Friday, June 06, 2014

What is "Enough"?

In the UUA's new curriculum The Wi$dom Path:  money, spirit and life, there is an interesting graphic.  It's called "The Fulfillment Curve."  The intention of this image is to suggest that if you graph the money a person spends along the x axis of a graph, and the level of personal fulfillment along the y axis, that the resultant graph would form a parabola.  Along the upward part of the curve you would pass through the point at which you have taken care of your survival needs, and the point where you have taken care of comforts.  At the peak you reach a point of "enough," after which increased spending results in a decline in fulfillment.

It is interesting to consider if this is necessarily true.  I believe it is, by the way, but I can imagine someone arguing that this would create a straight line graph, onward and upward forever.  Interesting, too, where that "enough" point would be located.  Is it a fixed point, or would it be dependent on other variables?  Might a middle-class family of five living in an upscale neighborhood, for instance, place it at a different spot than would, say, a Franciscan friar?  More precisely, I'd imagine that the "enough" point would remain in the same relative place -- at the top of the arc -- but the shape of the curve might be different.  It might be flatter for some and "spikier" for others.

But that's not what made this graphic interesting to me when I first saw it.  I imagined a similar graph, but while this one still has a sense of fulfillment along the y axis, it has "Congregational Size" along the x.  In other words, I found myself wondering if there would be a point at which congregational growth -- at least its numerical growth -- would reach an "enough" point and that from that point on more members equaled less fulfillment.

This is, I know, a bit of a heresy.  "Grow or die," we are told.  "Increase or decrease" -- this dichotomy is declared as if self-evident.  Yet I wonder.

I know that church growth consultants have long offered ways of understanding that congregations of different sizes are different not just in size -- so called "family," "pastoral," and "program" congregations need to have different organizational systems, are able to do different things, and have a different "feel."  That they are not merely different sizes, that they are different "animals," if you will, is why one consultant has described them as "cats," "small dogs," "large dogs," "gardens," and "farms."  The popular wisdom is that as long as you can navigate the real differences there is no reason that a small family-sized church (cat) can't grow into a mega-church (farm).

But should it?  Is there an "enough" point?  I've heard that congregations within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints do not grow beyond 300 members -- once they approach that threshold they birth a new congregation.  

As I say ... I wonder.  I don't know.  But I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

Pax tecum,


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Margaret Kantz said...

My dad was a UU minister and spent several years as the district rep for OVUUD and UUDOM - the descriptions of dogs and cats and gardens bring on flash backs to dinner conversations of my childhood.

Personally, I'm suspicious of the drive for constant growth. The only thing I'm aware of that grows continuously/unrelentingly is a tumor. No real desire to emulate a tumor.

I also believe that people want different things from church. I know plenty of people who, all things being equal, prefer a church where they can be anonymous in a crowd, or have a bunch of different social programs to choose from, or know they're going where all the "in-the-know" people go. They absolutely belong in a larger church. On the other hand, I was a member of a VERY small Quaker meeting for years. When that congregation discussed growth, people really examined what they wanted out of their religious community and determined they'd feel a real loss if they didn't know everyone who showed up on Sunday, and if most people didn't participate in every event. Given those preferences, it's a sure bet that if the church grew to, say, large dog size, it would no longer include those folks as members.

Dave Dawson said...

WOW! This is so on target with what I am experiencing now. I've actually been thinking these questions without realizing it. Don't know what else to say.