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The 1997 Unitarian Universalism Needs and Aspirations Survey

The Needs and Aspirations Survey was distributed in the September/October 1997 issue of the WORLD. Almost 10,000 Unitarian Universalists (UUs) took the time to fill out and return the survey, giving us all an invaluable snapshot of who we are and what we believe is important in our religious lives. Our association has been enriched by the knowledge gained from the answers many UUs provided.

This survey began a process designed to reach out to all UU individuals and congregations called "Fulfilling the Promise." This Concept was set in motion by the Unitarian Universalist Association's Board of Trustees. Its goal is to help us move toward agreement about why we come together as congregations and as an association, and what we hope to accomplish.

The survey questions came from individual UUs, as did the suggested responses. More than 500 people helped create this survey. We hope you will find your own experience reflected in the questions and answers, even if the exact language you would use is not perfectly captured here.

What follows are the total tabulations for the first 8118 surveys. For each of the first 20 "values" questions, we have included the responses for what you said were Most Important. They provide a picture of what we say our values in religious community are. The balance of the questions (age, sex, length of church membership, etc.), give us a picture of who are demographically and as church persons.

Survey Responses

  1. What things should your congregation be most intent on helping children learn?
    Most Important:
    • A sense of their inherent worth, self-respect: 51.8%
    • Openness to difference and respect for others: 35.3%
    • What Unitarian Universalism is and stands for: 24.4%
    • That their faith and their lives are one . . . they grow together: 19.4%
    • A love for the adventures of life: 11.4%
       
  2. How has your life been changed, affected or supported by your UU faith?
    Most Important:
    • It shapes my engagement with the world: 21.7%
    • Provides a place to recognize and develop my gifts, and to address my needs: 19.0%
    • Encourages growth in tolerance for ambiguity and differences: 18.5%
    • Has transformed my way of being in the world . . . how I live, what I spend time and money on and what I give away: 17.3%
    • Eases isolation: 17.1%
    • Gives me courage to challenge society's norms and work for social change: 16.9%
    • Provides a common faith for my partner and me/my family: 16.4%
       
  3. What tickles your spiritual funny bone?
    Most Important:
    • That UUs claim to be seekers at the same time we act like we have the answers: 31.3%
    • People who stand amidst the wonders of nature arguing about belief in miracles: 24.5%
    • Laughing at my UU pomposity, laughing at other UUs' pomposity, taking life too seriously: 18.9%
    • "Forgive, O Lord, any little jokes on Thee, and I'll forgive thy great big one on me" (Robert Frost): 18.8%
    • A "reasonable" UU coping with people who are moved by the spirit: 13.7%
       
  4. What is missing for you in your UU experience?
    • Nothing is missing: 23.7%
    • Something is missing (Answer "What?" below): 76.3%
    • Most Important:
    • More racial and cultural diversity and diversity of perspectives: 30.2%
    • Greater intensity of celebration, joy and spirituality: 30.1%
    • A real commitment to act as social change agents: 18.8%
    • People who love and trust, forgiving human frailty, and seeking: 14.5%
    • Rational search and discussion: 12.1%
    • More variety in music and the arts: 6.8%
       
  5. Have you ever considered leaving UUism? If so, why?
    • No: 40.6%
    • Yes (Answer "Why?" below): 59.4%
    Most Important:
    • Lack of spirituality, warmth and joy: 29.2%
    • Congregational conflict: 24.3%
    • Too arrogant and cerebral: 19.2%
    • Too much political correctness: 19.0%
    • Lack of commitment to fighting oppression/lack of diversity: 11.6%
    • Too much spirituality: 8.6%
       
  6. What gifts do you offer your congregation?
    Most Important:
    • Leadership, commitment and energy for the long haul: 33.5%
    • Specific skills (singing, business, teaching, etc.): 29.4%
    • Financial support: 24.5%
    • Organizational ability: 15.4%
    • My personal story and experience: 14.6%
       
  7. How do you respond to the call for greater racial/cultural diversity in our membership?
    Most Important:
    • It's about time. This is central to my faith and theology: 41.4%
    • My congregation is unlikely to become much more diverse but we welcome all who wish to join us: 37.0%
    • With hope for change and trepidation about the future: 17.7%
    • This whole thing is just about political correctness: 5.5%
       
