Updated: Apr 8, 2020
If you haven’t noticed, Bryan/College Station, like many smaller metros nationally with major universities, as well as the major metropolitan areas of Texas, is outstripping other parts of the country in population growth. As a highly diverse and highly educated community, this area should be ripe for growth of our Unitarian Universalist faith.
Yet, when I look at other UU congregations around the country (often looking at their websites and their facilities as we plan our own sacred space) I see churches with far more members in proportion to the population of the areas they serve, even though they are in areas every bit as conservative as ours. And for some time, we have fretted over our stagnant size.
One thing we have lacked is any sort of mid- and long-term strategic plan for growth, one which incorporates ways we can serve our community. Whether we realized it or not, we started to look at some of these strategic issues in the process of deciding on what spaces we need in our new facility.
Another way is to look at sources of potential new members is to look at life-stages of individuals. The UUA has a place on their website called “Ages and Stages,” but I would like to tweak their choices a little bit. And I am neither an expert or even well-read on aspects of these demographics nor how best to reach and serve them – I simply hope this spurs discussion on this subject.
High School Aged Youth. Some may come with family, others on their own. Our focus on issues of concern for teens include LGBTQ+ rights, gun safety, and especially climate change, and we provide a faith home that is in the forefront on those issues as a central part of our mission. I believe we are on a rebound with a youth program where in which they will not feel alone in their beliefs and values.
Young Adults. Whether single, coupled, working or in school, UUCBV had a vibrant group centered around social justice action about a decade ago. Many moved on after a few years for reasons of career or relationships, but while they were here, they added significantly to the energy and life of the church and in return UUCBV provided them with a like-minded community.
Families with Children and Youth. Traditionally, the draw of a community with shared values in which to raise children brings parents to a religious community, often after a quietus from involvement during college years. Later in life, the bonds they built with others their age kept them here after the children were gone.
These days, we cannot compete with evangelical mega-churches with their myriad activities for youth and children, and families are under stress from long work hours for professionals and often unpredictable hours for lower income adults. Still, we provide religious education consistent with our UU Principles and a welcoming environment for all ages.
Empty Nesters. Even if people do not join UUCBV when they are younger, as they settle into life in their middle years, they can feel a need for something more in life. Whether they were part of a religious congregation or not, there comes a point when they question their spiritual lives. We can be there for them if we get the word out that we are here.
Retirees. This is yet another stage of life, and whether they have just moved to the area or have lived here for decades and only now feel that they have time to connect and make a difference, we will leave a light on for them.
To sum it up, we need to be a viable force for people of all ages. There are different ways to reach these groups and different needs they a seeking to fill. But we are the only UU congregation for a broad swath of central Texas. What is your strategy for helping them find a way to our doors?