Discussion of Commission on Appraisal Report “Belonging: The Meaning of Membership” (Part II)


Commission on Appraisal Report: “Belonging: The Meaning of Membership”
(Part II) March 19, 2017

Led by Rev. James Hobart

Assigned readings:
Chapter 3. Measures of Membership
Chapter 4. Creating Thriving Congregations
Chapter 5.  The Challenge of Incarnation


Background on Commission on Appraisal

  • Elected
  • Studies take about four years to complete
  • Topics are chosen that are thought important to the association at a point in time

Responses to the question:  “What makes a person a member?”

  • First you must sign the membership book.  You also need to make a recorded contribution of at least $50 per year (although waivers are available).
  • You are not a real member if you don’t participate in the work of the church.
  • It is a heavy responsibility to answer the question “What is a Unitarian?”.
  • Membership varies for different people.  People who come may or may not want to participate, and there are many forms of participation.
  • There are many ways of finding your way to First Chicago.
  • Becoming a member is a personal choice, not one to be coerced.
  • I was ambivalent for the first few years I was here.  I had the time and space to work things out.
  • The biological image of members – fingers, toes, arms – produces the image of members being the things that make the organism function.
  • I had an internalized sense of needing to belong to be able to participate when I first attended a Unitarian church – even though others around me participated without joining.
  • Membership was a decision that I made.
  • I can be an individual as a member and still be able to participate in the larger collective.
  • Membership involves making a commitment so that people know they can count on you.
  • Joining was about finding a home within a community and sharing my humanist thoughts.  I came as an outsider trying to figure things out and getting something out of the services every time I attended.  I felt that the members of the church were living out their professed values, and then I wanted to become part of it – while not knowing exactly what that meant or how to do it.


Unitarian-Universalist churches vary with some clearly coming out of a particular religious tradition.  But generally there are two themes in UU churches:

Universal love is a universalist theme

A Unitarian theme is that any of our convictions may potentially be fallable.


Measures of Membership

Numbers:  The quantity of membership

  • How do you count membership?
  • Probably all our churches have a membership book, and most have financial requirements (or the possibility of a waiver)
    • “I am on a limited income but I understand the church needs money to function, and so, as a member, I set aside what I can to support it.”
  • Membership numbers have been hard to determine accurately:
    • Some congregations have categories of membership like “voting,” “honorary,” “active,” “life-long.”
    • The denomination discourages people from maintaining dual memberships.
    • Unitarian-Universalism has a broader constituency than our formal/legal “members.”
  • Our churches are paid for by their membership


Maturational Growth

  • How we change over time
  • The development of individual maturity is what makes our membership more meaningful and also makes us willing to contribute more.
  •  As UUs we understand that there are viable alternatives to understanding the world, and in our churches we have to allow the presence of these alternatives.
    • “Just as we have Christian and humanist spiritual pluralism groups, I would like to see a UU-spiritual pluralism group.”
    • “One of the central values here is that there are many views, and is important to me to see my views in juxtaposition to other views.”
    • “I have gone from strongly anti-Christian and pro-atheist to understanding that goodness comes out of many traditions.”
    • “We are trying to understand human commonalities.  It feels like this is lived out at First Chicago.  People can disagree but still regard other points of view as valid.  We are fellow travelers on a journey.”
  • There are very few religious groups that allow different points of view to be present in their churches
  • Religious language that is mostly metaphor – “as if” – is easier to accept that declaring beliefs as factual.

Organic Growth

  • Do we have the systems set up to make things work well, to support what we say?
  • Do we have the attitude of trusting one another?



  • Improving the quality of life in the world is central to our understanding of our faith.
  • And we want to create a place for people “at the table.”


If we look at Unitarian-Universalism (and First Chicago) over the last 65-70 years, we see many changes:

  • Desegregation
  • Numbers of female ministers
  • Acceptance of many sexual orientations
  • We are close to being a peace church.
  • Understanding the importance of the environment
  • Acceptance of immigrants and providing sanctuary
  • Class – we haven’t done so well here

Finally we had a brief discussion of the desire of some of us to continue these types of discussions after our defined sessions of three weeks.