  8. What is the "glue" that binds individual UUs and congregations together?
    Most Important:
    • Shared values and principles: 52.1%
    • Acceptance, respect and support for each other as individuals: 42.5%
    • A desire to take religious questions seriously: 14.6%
    • Commitment to social justice and public witness: 11.5%
    • Our history and tradition as a faith community: 9.1%
    • Common worship elements and language: 5.2%
       
  9. What are the deepest yearnings of your heart?
    Most Important:
    • To make a difference, help build a more just world: 34.2%
    • To become whole/find meaning: 26.6%
    • Happiness, nurturance and love for my children/family: 26.0%
    • Peace and harmony: 22.0%
    • To be known and loved: 17.1%
    • To feel I am part of a wondrous creation: 12.5%
       
  10. What are your dreams for the UU movement?
    Most Important:
    • Become a visible and influential force for good in the world: 63.0%
    • Become a truly multi-cultural institution which models anti-racism: 18.9%
    • Develop deeper, more spiritual worship: 16.2%
    • Increase our numbers and financial resources: 15.8%
    • Become less insular and more engaged in interfaith and justice-making conversations: 13.9%
       
  11. If Unitarian Universalism were somehow not available, what would be missing in your life?
    Most Important:
    • A community of kindred people, friendships: 46.5%
    • An outlet for my deepest understandings in a community of faith, experience and spiritual growth: 31.0%
    • Sense of the inclusivity and potential for wholeness which empowers and challenges me: 14.0%
    • A place for my children to learn about religion/values: 12.4%
    • Opportunities to witness with people who care about each other and the world: 11.2%
    • A guide to understanding life's events and ultimate values: 10.4%
       
  12. What is the most important challenge facing your congregation?
    Most Important:
    • Volunteers get burned out/tired: 24.9%
    • The pressures of growth: 23.3%
    • Spreading UU values in our community: 19.7%
    • Sharing responsibility for finances: 16.5%
    • Unity, trusting one another: 14.9%
    • Lack of sense of mission: 13.5%
    • Responding to increasing religious diversity: 8.4%
       
  13. To what extent should your congregation contribute to spreading the UU faith?
    Most Important:
    • Be outspoken in our community, a voice for justice based on our principles: 65.8%
    • Advertise our presence: 20.9%
    • Invite friends to church: 20.1%
    • Financial support for new congregations: 6.1%
    • This is not a priority, we shouldn't spread the word: 3.7%
       
  14. What role has your congregation played most importantly in your life?
    Most Important:
    • It supports my views and upholds my values: 41.3%
    • It is a beloved community of forgiveness, love and spiritual growth: 25.5%
    • Encourages me to develop and share my gifts and talents: 22.6%
    • It has supported my parenting and helped educate my children in religious values: 13.4%
    • Provides opportunities for witness and advocacy for social justice: 10.9%
       
  15. How does being a Unitarian Universalist sustain you in times of crisis, tragedy or pain?
    Most Important:
    • It provides a community of love, support and renewal: 48.3%
    • Reminds me that I am not an exception to the human condition: 28.6%
    • Comfort of beloved friends: 22.2%
    • Provides a sense of transcendence, God or a healing power: 8.7%
    • Addresses oppression which affects me: 3.9%
       
  16. What factors in your life influenced your decision to join a UU congregation?
    Most Important:
    • Searching for a belief system and faith community that made sense to me: 61.9%
    • Dissatisfaction with another church or belief system: 21.7%
    • Wanted religious education for my children: 13.5%
    • I was born into UUism: 10.4%
    • Acceptance and support when I needed it: 9.4%
       
  17. What is missing for you in your congregation experience?
    Most Important:
    • Nothing . . . my needs are being met: 33.3%
    • Spiritual discipline and depth: 18.2%
    • A sense of mission: 14.2%
    • A settled minister: 12.8%
    • Meaningful adult education offerings: 10.1%
    • The challenge to grow: 6.6%
    • Reasonable financial commitment: 6.5%
       
  18. What do you expect to happen for you when you attend a UU worship service?
    Most Important:
    • To remember with gratitude and celebrate what is most important in my life: 37.3%
    • Intellectual stimulation: 37.1%
    • Social interaction and sharing with my UU community: 30.4%
    • Get something to help get me through the week: 12.9%
    • Music and community singing: 9.8%
       
