• slideheader0


Rev. Paul BeckelRev. Khleber Van Zandt VFor some congregations, embracing technology and developing innovative ways of reaching out to the community are keys to growth.  As presented during the panel discussion on growth at the 2008 District Assembly, both Rev. Khleber Van Zandt, minister of the First Unitarian Church of Alton and Rev. Paul Beckel, minister of the First Universalist Unitarian Church of Wausau believe the recent growth their congregations is tied to new ways of thinking.

Khleber emphasized in particular the success that their web presence has had in drawing people to their congregation.  He says that since they began to digitally record their worship services and post them on their church's website, they've had an overwhelmingly positive response.  Not only has it attracted local attention, many people have arrived at their doors, some visiting from places overseas to check out the congregation after watching the podcasts of the worship services.  Khleber told the story of a request he received to marry couple and when he asked if they would be able to come in for a meeting with him prior to the service, they said that this might be complicated because they lived in Switzerland. He also told a story of a person from Saudi Arabia who emailed him positive comments about their website and the podcasts of the services in particular.

Khleber also believes that the songs we sing give people the feeling they are among us and they resonate with many people all over the world.  He says that this experience is a concrete realization that what we do together impacts the world.

According to Rev. Paul Beckel, when First Universalist Unitarian finally tore down the walls to bring generations together (which he sees as one of the movements of the 21st century), adults and children who were previously in separate worlds, were now able to come together and this has led to growth in their congregation.  However, Paul also believes that accessibility was an issue.  They worked to make their building accessible, and this presented a welcoming message not only to those persons who had limited mobility, but also communicated acceptance to those who are currently able-bodied.

He also believes that the creation of new relationships and discovering new ways of putting resources together has been a large factor in their recent growth.  Previously, many of the community's resources came from the lumber industry.  The church founders were actually lumber barons, and as a result they had incredibly rich resources in form of a beautiful building, and financial reserves.  These resources then became a way of connecting with one another.

For the coming century, Paul asserts the key to developing resources is recognizing the importance of looking for new resources in ways that we never thought possible.  He says the 21st century is all about finding individual resources and connecting in new ways. Since each of us now has access to the "source," technological possibilities allow congregations to bring together a myriad of resources in new dimensions previously unthought of, including in the emerging field of social enterprise which is a mission-based organization designed to make money and at the same time expand human empowerment.

Paul sees much room for growth in congregations which are using resources effectively to make money and then using that money to fund those issues which are important.  He envisions churches as social incubators, creating resources and branching out in new directions to offer community services. One example is creating an Alternative Holiday Network, a community fair with "green" building options and recycled products.  This project accomplished their mission of getting people to be more green, but it also brought more people in to the building and even made money for the congregation. Working on such missions, Paul says that Unitarian Universalist congregations can even defeat unscrupulous businesses (like payday loan places) by doing what these businesses do but better -- and in a way which doesn't harm people.