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The topic for this Sunday’s small group ministry session based on material from SpiritualityandPractice.com is Devotion.

Blooming Into Our Potential

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening words:

True devotion and commitment are never made with the mind. These qualities, which allow us to expand, to grow, and to bloom into our potential, are developed through the heart and the spirit.
— Jamie Sams in Earth Medicine

Check-in/Sharing

Topic:

A Teaching Story from Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Lessons for Transforming Evil in Soul and Society by Matthew Fox

Fresh thinker and theologian Matthew Fox presents a vibrant theology of spirit that recontextualizes evil and helps us reframe our understandings of the world around us. Here’s an account of a man who used a spiritual practice to change his understanding of work:

Recently a car mechanic told me this story: He was depressed at work but stuck with his job because of family responsibilities. Then he encountered a Sufi teacher who said to him, “Each time you turn the ratchet as you repair a vehicle, speak the word Allah.” The mechanic did so, and his whole life changed, the whole relation with his work changed. “Now,” he said, “I love my work. I love cars. They are alive. It is a mistake to think of animate versus inanimate. A car will tell you, if you listen deeply enough, whether it wants to be repaired or whether it wants simply to be left alone to die.”

Questions: Prayers of action, according to Richard J. Foster, are “each activity of daily life in which we stretch ourselves on behalf of others.” Using this definition, talk about your prayers of action this week.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Her garden is work because it is of devotion, undertaken with passion and conviction, because it absorbs her, because it is a task or unrelenting quest which cannot be satisfied.
— Donald Hall in Life Work

To Practice This Thought: Identify one activity you do every day that can be regarded as a devotional act to sustain the world.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Devotion from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Devotion.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.


Okay, so this church website doesn’t rock quite as hard as some of the others we’ve looked at, but that’s okay. After all, Redeemer Presbyterian Church is mainline Protestant, and it is on the East Coast. Even their tagline has a formal feel: “Seeking to Renew the City Socially, Spiritually, & Culturally.” That’s so far from Newsong‘s West Coast “…community of misfits…loving people on the fringes of our culture…” that it sounds downright Unitarian Universalist. Still, it makes sense that Redeemer’s website is a little more staid, a little more subdued. I doubt that Presbyterians have ever been on the cutting edge of popular culture. It still has some nice features, though.

Like…they’ve got an iPhone app. More and more young people are accessing the web with their mobile devices, so making sure your church’s website looks good on mobiles is crucial. Even better is having a downloadable app (although why limit yourself to iDevices…as we saw, Newsong has both Android and iPhone apps). More importantly, though, is their “Community Formation” links. Right there on the front page you can connect with Fellowship GroupsChildren’s MinistryJr. & Sr. High Student MinistryCollege MinistryCongregational LifeSchool of Gospel Foundations, and Counseling. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the main faith formation functions of a church’s website is bringing people into the church for face-to-face encounters. Clearly Redeemer Presbyterian understands this.

What’s more, if you explore some of those links a little further, you’ll find yourself directed to good things like articles to read, mp3s to listen to, and books to buy from Amazon.com. Also, the Fellowship Groups seem to offer exactly what the Faith Formation 2020 folks suggest: resources to help “regular attenders” practice their faith. All in all, Redeemer’s got a pretty good web presence. And “pretty good” is relatively high praise up here in Minnesota.

Today’s small group ministry session based on resources from SpiritualityandPractice.com. Topic: Connections

There Are No Backwaters

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening words:

I tell them there are no backwaters. There is only one river, and we are all in it. Wave your arms, and the ripples will eventually reach me. 
— Scott Russell Sanders in Writing from the Center

Check-in/Sharing

Topic:

A Teaching Story from The Busy Soul: Ten-Minute Spiritual Workouts Drawn from Jewish Tradition by Rabbi Terry Bookman

Rabbi Terry Bookman presents daily meditations based on the Jewish calendar cycle. Here’s one about seeing how our actions affect the lives of others:

“A man in a boat began to bore a hole under his seat. When his fellow passengers asked him what he was doing, he answered: What do you care? Am I not boring under my own seat?” — Leviticus Rabbah

We have practically been weaned on the credo, “So long as what I do is not hurting anyone else . . .” But we have come to see that there is no such thing as an isolated, atomistic self. The American image of the cowboy riding off by himself into the sunset may work fine in the movies, but it is not real. All of us are connected, one to the other. And our actions inevitably affect other people as well. Many of us are so focused on ourselves that we don’t even realize the impact we have on those around us, especially those we love.