  19. What needs for a child's religious development could ideally be best served within the community of UU faith?
    Most Important:
    • A sense of belonging, along with respect for difference: 53.4%
    • Experience of a community of moral decision making and faith: 32.8%
    • A sense of awe and wonder inspiring the strength to be a spiritual explorer: 23.6%
    • An appreciation of all the world's major religious traditions: 18.5%
    • Learning to live in the spirit of Jesus more than in beliefs about him: 10.3%
       
  20. How does your racial/cultural identity inform your life as a Unitarian Universalist?
    Most Important:
    • UUism reflects my spiritual and ethical values, racial/cultural identity is not an important factor: 64.9%
    • I see my racial/cultural identity reflected regularly in my congregation and its worship: 23.8%
    • My racial/cultural identity is a part of the life of my congregation in limited ways: 7.0%
    • I have to check my racial/cultural identity at the door, it's a price I'm willing to pay: 1.6%
    • My racial/cultural identity is "used" by my congregation as if it were a tourist attraction from some exotic, foreign place: 1.3%

Demographic Responses

Finally, please answer a few questions about yourself. For these questions, simply indicate the answer that describes you.

  1. How long have you been a Unitarian Universalist? (please answer in years)
    • 0 - 5 years: 21.7%
    • 6 - 10 years: 15.2%
    • 11 - 20 years: 16.1%
    • 21 or more years: 37.1%
    • Life long (birthright): 9.9%
    • Median (if not birthright): 16.03 years
       
  2. Which of the following best describes your level of activity in your current congregation?
    • Very active: 34.5%
    • Active: 37.1%
    • A little involved: 22.1%
    • Inactive: 6.3%
       
  3. How long have you been a part of this congregation?
    • 0 - 5 years: 38.8%
    • 6 - 10 years: 21.1%
    • 11 - 20 years: 18.4%
    • 21 or more years: 21.6%
       
  4. Do you attend church on a regular basis?
    • Yes: 83.4%
    • No: 16.6%
       
  5. Are you a voting member of your Unitarian Universalist congregation?
    • Yes: 91.5%
    • No: 8.5%
       
  6. What is the name of the church you attend?
     
  7. In what city and state or province is it located?
     
  8. Please check the one of the following which best describes your theological perspective:
    • Humanist: 46.1%
    • Earth/Nature centered: 19.0%
    • Theist: 13.0%
    • Christian: 9.5%
    • Mystic: 6.2%
    • Buddhist: 3.6%
    • Jewish: 1.3%
    • Hindu: 0.4%
    • Moslem: 0.1%
    • Other: 13.3%
       
  9. Are you a:
    • Lay person: 92.5%
    • Minister: 3.3%
    • Ministerial student: 1.1%
    • Other religious professional (educator, musician, administrator): 3.2%
       
  10. Your age:
    • Under 18: 0.5%
    • 18 - 25: 1.4%
    • 26 - 35: 7.4%
    • 36 - 45: 18.1%
    • 46 - 55: 23.0%
    • 56 - 65: 18.7%
    • 66 - 75: 20.4%
    • 76 - 85: 8.8%
    • Over 85: 1.7%
    • Median: 55.7 years
       
  11. Your sex:
    • Male: 32.4%
    • Female: 67.6%
       
  12. What is your sexual or affectional orientation?
    • Gay man: 3.0 %
    • Heterosexual man: 27.8%
    • Lesbian: 3.2%
    • Heterosexual woman: 58.7%
    • Bi-sexual: 3.9%
    • Transgender: 0.3%
       
  13. Partnership/marital status:
    • Single: 34.3%
    • Partnered/married: 65.7%
       
  14. Do you parent one or more children who live with you?
    • Yes: 27.5%
    • No: 72.5%
       
  15. What is your racial/cultural identity:
    • European American (white): 97.6%
    • Native American/Indigenous: 2.5%
    • African American (or of African descent): 1.3%
    • Latina(o)/Hispanic: 1.1%
    • Asian American: 0.8%
       
  16. Are you bi-racial or multi-cultural? (Please also check the appropriate identities in Q.37)
    • Yes: 8.1%
    • No: 91.9%

Thank you for your time and help with this important project.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Monday, June 20, 2011.

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