Our Unification movement exemplifies two church models, and serves as a case study of their effect on church growth. Church growth has regular causes that can be discerned by examining churches that are growing. Church decline also has regular causes that can be discerned by examining churches that are shrinking. The defining characteristic of most growing churches is that they have one mission, that being evangelism, and congregational polity. Most shrinking churches have multiple missions and hierarchical polity.
For a church to have an evangelical mission means the church is organized to proclaim the good news (the “evangel”) and to bring others to salvation through it. Congregational polity means that the members of the local church own and govern the local church.
To have a hierarchical polity means that pastors are employed and directed by a central authority. Through the pastors, the central authority, which owns all properties, guides the planning, schedule, strategies, style, etc., for each congregation. Such churches tend to have multiple missions and pay little attention to evangelism.
Thesis #1: The Unification Church grew when and where it had an evangelical mission and congregational polity
Founding of the church: The Unification Church grew from one spirit-led man starting a local congregation. The church had an evangelical mission and congregational polity. He taught and preached a God-centered biblical vision for world transformation. He prayed incessantly. His mission began with a vision of Jesus; people who joined testified that it was the spirit world that led them to him. He loved and served others to bring them into his church, sleeping and eating little, giving up his family, worrying not about physical needs. That was how it started.
|In the early church, as described in Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s autobiography and numerous testimonies, witnessing was the only concern. In his words:
Before , I had prohibited members from carrying out economic activities, in other words, from earning money. Because of this, we went about finding people even if it meant going through suffering by selling off everything we had; we did not engage in money-making campaigns… I prohibited all financial activities save those involving manual labor where you shed your blood or sweat. Anything where you did not shed blood or sweat, I prohibited. The blood or sweat was like the payment of a price.
(from “True Father’s Life Story: The Business of Restoration,” Today’s World, September 2011)
Rev. Moon’s initial church in Pyongyang, from 1946-48, grew rapidly enough in two years to incur hostility from established Christian leaders. After the Korean War, the Unification Church grew from two members in 1951 to 400 members in 1956, a growth rate in the range of 175% per year. He reports having 120 churches in Korea four years later, which indicates that this phenomenal growth rate continued.
Mission field: How did it continue? Rev. Moon sent out disciples to replicate his process. They followed the evangelical mission and congregational polity in the mission field, where missionaries had to rely on God and had latitude for the way they organized. They had only one mission, it was evangelical, and they had the freedom to figure out how to succeed. Thus, the church in its early stage, whether in Korea or on the frontiers of the global mission field, was evangelical. It is worth pointing out that this type of church attracts young people.
America: In America, the church grew from three missionaries in 1959 to 300 full-time church workers in 1971. That is a growth rate of over 150% per year. Over the next five years the national growth rate was distorted by the importation of 200-300 missionaries from overseas, but we can isolate many localities that were not affected by this. In Durham, New Hampshire, where I was located, a group of seven grew to 21 full-time members and another 19 home-members in the summer of 1973. Others in that period relate similar growth in their locations. The Oakland, California, center, where I joined, had a fervent evangelical mission and hard-fought congregational polity. A group of three grew to about 70 between 1971 and 1973 — an annual growth rate of about 500%.
Europe: The church in Europe grew at a similar rate, 1965-73. Rev. Moon dispatched six missionaries to as many countries in 1965 — England, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and Holland. By the end of 1972, Austria had about 100 members. The others were likely on a par with that, as each of the six countries sent 20 missionaries to the U.S. in early 1973. Based on this account, the church in these six countries grew at a rate of approximately 80% per year.
Russia: The mission in Russia was the same in the 1990s and early 2000s. The church in St. Petersburg grew from a handful of missionaries in 1991 to a peak of 300-400 attending Sunday service in 1993. The mission was only witnessing; they were only inviting people to and teaching workshops in the Divine Principle. By 2002, they had 1,000 members—a growth rate of almost 80%.
