Worship Survey Results

The UUA has an organization called the Commission on Appraisal that conduct analysis and surveys and publishes the results at our annual meetings. They may study anything within the Denomination. In 2005, they submitted a report called engaging our theological diversity. In this report there was a significant section that dealt with our worship services and attempted to identify those elements of services that were common to our congregations. A survey went out to all of our congregations. The methodology in this study involve small groups in larger groups of the Gen. assembly. Abroad Survey of congregational worship practices was sent to congregations in December 2003 to every member congregation of the UUA worldwide. It was returned by 370 congregations with a response rate of 35%. 

Frequency of Special Theme Services in UUA Congregations Worldwide:

uua survey results
Some of the questions were about special themed services, and their frequency. Congregational Anniversary, Kwanzaa, Pride, Advent, Canvass, Guest at your table, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Jazz, May Day, Tennebrae, May Day, Mardi Gras, and Partner Church were offered in small number of congregations. The survey also tells us that 70 percent of the congregations sing “Spirit of Life” regularly and 20 percent of the congregations do the Doxology on a regular basis. It also shows that few congregations use the Lord’s prayer with any regularity. 

The survey also looked at trends. The most frequently added services from the prior ten years was Water and Flower Communion, Holy Communion, Christmas Eve, Bread Sunday, and Solstice. 

Results from our March 2016 Survey:  

Our own survey shows us a slightly different picture of the Universalist Church. Generally, it shows us to be more traditional than most of the denomination’s churches. Our survey led us into seeing the Universalist Church as a little different from the UA standard as we are a more traditional church service. The survey returns were good. We sent out 367 surveys and had a 36 percent response rate. 

In traditional services, we see more unison events like benediction, affirmation, doxology, blessing the offering, the use of God language, Lord’s prayer even occasionally, and communion. We are one of only a handful of UU congregations that celebrates World Communion Sunday.

In the written comments on sermons, some of you preferred Jan’s sermon style and subject matter which seemed to revolve around living a more joyful life. Some of you have liked my subject matter which as a whole is more thoughtful than affective. Much of my subject matter has been chosen because of my interim role to help you understand your history and where you will be going with the new settled minister. In the survey, the sermon topics that you liked were intellectual, historical, and spiritual. You indicated a preference for a meditative worship, services on other religious traditions, and ways of living. You liked nature-centered Sundays like water and flower communion, but disliked biblical readings, pagan services, regular communion, and prayers as opposed to meditations. 

For sources of inspirations (reading and responsive readings) you preferred prose, poetry, readings on other religions, current world issues, testimonials, stories which were uplifting and about overcoming adversity. You were about evenly divided your desire to recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison weekly. Some comments greatly favored the Lord’s Prayer, but others were very negative on its use. The reason behind this negativity centered on its patriarchal language and primary Christian identity which some of you felt in combination with our beautiful stained glass indicated a primary Christian identity to the congregation. Once per month is probably appropriate. 

“Spirit of Life” which most of our UU congregations use regularly in our services, you preferred also. Most liked it as a transition into the meditation rather than a transition out of meditation into the sermon. There was no great call to bring it back in Spanish. 

As a congregation you liked World Communion, but would not like to see communion very often in services. This is a significant change from your historic rate of twice per month, I feel once in the fall and once in the spring is plenty sufficient. 

Many of you wanted the minister robed for worship. I, as you know, only use a robe for a special occasion, to make it special. The robe gives an element of authority that I don’t think is always appropriate. I always wear a suit when officiating at services. Our reformed tradition has us called from the congregation, as opposed to being appointed by a bishop to a congregation. This is why I favor using the robe-less. We have authority from the congregation and therefore should as much as possible be part of the congregation. Women ministers within our denomination tend to wear robes more often. I think this is to divert attention away from fashion. Whereas a suit is a suit, (but a tie is not a tie.) 

You liked a Time for All Ages, but liked it short and connected to sermon and with a story that contained many layers of meaning. You did not like reading book to kids. A media system here would make presentations more applicable to all ages. 

In the area of music, you have lots of compliments. You had strong likes for the Bell choir, choir, instrumental guest musicians, and themes with services (like the Irish music for the service on Celtic Spirituality) You liked various types of music as well as traditional. You want more quality organ but less Christian music. There is somewhat a disconnect here since most traditional music is Christian music. 

For the Christmas Eve service, you wanted a single service but relatively later than our current 9 o’clock, possibly 10 or 11. More people wanted the Christmas pageant on the Sunday before Christmas rather than Christmas Eve. This year Christmas will come on a Sunday so the Christmas Eve service will be Saturday night. That would mean that the pageant would be the Sunday before Christmas. We will take this up again later. 

For administrative issues you liked church progress reports before Sunday worship, but like it kept short. You like the topics of the worship service advertised in advance of that Sunday. There was a comment that it should go in the papers, but I will leave that to our new Communications Committee. Most churches have found that the move to electronic advertising is more cost-effective than newspaper media. For regular church services most prefer us staying at 10 o’clock. 

There is not a lot of encouragement around expanding media to the sanctuary. That has been my experience other places also. Church tradition is hard to change. What I will say is that large congregations that are growing and attracting younger members use media. You wanted summer services held the sanctuary. 

This is our summation of the comments and the survey. I will have the full survey available either on the website or the next month’s Universalist. Thank you for your comments. 

- Len and the Worship Committee