50 Years From Now

Ten days ago I was with the Fellowship in Manhattan, Kansas, as they celebrated their 50th anniversary. It was the third Sunday service in a series — one on their past; one on their present; and the last one — on their future. I was particularly moved by the comments made by Eric, the president of the congregation — a young fellow who grew up in the fellowship — who said, “My family fully intends to be here when we celebrate our 100th anniversary — 50 years from now!” Now that’s a perspective!

In my few minutes of time with the congregation, I suggested several characteristics that would serve them well as they go forward toward the next fifty years.

I said, “Be flexible. A flexible congregation is one that will thrive. Do a regular scan of the community around you. Look at the opportunities that exist and move on them. A flexible congregation will be able to act on openings.”

I said, “Think ahead. On your list of large and small ideas, there are several that would help you to move forward — such as to budget 105% of projected expenses each year, placing 5% in a contingency fund. Planning ahead will help you to seize on opportunities when they arise.”

I said, “Provide opportunities for people to deepen their spiritual lives. People need chances to deepen their identity as Unitarian Universalists, whether they are new members or long time members. Helping people to articulate their UU faith gives them the power to express their values in the public square, which will help raise the visibility of Unitarian Universalism, which will help us grow.”

I said, “Be sure the infrastructure of the congregation keeps up with your growth in numbers. The governance structure must shift and grow in complexity as the membership grows.”

And I said, “Be a learning congregation. Send people to Leadership School, to General Assembly, to the District Annual Conference. Learn all you can from others. Your idea to send two carloads of people to other congregations for a Sunday service or a weekend is a terrific idea. Ask to have a 2-hour meeting with their leaders and learn all you can.”

I know I won’t be present with Eric and his family when they celebrate the congregation’s 100th anniversary. Their congregation has had the benefit of a number of leaders who truly led, and there’s no reason to think that the next fifty years will be any different, if they continue to live out the characteristics they’ve exhibited in the last few years. You can see a few photos of the Fellowship in Manhattan in the side bar.

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