Cultural Change in Unity

Published on: June 1, 2014

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Moving Away From the Co-op Model

Some of the challenges we face at Unity Worldwide Ministries are first showing up at the local Unity church/ministry level as declining membership and declining financial support. This decline usually creates stress on the existing membership of those ministries. This stress can, and often does, generate the kind of conflict that actually exacerbates the problem. It results in even more decline in membership and financial support. As those challenges become widespread, they have an adverse affect on our regional and national efforts.

I don’t believe that this problem of declining membership and financial support at the local level is evidence that there is something wrong with our Unity principles or our five basic teachings. The fact is, the ideas underlying our five basic principles are actually gaining popularity in western culture. In our history, we have been leaders in bringing that about! Since our principles are solid, it may be that the problem is organizational or systemic in nature. So, let’s look at our local Unity ministries and how they operate.

Once a Unity church becomes fairly well established, its primary focus becomes serving the needs of its existing membership. In that context Unity churches usually develop an organizational and business model that most closely resembles a “local co-op.” Understanding how our ministries resemble co-ops may give us insight into the problems and challenges we face.

First of all what do most co-ops have in common?

  1. They are democratic, volunteer associations.
  2. They have no owners other than the members.
  3. They are usually nonprofit organizations.
  4. They are formed to benefit and to serve the needs and expectations of those who make up the membership/co-op community.
  5. Their primary and often only source of revenue and manpower support comes from members (although co-ops may hire professional managers/staff as needed).
  6. Growth in membership may be motivated by the co-op’s desire to serve more people, but more often it is stimulated by the need for additional manpower and revenue to meet the needs and expenses of the co-op.

A local Unity ministry could be seen as a “spiritual food co-op” with Unity being the brand of spiritual nourishment offered to the “spiritual consumers” who make up the membership. Everything is usually fine as long as there are enough members and enough revenue to meet the needs of the co-op.

Years ago membership in Unity churches was one of the best ways for “spiritual consumers” or spiritual seekers to satisfy a spiritual hunger. Today, much of that has changed. There are now thousands upon thousands—maybe millions—of highly gifted individuals who are effectively teaching varieties of this spiritual message to those who make up the “spiritual consumer” market. They are teaching through high-quality books that are now available in local and online bookstores everywhere. They are teaching through their web presence. They are teaching on national and international television. They are emerging as leaders in a variety of progressive Christian churches and movements. They are leading seminars and workshops all over the world. They are reaching the spiritual consumer market in a way that is resulting in decreasing membership and support of our local Unity ministries—our local “spiritual food co-ops.” The problem is not our teachings, it’s the “local co-op” organizational model that may be failing many of our ministries. The question is, “Is there an alternative?”

Could it be that we need to evolve? Maybe what we need is a new and transcendent mission that can re-energize us and re-organize us in a way that creates an unlimited number of opportunities for people to serve a world-changing movement—something bigger than a local co-op—and something that can’t happen just by being a spiritual consumer sitting at home reading a book. Read Unity Worldwide Ministries’ new mission and vision statement along with a working document that focuses on practical, structural processes and systems to support our ministers and ministries.

What if our local Unity ministries evolved into spiritual centers whose mission was to “advance the movement to transform human nature and the world through the shared spiritual awakening of human beings”? That is something that can excite people. That is something that can call forth the spiritual essence that is the truth of who we really are. That is something we can organize around and make the kind of difference the Christ in us knows we were meant to make. What if our mission was to provide organizational structure and leadership development that inspired people to become spiritual activists in the movement? That might be how we serve a new generation of people who are not only spiritual consumers but want to be active—spiritual activists—joining with others to advance a movement that can make a real difference in the world.


Barry Vennard

Rev Barry Vennard is a Unity minister, a transitional ministry specialist, peaceworker and author. Barry is available to lead workshops and retreats based on his book, Stepping Through the Narrow Gate: Personal Transformation Through Evolutionary Spirituality.

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  • April Kain-Breese

    Wonderful, thank you Barry!