Global result: The church maintained evangelical fervor and congregational polity in its mission field until the early 1990s. The overall growth pattern of the Unification Church during this period globally was astounding.
Thesis #2: The Unification Church with diverse missions and hierarchical polity did not grow
As the Unification Church settled its global ministry, Rev. Moon established a centralized authority with multiple and diverse missions.
Mission diversification: The Unificationist mission expanded from evangelism to business, the arts, media, secular or interfaith education, member-revival and interfaith. Unification ecumenism began in the 1960s in Korea and mid-1970s in the U.S. The outreach to scholars and scientists began at the same time. UTS launched in 1975. Newspapers started in 1975 in Japan, 1976 in the U.S. and then other countries over the next 15 years. Businesses such as machine tool production, ginseng sales, shipbuilding, fishing and restaurants, construction companies, hotels, printing, and many more started in the late 1960s in Korea and multiplied globally beginning in the 1970s. This drained large numbers of full-time church workers from the mission field.
Ocean Church exemplifies the impact of this on evangelism. Its mission combined evangelism with fishing. The evangelical aspect was that thousands of young Americans would find God and a healthy lifestyle through the ocean. But the members’ energy went into the externals of their mission, and we generated oceanic enterprises and adventure training, but no evangelism.
Hierarchical polity: Rev. Moon established a parish system in the United States. He installed regional directors in Japan and the United States, and national leaders and continental directors globally. In the late 1990s he imported into each nation four “national messiahs,” one of which had effective governing authority, and in 2006 another authority in many nations representing him directly (the boon bong wang). Local congregations experienced a revolving door of leaders employed by headquarters.
The United States: Growth in the United States continued where good evangelical practices persisted into the late 1980s in the San Francisco area and through the 1990s and into the 2000s in New York and Chicago. The most persistent growth sector at present is the Latino community, whose leaders are motivated strongly by evangelism and, due to the language barrier, effectively congregational in polity. Otherwise, membership numbers plateaued at 2,000 to 2,500 families.
Russia: After the growth in St. Petersburg, the trend turned negative and by 2010 there were less than 200 attending, and in 2011, less still. The 1,000 members in 2002 became 800 by 2012. A Russian member I interviewed cited a court case against the church as a cause, both for public image damage and forcing leading missionaries out of the country. American missionaries add that the church failed to prepare indigenous leaders and turn ownership over to them.
Rev. and Mrs. Moon officiated at the Holy Wedding of 30,000 Couples at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium on August 25, 1992.
Korea: Membership in Korea peaked at 16,000 and then declined to 14,000 by 2009. In July 2012, the headquarters reported that membership had grown from 30,000 to 46,000 within the last one to two years. One would expect that the global church would have been awash with testimonies of this, but there were none such. My conclusion is this growth, while due the utmost respect, came not from fresh conversions, but from improved care for existing and lapsed members, more attention to recordkeeping, and interest in a new generation of leaders.
Global result: Rev. Moon never curtailed the evangelical mission, but because economic, social-cultural, revival and interfaith activities are less demanding spiritually, evangelism generally disappeared. In addition, removing ownership from local hands eventually resulted in the abdication of local responsibility. At that point, the church stopped growing.
A call for a hybrid of the two models
The True Parents’ global mission required a base of believers, and to generate this they led a church with an evangelical mission and congregational polity. It also required global impact upon all aspects of life, hence, vertical organization and mission diversification, even at the sacrifice of church growth. In the process, they created two distinct models and depended on members to do both. After an 18-hour day putting out a newspaper, we were to head to a neighborhood and raise spiritual children. In short, we were to be “small Sun Myung Moons.” Few could endure the suffering that he endured in pursuit of the ideal.
