to use the word multigenerational now. It has less baggage and it actually is more precise. See, intergenerational technically refers to two or more generations. So by that definition, every worship service is intergenerational (unless you had an all Boomer or all Gen X service). But multigenerational implies (at least to me) more that two generations. And when three or more generations are gathered for worship, some serious give-and-take needs to occur. Even among our “elders” there are significant differences between the G.I. Generation, the Silent Generation, and the Boomers, just as there are major differences between Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. And if we really take seriously the task of bringing generations together in order to create a single Beloved Community, the stakes are even higher. For my money, multigenerational is the better word for describing who (but not what) is involved in addressing that task.

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