Questions: “What holes have you been boring in your life, thinking, ‘It’s only my seat’? Are you willing to take a look at how they are affecting the lives of others, especially the ones you love?”

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

I cannot exist without in some sense taking part in you, in the child I once was, in the breeze stirring the down on my arm, in the child starving far away, in the flashing round of the spiral nebula. 
— Catherine Keller quoted in Lighting a Candle by Molly Young Brown

To Practice This Thought: Abstain from your fix of individualism one day at a time.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Connections from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Connections.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

When I wrote last week about just how awesome the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis‘ website was, I registered one relatively minor (teensy-weensy, really, hardly worth mentioning) complaint: there wasn’t a direct link to podcasts and videos on the front page. I heard back from Lori Stone Sirtosky, one of UUI’s web gurus, who said that they usually had podcasts featured in the middle of the page, and that they were going to add them to the “Highlights” section at the bottom of the page. Hooray! (Lori also mentioned that there were some folks interested in doing some videos, too. O frabjous day!) I bring this up here because The North Coast Church—today’s rockin’ church website—puts those two things (videos and podcasts) right up front and center. Check ’em out.

I like the way they lead with their current sermon series, followed by “Most Recent Sermon Video” and “Most Recent Sermon Audio.” What’s more, they have a link to “Growth Group Homework” right there as well—a perfect example of what the Faith Formation 2020 folks see as one of the two main faith formation goals for a church website: augment face-to-face learning with online learning activities. (The other goal, of course, is to invite people into the church for face-to-face learning after they’ve experience online learning activities.) And in case you’re wondering what a “Growth Group” is, their FAQ page says, “A Growth Group is a home fellowship made up of 10-16 people who meet weekly to share, study and support one another. A trained leader and host lead each group. An average meeting lasts for an hour and a half, followed by light refreshments.” Sound familiar? Like “Small Group Ministry” familiar?

Note, too, how prominent the “Visitor”  link is. You CAN’T MISS IT! I also like the “Regular Attender” wording for the link next to it. Kind of sorts out the whole “members and friends” thing a lot of UU congregations engage in. Rather than implying that there are multiple tiers of involvement available at the church (members, pledging non-members, friends), North Coast presents two levels of involvement: Visitor or Regular Attender. That’s really about all we need to know from the website. I’m sure deeper levels of involvement naturally occur once regular attenders are more attentive to attending more regularly (or something like that).

I received a email this morning from Terasa Cooley, Director for Congregational Life for the UUA, forwarding an email from Harlan Limpert, UUA VP for Ministries & Congregational Support, reporting on growth in the denomination. As you’ll see, “growth” isn’t exactly the correct word since our Association of Congregations has actually declined in four important areas: number of congregations, adult membership, religious education registration, and average Sunday attendance. Here are the “highlights” from the report.

UUA growth highlights from the past year:

  • The number of congregations has declined from 1,048 to 1,046 in the past year. Since 2002 the number of congregations has increased from 1,041 to 1,046.
  • Adult membership has declined 1,400 from 164,196 to 162,796 in the past year, or 0.9%. This is the second consecutive year of decline.
  • Religious education registration has declined 1,175 from 55,846 to 54,671, or 2.1%. This is the fourth consecutive year of decline.
  • Average Sunday attendance has declined 1,539 from 102,232 to 100,693, or 0.2%. This is the first year of decline.

National growth highlights from the past year:

  • Conservative churches like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists tend to be increasing in membership (4.37% and 4.31% respectively) while liberal churches like the United Church of Christ tend to be decreasing in membership (-2.83%).
  • The direction of membership growth or decline remains stable, meaning churches that have been growing in recent years continue to grow and those that are declining continue to decline.

Note: The chart does not include megachurches, which do not report membership changes to the National Council of Churches.

And for those of you who are more visually inclined, here’s a chart from National Council of Churches Yearbook:

Denomination Growth from 2011 National Council of Churches Yearbook

Denomination Growth from 2011 National Council of Churches Yearbook

So, what does this all mean? Simple: I believe we’ve joined our mainline Protestant cousins in an inevitable and perpetual state of decline. And the bottom line is that continuing to “do” church the way we always have is a guaranteed way to hasten that decline. Only those UU congregations that are willing to rethink everything they do (worship, social justice, religious education, etc.) will have a chance of surviving. Those who rethink everything and actually make some significant changes in the way things are done may have a chance of thriving. You can find more of my musings on this topic here and here.

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