The mission remains, and we need to engraft our two models. I propose we study spiritual movements that have successfully combined vertical and horizontal dynamics, such as the Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholicism. I would foresee a hybrid to capture the strength of each model. The value of the congregational, evangelical model is spirit and action, the vitality elements. The value of the hierarchical, multiple model is vision and breadth, the life elements. Following that principle (see Exposition of the Divine Principle, pp. 48-49), the hierarchical, multiple model — the vertical — is like the sun and air, giving love without cost universally. The congregational, evangelical model — the horizontal — is like food and water, grown and managed by labor. Another use of the model is that an evangelical mission is the vertical dynamic, like the whole purpose, and congregational polity is the horizontal dynamic, like the self-purpose, and these are fused in the ministry of the Holy Marriage Blessing.
To implement this, we would dedicate our hierarchical structure solely to the success of the local evangelical mission, centering on marriage Blessing ministry, and delegate non-evangelical missions to freestanding businesses or para-church organizations. We would universalize the Holy Marriage Blessing and develop a process to empower people of our faith community and any faith community to bestow it, thereby preparing for the future.♦
Adapted from “Evangelical Mission, Congregational Polity,” in the Journal of Unification Studies, Vol. 14, 2013.
Dr. Tyler Hendricks (UTS Class of 1978) served as president of the Unification Church of America and of Unification Theological Seminary. He presently teaches online classes for the HSA-UTS certificate program, directs the online Center for Education at UTS, and conducts the weekly Holy Marriage Blessing radio ministry, which can be heard live at WKNY1490.com, Sundays at 7 am New York time.
Photo at top: Reverend Moon speaks outdoors in Korea in 1960.
The LDS were inspired to create the foundation for the returning Christ. Based on the wisdom and success of their systems and the subsequent growth of members, I’d say God is definitely working through them to accomplish that foundation.
From where I stand, the Mormon model is the best of all the systems existing today and could easily provide a way to build the kingdom, if we can comprehend it and incorporate DP, evolving the truth without perverting it.
The emergence of a new religious movement follows a pattern: first the emergence of a prophet and the early period of spirit-led charismatic growth. Next, after the group has grown and gained a level of acceptance (indifference) by the military and political powers, the religious movement diversifies into economic activities for the sake of survival, and to enable future evangelism and growth.
The second major stage of development in the pattern is a period of maturation. It is a period of internal struggle and leadership challenges regarding the espoused spirit-led vision and mission of the materially or economically diversified movement. In the case of the Unification movement, the early vision of re-establishing a true blood lineage (salvation) would come up against the mission of empire- or kingdom-building. From some vantage points, kingdom-building, an inward focus building stable families and community, is a retreat from evangelism.
The real challenge comes from the re-clarification of the religious statements of vision and mission. Unity, Justice, Tranquility, Mutual Prosperity … to secure the Blessing for ourselves and Posterity, that upholds the original purpose of salvation and to open up avenues for kingdom-building (diversification). The former leadership style is autocratic and the latter is more democratic, respectively. The Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) walked this course successfully in America. Furthermore, the Mormons were able to integrate corporate best practices in finance, public relations and social outreach without perverting their internal-spiritual and core family values.
A very good article and I would like to add a couple of points.
1. In order for growth to take place, I think, we also need to invest in aiming for a more unified system in day-to-day ethics and mannerism, especially in the field of couple education, of the education of young children, fashion standards, etc. This is especially important for the sake of future internationally matched couples and a general feeling of really building One World Family under God. Since Korea is the Fatherland, many (of course not all) aspects of Korean ethics ought to be learned and adopted. I personally think this is the deepest and most important reason behind True Father urging us over and over again to learn the Korean language. But that will take a long time, so I wish our Korean leaders and members who have lived a longer time in the East, could do more in this field, but sometimes they go the easy way in joining the “Western” way and even adopting English names ….
2. Korean Buddhist temples get guests form all over the world who are just coming for Temple stay, and those persons are not even real Buddhist believers. Also in the beginning most Mission nations had farms in beautiful countryside settings. I also was able to join seminars and extended stays in such places. I think many (young) people are more able to study the Divine Principle and its application in such natural and traditional environments, instead of coming to some big building in the middle of the busy city. I do not understand why in many instances our movement has left such a good working model for healthy growth.
