On December 24, 2011, I did something I don’t always do on Christmas Eve.
I went to church.
More than that, I led worship at the First Unitarian Church of Norton – the first public worship we have had since the re-start began. It was an amazing experience – not just to be leading worship again, but to see this community literally grow and begin to take shape on a beautiful Christmas Eve.
Several people have asked “How many were there? Were there more than ten? ” There were in fact, more than ten…..our final head count came in at seventy-eight. It was a fun group of people – a warm and welcoming group, which I believe will continue to grow because of our warmth and welcoming. People were so happy to be there!
It was an amazing thing, to be leading worship for a congregation that has such a history and yet is so entirely new. We learned some important things about our historic building – for example, that the current electrical circuits cannot carry both lights and a coffee pot simultaneously on the same breaker – and that the church decorates beautifully for Christmas. We also learned that the creation of community is magical.
Our next worship will be January 29. We will be having monthly services for January and February, and see where we are in March in terms of our goals and needs for our growing community.
Someone said to me several months ago “This re-start is just a giant experiment, you know. But so are all churches, and communities, and societies of people. So just enjoy the science of it all.”
I have to tell you, this is the most fun experiment I have ever been part of!
When I was born, my home congregation had just over 400 members. Today, they have nearly 900. There are three other Unitarian Universalist churches less than twenty miles away from my home congregation who also have several hundred members each.
We have the capacity to grow big.
As of today, Norton Unitarian Church has forty-four people who are interested in being part of our congregation in one way or another. Fall is an exciting time for the church, as we kick off new Small Groups, our monthly TED Talks Dinners, Family Night and our Mindfulness Workshops. People are excited and energized about our community, and some are asking me: “When do we start Sunday worship? Isn’t this enough people? What is that Magic Number?”
I’m very lucky in that I have a new church start coach who is able to advise me on such matters. I was able to be clear with my coach that I want this church to grow big. Not 50 people big, but 200, 300, 500 people big. Big to be sustainable. Big to grow the faith. Big to grow peoples’ faith, and big to create a vibrant, living community.
That Magic Number? We talked about it. We also talked about the dangers of beginning services too early (“premature launch”) and what a solid, lively foundation for this church will look like. Every church has a different Magic Number, but at Norton Unitarian Church, ours is eighty to one hundred people.
I can hear the scoffs now. ”Crazy!” Eighty to one hundred people to START? Yes my friends, to START! There are many reasons for this particular Magic Number in this context, but the most primary one is this: when you start with a smaller community, it’s easier for that community to stay small. When you start with a bigger community, it’s easier for that community to grow big!
This isn't quite the layout of our church....but you get the idea!
I stayed in Boston this weekend to attend the Minns Lecture Series at the First Church in Boston. The lectures are done by Unitarian Universalists and can be on a lot of topics based on the idea of “creative theological and religious advancement.” This year was a series of lectures – 6 panalists in all – discussing the questions of where we are today and where we want to go in the future.
First of all, the lectures were AMAZING. Can I just give a shout-out to my brilliant colleagues who can write and speak with such skill and vibrancy? Let’s all say AMEN! (Which a lot of us did. It was good.)
Everyone spoke from a different perspective, and I’m not going to try to summerize all of their thoughts and ideas here. But the theme that ran through all of the lectures and the discussion panels was something we’ve spoken a lot about here in Norton – spiritual depth. It is the idea that churches can no longer be content to be community gathering spots, or rely on the idea that people will go to church out of habit. Our churches must offer compelling spiritual depth for anyone who wants to attend. Or to state it simply, we must have a spiritual reason for being.
I keep the book “A Purpose Driven Church” prominently placed next to my desk. I don’t always read the book, and have actually found it less helpful than some other books about churches. But I keep it there because I have to always, always, ALWAYS remember the title. A church without a purpose should close its doors. A church with purpose – with spiritual depth, with a reason for being, who knows and is not afraid of the great religious questions – that’s an exciting place to be!