Welcoming change requires a strong sense of a congregation's mission.
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I know it’s fashionable to write off small, lay-led UU congregations, but I can’t do that. For one thing, I have seen amazing examples of missional work and lifespan education there. For another thing, they know where I live. I’ve been a member of a mostly lay-led church for thirteen years, and two other area fellowships have become second homes, making space for me in their pulpits and their hearts as I’ve taken the slow road through seminary.
From what I’ve seen, the biggest issue for the successful lay-led congregation of the future will be welcoming and managing change. The only way to welcome change is to have a strong understanding of the congregation’s mission, which is to say, that which commands its very existence. Without a dynamic mission that drives it, a congregation will drop to the de facto, implicit mission of having a community of like-minded people. If this is the goal, people will reject change, because as soon as they establish that community, they will focus on maintaining it, which automatically precludes transformation.
If, however, they have a strong mission that drives what they do, change will automatically be a part of their very essence, their DNA, because they will be a church on the move. With a dynamic mission, everything they do will be driven by the question: “Is what we’re doing getting us closer to our mission, or farther away?” Change will automatically be a characteristic and a strength of this congregation.
It will take great discernment to learn when to change and when not to. Lay-led congregations will require ongoing training in group discernment practices and systems theory so that they can best choose what paths to take in pursuing their mission.
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The Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford is minister of Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Austin, Texas.
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