3. I have worked a lot with the Seventh Day Adventist Churches in Korea and what I observed there is that many of their young members express a lot of love for their church. Also they have a tradition of exposing many things even when they are wrong and of being open even in their publications about certain problems and challenges. There seems to be more channels also to express certain concerns including solutions, and answers are being given, even in their magazines. One aspect of righteousness is openness and honesty, and particularly young people are very sensitive in aspect of life. This also effects growth
There are more points, and surely others will add many more, as we are all concerned.
Good, thought-provoking commentary, but Dr. Hendricks does not seem to come out and draw concrete conclusions from the premises he presents. For example, he states that “Following that principle (see Exposition of the Divine Principle, pp. 48-49), the hierarchical, multiple model — the vertical — is like the sun and air, giving love without cost universally.” Does this mean he proposes that we should have an unpaid leadership composed of volunteers, like some other churches do? Likewise, Dr. Hendricks mentions what appears to be a more member-centered movement: “The congregational, evangelical model — the horizontal — is like food and water, grown and managed by labor.”
Clearly, he seems to find value in both models, but can they coexist and still bring the evangelical (witnessing) results that are being asked for now? If the UC is now truly a federation of families, then has the church leadership totally bought into that notion, or does the dichotomy of leadership models presented by Dr. Hendricks work against the creation of an authentic, family-centered organizational structure? Since Dr. Hendricks strongly promotes evangelical outcomes in his vision of a revised church structure, then it would be useful if he spoke more directly on what would be the ideal organizational structure of the church to accomplish such goals.
Excellent points, Steve. The need to understand and implement a federation of families is important. How do we transform the one leader-centered notion to a family-centered leadership and a team approach? I think that Camp Shehaqua is a very successful model here.
Also, a very important point that I have observed, as well as other seminarians have felt and/or observed: HSA leadership has hugely dismissed and not utilized the identity of seminary graduates as a leadership identity and force in its own right. Again, the is emphasis on one leader being chosen for a specific position; whereas seminarians were gathered as a leadership group many times by our founder until the last meeting in 1998 or so. We were given a relationship with HSA and respected as another tier or leadership circle beyond the few central figures in HSA leadership. Our founder always told seminarians: “I need more leaders…and I don’t care if they are men or women.” So, I have tried encouraging our current HSA President to continue this practice of meeting with seminary graduates biannually or quarterly at best.
Leadership needs to form concentric circles of leadership teams in many functions and forms. Unification Thought shows a creative, spherical approach to its action model and we are stuck in one-dimensional models rather than forming a “string theory” spherical approach. God and our transformational theology are far more creative and broad than we have envisioned Him/Her. Just as some feel that human beings only use 10% of our brains, so we have only used less than 10% of our seminarian leadership. We have got to get into a more team approach as well as the federation of families, as Steve rightly points out.
Since Donna mentioned Shehaqua, I thought I would reply. A congregation with input from its members has the capacity to learn. Top down ones depend upon a small group trying to implement some divinely-inspired plan.
Organizations learn differently than individuals do. For an organization to learn, there needs to be specific plans, inputs and expectations outlined. Once the plan is executed, there needs to be specific feedback, without fault-finding about what worked, what did not, how did our assumptions play out, etc. This is what we do at Shehaqua and is something that has escaped the UC. Organizations that do not create the processes to learn, do not and can even get worse. To learn more about organizations that learn, refer to the works of Peter Senge and Peter Drucker.
There is a tendency in the UC to try to define and adopt programs that are universal in appeal or markets and to be expandable to national and international levels. We considered this and tried a few times, but instead focus on training our young adults to be the next generation of leaders, to expand generationally. We are well on the way to fulfilling this.
There is also a tendency in the UC for others to expect that we would provide some kind of manual, so they could implement our program. We chose to just invite people to participate, to learn on the job.
