Just Treading Water isn’t Enough, Part 2

I promised that I’d write about congregations that create and sustain a sense of urgency in my next couple of blog entries. Here is the first example.

Some congregations are able to seize on new opportunities.  In Omaha, Nebraska, First Unitarian Church is ramping up for just such a circumstance.

The  138-year-old congregation has learned that their neighbors [a major insurance company] are buying up property in the area and will be developing seven mixed-use buildings that range from 4 to 9 stories, with restaurants, shops, an urban grocery store, and even a movie theater, with 600 housing units — condos and apartments — on the floors above. The project includes new underground parking adjacent to the church. The project is scheduled to be completed by fall 2009.

This development will bring 1,000 new people and lots of walking traffic to the neighborhood. The congregation is asking itself, “What new opportunities will this bring to us? How can we welcome the people who will be moving into these new buildings? How can we capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime change in our neighborhood?” The congregation has recently called a new minister, and conversations about the future are underway.

This is just the latest in “seized opportunities” for First Church Omaha. In 2005, a long-time church member offered to create a fund to endow a lecture series. The resulting Holland Lectures address a variety of important ethical and global issues by bringing internationally recognized speakers to Omaha. The first lecturer, speaking on The Changing Ethics of Life and Death, attracted so many people that the lecture had to be moved from the church to an auditorium at a nearby university campus. Subsequent talks have addressed stem cell research, sexual morality, nuclear terrorism, and climate change. This lecture series is wonderful for at least two reasons — it offers thought-provoking speakers to the greater community and it raises the visibility of the church and our UU values to people who might eventually attend services.

Not every congregation will find itself with a neighborhood changing for the better or a major benefactor. But any congregation can benefit from a SWOTs exercise — listing its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats — and brainstorming what can be done about them. Conversations about such things raise the level of energy and enthusiasm. As I said in my last entry, treading water is simply not enough!


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