Stories that Create a Giving Culture

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Who among us is not drawn in by a good story?

Stories are the best way we share our experiences and the lessons we learn in life.  Families and communities pass along their traditions, beliefs, and moral values through storytelling.  For centuries, stories and wisdom tales have been shared around campfires and dining room tables, out under the stars, and in temples, mosques, and cathedrals all over the world.  We tell stories to explain the origins of the universe and to explain the mysteries of life and death.

Storytelling, at its best, conveys the rich diversity and texture of humanity, creating a safe and sometimes therapeutic space for challenging assumptions and fostering  tolerance of differences among people.   Well told stories touch our spirits, warm our hearts, and leave lasting images in our minds.   Sharing our soul-filled stories is another way of expressing gratitude and demonstrating generosity.

It should be no surprise to us that storytelling is a very effective tool in nurturing generosity and teaching stewardship in our faith communities.  Sacred texts around the world are a testimony to the power of the story in teaching and learning religious values.  One way to promote generous behavior is to tell the stories of how giving made a difference in your life or others’ lives.  For example, as part of a year-round stewardship program, you can invite people to share their stories in the context of worship, small group ministry, religious education, in digital or print form.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you plan your stewardship activities for the coming year:

  • Share stories in worship–this may be a testimony about how the congregation or faith has touched their life in positive ways, a wisdom tale for all ages to enjoy, or a guest whose organization has been the recipient of your congregation’s generosity.
  • Host a storytelling event–hold a potluck dinner or picnic at your facility, open to the community, and invite participants to come ready to share a story that conveys at least one value of the faith tradition.
  • Design a story display board–invite people to write their generosity stories down, along with their photo and perhaps some art work.
  • Create a video or visual story–convey your faith community’s stewardship values and generosity through the use of technology, posting video stories on YouTube, on your congregation’s website, blog or Facebook page.
  • Offer a story prompt–Give your constituents a theme or first line of a story, and let them create a community story.  This could be a part of a small group activity, religious education class, or just a big graffiti board people can write on as they enter the building or enjoy fellowship hour.

The summertime is a great time of year for stewardship leaders to polish their storytelling skills–around the campfire while toasting marshmallows, on the riverbank while fishing, or at an informal gathering of friends.  Share your story and invite others to share theirs; this is how the bonds of family and society are strengthened.  This is a wonderful way to include children, youth, and elders in multi-generational community!

Here are some tips for enhancing your storytelling:

  • Reflect on a memorable experience from which you learned and grew as a person–
    if it holds meaning for you, it can be meaningful to others.
  • Stick to the heart of the message you want to convey and avoid too much detail.
  • Lift up a unique angle or unusual perspective that will pique the listeners’ interest.
  • Engage as many of your listeners’ five senses as possible1507 Hands Sm 123rf to bring the story alive
  • Be sensitive to your audience’s diversity using inclusive language so that all feel a part of it.
  • Use the opportunity of telling your story to connect your experience with your faith teachings and values in ways that others can relate to personally.
  • Tell the story without reading it whenever possible–practice, practice, practice to feel more confident, but realize storytelling does not demand perfection.
  • Engage your audience with movement, song, sounds, or repeated phrases that makes them part of the story.
  • Have fun!  Your enthusiasm and enjoyment are contagious.

 If you have a story or link to share, please leave a comment for the blog host with your contact info.

Resources for Storytelling:

Cogdogroo–StoryIdeas:  http://cogdogroo.wikispaces.com/StoryIdeas

Learn to Give:  http://learningtogive.org/materials/folktales/

National Storytelling Network:    http://www.storynet.org/resources/howtobecomeastoryteller.html

Recommended Stories for All Ages:

Resources for Multigenerational Stewardship & Generosity

Unitarian Universalist Stories of Generosity & Multigenerational Worship Resources:

http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/stories/index.shtml

http://www.uua.org/giving/apf/51886.shtml

http://www.uua.org/worship/multigenerational/index.shtml

http://www.uua.org/worship/by_topic.php?topic=Stories

http://www.uusc.org/worship_resources

Pearmain, Elisa Davy, editor.  Doorways to the Soul  1998.  The Pilgrim Press.

