Theme-based ministry is happening in more and more congregations throughout our movement. What is theme-based ministry? According to Rev. Scott Tayler, the UUA’s Director of Congregational Life, theme-based ministry “is a powerfully engaging way of focusing the life of a congregation on monthly themes through worship, religious education, small groups and other activities.”
Last June, many attendees at the UUA 2014 General Assembly (GA) in Providence (Rhode Island) learned this, and much more, in an SRO (that is, standing room only!) workshop, Deepening Our Faith through Theme-Based Ministry.
Why themes? Rev. Matthew Johnson, minister of the UU Church of Rockford (Illinois) and one of the workshop presenters, says it is a way to create multigenerational connections across the congregation. His article, “Theme-Based Church and the Workshop Rotation Model: Putting It Together,” describes a way to integrate worship themes into religious education programming.
Another workshop presenter, Sheila Schuh, director of religious education at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester (New York) shared her ‘Deepening Our Faith’ Top Ten!” benefits of theme based-ministry:
1. Lifts positive energy and engagement of volunteers
2. Tailors to congregation (traditions/ history/mission)
3. Worship 4u! Provides developmentally appropriate engagement and a whole experience
4. Builds cross-generational ties in family (parent/child), congregation, humanity
5. Ties seasonal events to a spiritually grounding liturgical calendar
6. Offers, with each theme, a base for creativity and curiosity
7. Stretches spiritual focus in direction may not have considered
8. Allows economies of scale in preparation, media
9. Invites spiritual connection with DRE et al., for program and pastoral
10. Invites leaders to balance a deeper level of internal work with the duties of administration
Rev. Jan Taddeo of the UU Congregation of Gwinnett (Georgia) and Kathy Smith, director of religious education at the Community UU Church in Plano (Texas) described the evolution of monthly themes in their congregations. Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh of the UUA staff shared resources for congregations to explore theme-based ministry.
Get inspired by learning how various UU congregations use themes:
- Read how a variety of UU faith communities use themes in small group ministry in stories collected by the Small Group Ministry Network
- The Church of the Larger Fellowship invites members to connect around a theme each month via the Quest for Meaning newsletter.
- See how themes “help congregants go deeper” at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa (Oklahoma) in in an InterConnections artlcle or on the congregation’s theme-based ministry website.
- First Unitarian Church of Rochester (New York) structures worship around monthly spiritual themes for ten months of the year; see the calendar of themes here. Another congregation using themes is Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
More “Theme” Resources
- The Soul Matters Sharing Circle is a group of UU congregations that follow the same monthly worship themes and share material for small group worship and children’s religious education as well as sermons and music. Membership is open to additional congregations.
- Congregations in the UUA Pacific Western Region can subscribe to the “Touchstones” journal with worship and discussion resources for monthly themes, following the theme-based ministry of the First Universalist Church of Denver (Colorado).
- The Vibrant Faith Ministries/Faith Formation Learning Exchange discusses themes and how to use them in “A New Way to Approach Faith Formation” by Joelene Roehlkepartain.