One of the strengths of new emerging congregations is that they don't need much structure. It is not a matter of the elderly needing transport. It is a person-with a name-wishing to ride with someone. Yet to participate those involved need predictability and shared understandings. Who is responsible for opening the door? Preparing the space? Who chairs meetings and when do they happen? Often leaders of emerging congregation are too slow to more toward a greater sense of structure-making it very hard for those who arrive after the first nucleus to find their way into the group. This is especially a problem sometimes for UU groups who have in them people who were once in religious communities that they felt overly rigid. So, by all means enjoy the informality afforded by a new, small religious community. Always, ask yourselves: what structure will be needed at the next stage of things? Build that.
What should be expected of people? That they arrive on time? That they contribute money? That they express their views in a respectful way? Newcomers to any community need space to explore and to learn-before the full expectations of the community are placed upon them. Beware. It is often tempting to lower expectations as a means of encouraging participation. It is tempting to think that the less we ask of people the more likely they are to participate. This can be true but in general it is not. Overall people prefer groups that ask something of them. And people like communities that are able to deal forthrightly with the subject of norms and expectations.
Emerging congregations tends to establish relatively quickly and without elaborate discussion a way of doing things that is comfortable. Someone recently wrote of the importance of a "third place" that is not home and not work but is homelike -- where one may be comfortable. The slogan of the1980's sitcom Cheers comes to mind: "a place where they know your name." While one of the glorious things about emerging congregations is this comfort that they often quickly and wordlessly establish, beware. Groups that live on this and for this alone tend to turn inward. Just as wordlessly -- if not as quickly -- lose their energy. Emerging congregations should constantly ask themselves: how should we be stretching ourselves? Doing new things together. Taking on new challenges. Mentoring people into new and unfamiliar leadership roles.
One of the early joys of forming a UU congregation is to-finally-find a group with whom one can share one's views without judgment or ridicule and who "get it." Yet again it is important -- while valuing this -- to keep it in balance. The virtues of a like-minded community can quickly become a new set of restrictions. It can be a relief to be in a community where it is not assumed that everyone -- or at least all good people -- are Christian, but what does this mean for the spouse of the member, who is Christian? Is that person welcome? Does the group reach out to make that person welcome? Likewise, for a Republican. Or, more subtly: how about the person who is social economically different, or racially, or age, or in sexual orientation, or in physical or mental ability. Lacking prejudice on such matters may be enough for an individual but it is not for a religious community. Healthy communities locate and lean into their discomfort on these things.