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Religion in the Age of the “Nones”

Hospitality & Greetings

Current research indicates that one-fifth of the U.S. population identifies as “unaffiliated” with any religion and one-third of young adults under the age of 30 identify as religiously unaffiliated.

Sociologists have now shifted their generational studies to “After the Baby Boomers.”  One extensive study on the topic in recent years was conducted by sociologist Robert Wuthnow, a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.   Wuthnow identifies a number of cultural influences have shaped this generation of adults now in their twenties and thirties and extending into their early forties.

Wands in circularThe words Wuthnow uses to describe these influences are:  uncertainty, diversity, fluidity, searching, and tinkering.   There are several developmental trends of younger generations coming after the Baby Boomers:

  • They are sexually active earlier;
  • Psychologically independent earlier;
  • Many have an extended dependence on their parents who are living longer.
  • They are marrying later;
  • Having children later;
  • Starting their careers later because of the uncertainty and fluidity of the employment options available.
  • Establishing themselves in communities more gradually.

All of these factors affect religious communities, particularly in terms of membership affiliation, extent of involvement, leadership development, and, of course, with regard to money and financial well being.

Fewer younger adults say that religion is important to their lives than any previous generational cohort.   Instead, they describe themselves as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular” in response to survey questions about their religious identification.

This group of religiously affiliated younger adults are being referred to as “Nones,” an arguably unsuitable and unnecessarily negative label.  However, they are are not without beliefs and values that matter to them.   Generally many young adults consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious,” and are open to spiritual deepening.  When asked if they are looking for a religious community, eighty-eight percent (88%) say they are not.  Perhaps this is due to their less-than-satisfying encounters with religious communities rather than a desire for community.

Those ten percent (10%) or so who are looking for religious communities are interested in those inclusive of theological diversity.  They generally believe in evolution and do not object to bigger government structure and services.  They are more accepting of homosexuality and a woman’s right to  reproductive freedom and access to abortion. This group is less certain about the existence and nature of God.

 Studies clearly indicate higher degrees of congregational involvement by younger adults who are married or in committed partnerships with children.  However, this is after some amount of “church shopping” and “church hopping.”  This pattern may be driven by the the fact that fewer young people were born and raised in a faith community, or that it is hard to fit a prescribed schedule or program into a busy life.  Fewer young men than women are attending alone, with increasingly mobile lifestyles and delayed partnering and child-rearing.   Essentially, these folks are piecing their spiritual and religious lives together with whatever raw materials they can find.

bricolage-bike 3The description that Wuthnow thinks best suits this generation of younger adults is that they are Tinkerers (2007, pgs 14-15)The idea came from the studies of a French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, who lifted up the important role of the bricoleur (the tinkerer) in preindustrial times.  A bricoleur uses the tools of his or her trade and any objects or materials at hand to fix things and keep them in good repair.  In doing so, the bricoleur produces a bricolage, an improvised construction made up of a variety of materials.

bricolage 1Among many contemporary adults, personal experience trumps doctrinal teachings.  Their life experiences and encounters with religion are diverse and they place high value on freedom of thought and choice.  They are improvisational and inventive, adept at piecing together seemingly disparate religious teachings and cultural components into their religious bricolage.

Internet studies show a significant number of adults are regularly looking online for religious and spiritual guidance.   Many simply don’t know where to find a place to tinker with a diverse collection of religious ideas and theological perspectives—so they go it alone.

What challenges does this new religious landscape pose for our communities? 

When I read and listen to the descriptions of the Millennials, Nones, and Tinkerers, I feel a mixture of discouragement and hopefulness

In my heart I believe these young people—and the growing segment of unaffiliated adults in general–would heartily embrace the inclusive and diverse theological environment Unitarian Universalism offers—if we could find one another on the religious landscape.  In fact, Unitarian Universalism doesn’t show up in the surveys and isn’t evident as an option in much of the research being done by Pew Research Center and Faith Communities Today.   We weren’t mentioned by Robert Wuthnow as the kind of open and accepting religious community that would appeal to this generation of younger adults.

With barely 1,000 congregations and fewer than 200,000 members world-wide, apparently we just don’t stand out enough for the researchers to include in surveys.   The ones who do often find us through Belief.net or the Church of the Larger Fellowship, our premier, world-wide virtual congregation.