We have learned a great deal about creating good job descriptions for our volunteers and pay attention to their experiences in their roles. We also allow people to evolve in their involvement, depending upon their life circumstances. We respect the offering of their time, by being clear about what we need from them; we try never to waste their time and always thank them.
We have adopted a new system of governance, “Sociocracy,” which we are learning about and from. We have defined generational roles in the decision making.
We err on the side of action, doing, less talking and a lot less speculating.
We argue publicly, but in person whenever possible. Our finances have always been transparent; we setup processes and reporting to ensure this.
We are and remain independent of the various UC denominations, though this is not easy. We welcome people as families, not their position, not their affiliation, ie., UC, H1, H2, and others. We try to stay focused upon teaching DP, creating a real, or substantial spiritual community and experiences with God.
I think that he indicated that both models ought to work hand in hand. He is not the final authority, so he cannot say how things should be absolutely. Also there are so many types of communities and individuals, ranging from those who can handle issues on a national level and others who cannot even keep their own room in order, so to speak. There is no “fit for all” solution, although now the “home group” system is promoted. As I wrote before, we have to also work on a unified ethics system, when we realize that even on the most basic level of communicating, like addressing others, there is no united way yet.
The rise and fall of religion can be viewed or analyzed from an internal perspective — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and from an outside environmental perspective. This article focuses on an internal perspective. On the other hand the rise of the major religious spheres, Far Eastern, Christian, Buddhist, and Islam can be linked to the benefits the religion provided to the dominant political and military powers. Monastery , temple and mosques were first centers of refuge providing shelter, and comfort for the body and soul. They were also centers of learning housing extensive libraries.
Military and political powers saw benefit in religions for two practical reasons, serving a role in the pacification of the conquered territories and for the administrative, conceptual and organizational skills of the educated religious clergy. On an ideological level, religions provide a philosophical grounding for the legitimacy of the imperial or dominate ruling class. Minor religious sects that pose no threat or danger to the status quo are tolerated or suppressed under the suspicion of sedition. A fledgling religion from either the Mediterranean, Central Asia or the Far East would advance on the coattails of conquest. In addition, priestly administrative, philosophical and organizational skills were of useful benefit to the ruling class. The rise and fall of a nation can be linked to the strategic effectiveness of their adopted religions.
Religious ideology and culture could either thrive under the protective umbrella (indifference) of government or suffer repression as a perceived threat. The Unification movement worldwide has spread and operated within this view of external and political realism.
Thanks to everyone for your comments. Steve, if I left things hanging, it’s because I haven’t figured it all out myself. I do agree with Dennis about the attractiveness of the Mormon model, and am working out a CFE webinar with a leader in that church. I’m interested in how they seem to build positivity about their hierarchy. Frans’ point about the SDA is also well-taken. God prepared such great models for us to learn from. Thank you all.
We should also learn what not to emulate. Growth alone may not be a good indicator, if it aligns with undesirable aspects. For example, although JW are usually good and kindly people, they have an approach that is a one-way doctrinal argument. Rarely (although sometimes it happens,) do they go outside of what they want to proselytize and insist upon in telling you their own viewpoint. I have spent times just literally listening and praying internally for God to be present.
Even if they give you a brochure that may address a common concern such as family dynamics and parenting using biblical scripture, they do not want to know about anything that is not in their own script. My feeling and conclusion is that those who are so admirably dedicated to witnessing are doing so in part from an extremist need for doctrinal certainty without much regard for making connections with issues and questions that require relationship with others. Thinking that their affinity for dispensational timelines in history would lend them to explore questions in history, they resisted any discussion. And, if you do not agree with them or let them dominate, they won’t come back to visit you. They will not come to your church since they do not like ecumenism.
