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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