An infusion of young adults and newcomers of any age would bring great energy, innovation, and talent into our congregations and our movement.  If this occurred, we would come alive in new ways as a religious movement, yet again.    And we must, so that we may flourish and grow and have any significant impact in the world.   I remain optimistic and hopeful.

In my head, I know this would require a cultural sea-change in most of our congregations.  Collectively, we would need to reach out farther and more effectively throBig surfugh electronic communication venues and social networks to enhance our visibility and attract younger adults.  We would need to redesign our programs and entry spaces to clearly and visibly reflect our diverse perspectives, principles, and values.

We would need adequate levels of professional staff in our congregations to offer the spiritual guidance and religious education opportunities to guide and accompany young people on the developmental journey, which is increasingly complex in today’s world.

We would need to expand our palette of worship and musical offerings to appeal to a wider range of ages and theological interests.  We would need to be intentional about the relational needs of our communities:  to balance the attention given to our established friendships with the needs of our newcomers.  We would need to practice authentic hospitality, helping those new to Unitarian Universalism feel truly welcome and included, within our buildings and beyond.

I am quite convinced we could grow in numbers and in our influence as a religious movement if we could imagine such a future for ourselves.  I mean, really imagine ourselves doubling, tripling, or quadrupling in numbers of people in our communities:  see their faces, hear their voices, and feel the buzz of the energy they bring.

new visionThere are seekers  looking for the kinds of relationships and activities already going in many of our congregations:  excellent professional ministry, high quality religious education for all ages, open and attractive facilities, fantastic music, and the vibrant energy that emits from people who really care about one another.  They are out there, with the tools of their trades, ready to Tinker with all the wonderful material we have to offer for their religious bricolage.

Vision—Courage—Energy—Commitment–Diversity–Generosity–Stewardship:  these are what it takes for a community to come alive and flourish.

Meeting_at_the_Oasis bricolage 2


Research and Reports on Generational Trends and Religion

  • Wuthnow, Robert.  After the Baby Boomers.  2007.  Princeton University Press

Innovative Ministries that Appeal to the Unaffiliated

Transcending Language Barriers and Borders

Since February of 2011, Corpus Christi Unitarian Universalist Church has offered a two-hour Sunday afternoon program for English as a Second Language (ESL), Citizenship Test Preparation…and hopefully will include basic computer training this year.

Marilyn Bremser, congregation member, had been teaching these classes at the local library since 2006 but felt that the program could be expanded as an outreach program at our church. Friends with a local Hispanic community activist, Marilyn was invited to attend a “Fuerza Comunitaria” where a collection of local groups, (OSHA, Catholic Charities, insurance companies, etc.) offer free information and guidance to the immigrant community.  At that February Sunday afternoon gathering 23 people signed up to come to our church classes, most speaking no English at all.  With this large number to enroll, the pastor, the Rev. Phil Douglas, enlisted the assistance of the Literary Council whose director is also a church member.

Finding teachers and organizing classrooms in our small church was a challenge but as the year progressed we have settled into five classes: beginning, intermediate and fluency language; citizenship prep and the fifth class is taught by a bi-lingual teacher who kindly assists the more insecure.

We registered about 60 students in 2011.  In December we were able to give certificates to 20 students who studied more than 16 hours with us. Students have been predominantlyfrom Mexico, but others are from Venezuela, Turkey, India, Columbia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Korea, and Taiwan.

The Corpus Christi UU Church pays a young member to help set up the classrooms and to handle the child care.  Three of the volunteer teachers are church members and the other two were recruited through the Literacy Council. Their goal is to encourage students to qualify for enrollment in their local community college (DelMar) and/or to pass the citizenship test. (One student became a citizen in December!)

Clearly, this program offers an excellent opportunity for the Corpus Christi UU Church to be of service and extend their ministry in their wider community, which is made up of sixty-two percent Hispanic people.  This is a congregation committed to ministering to the needs in their local community and transforming lives, one person at a time.

The Corpus Christi UU Church has been one of our Annual Program Fund Honor Congregations for nearly all of the past 25 years.  For more information about the congregation and its ministries:  http://uucorpus.org/

For more information about the UUA’s Annual Program Fund:  www.uua.org/giving/apf