When we consider our New Era conferences that were a highlight at UTS, they invited discussion from different viewpoints on valued topic. Yes, our own Divine Principle seminars are doctrinal and usually without much discussion, but participants came because we emphasized relating with others and give and take that values a two-way conversation. So, this point brings me to an insight, are we trying to sell a doctrine unsuccessfully because we cannot find alternative avenues for discussion that utilize the theological points in relation to society rather than presenting them as a one way doctrinal platform?
One of our very successful home church models came from a blessed couple that held Interfaith prayer meetings every month at their home. Someone in the fellowship would present a concern about the world in a 15 minute talk or video; then some discussion and responses were shared; in conclusion, everyone would light a candle and pray for this concern. The fellowship grew to include people of all walks of life, neighbors, people of various faiths and even government officials. One Christmas the fellowship met for a Christmas party. 75 guests came and many of them accepted the Holy Wine Blessing at this event. Honoring God, prayer and concern for suffering in the world took precedence over one faith’s doctrinal domination. This Interfaith monthly prayer has highlighted the work of this blessed family for well over twenty years as they started in New Jersey and then took their foundation to England, (the husband’s hometown,) and continued a successful Interfaith ministry there.
We need to learn the good aspects of other religious groups though. I often travelled in South Korea and passed through train stations. I often have been witnessed to at these stations, but mysteriously exclusively by Jehovah Witnesses, enthusiastic young believers or old members who learned a few English lines by heart. Their magazines cleverly deal with very current issues that folks are dealing with in day-to-day life, but mostly quote texts form the Book of Proverbs to bring solutions ….. that brings one to think.
Yes, that is true, Frans. JW members have some excellent articles in their magazines.
Our American movement does not have a successful gateway program to convict “first timers” and “spiritual seekers” to accept True Parents “message of salvation.” The Sunday service is still the most popular program for bringing Unificationists together every week, yet it has not been able to effectively bring new people into our faith community. I think we need an alternative service that is geared towards persuading and convicting those in attendance to accept True Parents message of salvation (evangelical approach). See my new article on Monday on this Blog.
There is the home groups “gateway program” though. But indeed, it remains a long road to win someone’s heart, convince them of the need for them to believe in a new revelation from Korea, for them to believe in it, accept the Messiah is here (and passed already) and that it is not one person this time; the need to ideally be matched, then be Blessed in marriage and then start a path of restoration in order to become happy. It needs patience, hard work and lots of devotion.
Frans, one of the methods that works well to develop relationships is to focus on a common cause as a vehicle to bring sharing and understanding. In our CAUSA movement, it was the threat of communism, the decline of the family, morality and the problem of drug usage. Through these shared concerns, we learned to appreciate the work of others in various faith paths. Currently, one of the major issues of our time to share is the cause of religious freedom. The common concern binds us together with others and can alleviate some barriers to dialogue. Now is the time to rally around this cause, to support and to appreciate others who share our concern.
All great stuff — so glad Tyler stimulated this important discussion!
In my view (and the view of most all growing spiritual communities), there must be two important factors:
1. A “fellowship” of some kind — call it a church, a community, a fellowship, a meeting, whatever. But individuals engaged in evangelism must have some way to create community, both for their own spiritual support and for the training and discipleship of new members.
2. The larger, overall organization must make evangelism intentional. It must preach it at every turn. And provide the tools and systems necessary for all individuals, families and communities in the network to succeed and unify around basic organizing principles.
The national American UC, or FFWPU, or whatever we call ourselves at any given moment, has not provided this intentionality and tools since the late ’70s. Hence our problem. Even though True Mother has stated numerous times that we must “witness and teach,” we continue not to do it. For Americans, at least, we need unity and systems so we can work together in teams and communities. The noble vision of the “Tribal Messiah Home Church Blessed Family” doing it all on their own simply does not happen, except in very individualized situations, such as the one Donna mentions. Most of us need to work in community with proven and duplicatable systems.
I sincerely hope someone with power in our American movement is listening to this discussion, because it is elemental and so important.
Thanks again, Tyler, for stimulating us!