Looking for a Big Church in a Small Town: A Survey of Large Format Venues Complementary to Unificationist Family Churches in Non-metropolitan Areas

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 10, 2009 - Pages 33-50

In a previous article,[1] the author presented observations and predicted trends based on a case study of a Unificationist Family Church in a non-metropolitan area. A central premise of the article was that a non-metropolitan family church by necessity is a standalone institution for spiritual formation, worship, study and fellowship. Unlike the small group ministry paradigm more typically paired with a mega-church model, this non-metropolitan counterpart needs to be spiritually sustaining for lack of a practical large group meeting with which to associate on a regular basis.[2]

A hallmark of small group settings, as conventionally understood in the context of a mega-church model, is that they can be either neighborhood specific or are affinity-based (e.g., young adults, fathers, mothers, recovering alcoholics, bluegrass musicians). Due to the very low densities of Unificationist worshippers in non-metropolitan areas, the worship format and educational content utilized in their small groups are overwhelmingly of the former type (neighborhood-specific) and thus generalist in nature rather than focusing on special interests.[3]

One exception to this pattern explored in that article was campus ministry, which when viewed as a small group ministry is similar to an affinity type. In college towns the number of college students who worship with a local Unificationist community can dwarf the number of attendees from the local families. This case is worth noting because campus ministry has been an area of special focus for the Unification Movement almost since its inception.

Central New York, home of the author's ministry, is a region with a large number of colleges and universities positioned in villages, as well as small and medium-sized cities. The area is not the home to major metropolitan areas. To give some perspective, the 15 largest metropolitan areas in the United States range in population size range from 19 million (New York City) to approximately 3.4 million (Seattle). The largest city in Central New York is Rochester, which has a metropolitan population of about 2 million.

As such, the conditions in Central New York are indicative of many areas of the United States which are positioned at travel distances greater than 2 hours from one of the 15 largest metropolitan areas.[4] Through under­standing what works and does not work in a region such as Central New York, it is possible to postulate what is feasible in similar areas throughout the United States. Approximately 40 percent of Unificationists in the United States live in such areas. This is a segment of the overall Unificationist demographic for which strategies need to be developed for effective in-reach and outreach.

At a time when the national leadership is investing heavily in a mega-church model, it is critical that they understand that this cannot be the only model promoted. This article seeks to articulate alternatives to the mega-church for geographic areas which do not currently have the population densities to support this model.


Current Conditions in Ithaca and Central New York

The demographics of Ithaca and its county can be quantified as follows:

City of Ithaca population: 30,000
Countywide population: 100,000
Cornell student population: 19,000
Ithaca College student population: 6,000


Thus, the local student population dwarfs the city and comprises roughly 25% of the total county population. The disproportionate presence of college students relative to the general population is in not unique to Ithaca and is found in many college communities throughout the United States.

The previous article described in detail evolving worship patterns shared by a number of families in Central New York. In summary, the patterns were consistent for over a decade, in which various families took turns hosting worship services in their homes to which the other Unificationist families and their friends in the area were invited. This was followed by a brief period (about three years) in which many of the families chose to worship in Ithaca, both on campus at Cornell University and in the author's home. To a large extent this was because Ithaca became a "population center" due to the relatively high number of students attending college in Ithaca and because they chose to worship with the local families. An alternative worship pattern considered by the families in Central New York (i.e., that the students in Ithaca would participate in worship services in Syracuse, Rochester or Binghamton - all between an hour and 2 hours away) was viewed as impractical on a weekly basis because of the travel costs; both in terms of time and money.

A trend which has been observed locally in the past several years has been an increase in the number of college students not only in Ithaca, but also in Syracuse, Rochester and Binghamton. This is at least in part a reflection of the demographics of the 2075 couple Marriage Blessing of 1982, many of whom began having children starting in 1983. There appeared to be a surge in the number entering 4-year colleges around 2004-2005. To the extent that Unificationist families living near universities in Central New York are developing some level of ministry to these students, they are also finding that local worship and fellowship is far more effective than traveling to Ithaca and back on a weekly basis. Thus, all worship activity is currently more localized and is likely to remain so for some time, if driven by the student demographics.

Based on research undertaken by the national church organization, the general understanding is that the number of second generation Unificationists who will be attending college will remain essentially flat for the next 10 years and then will gradually drop off during the following 10 years before a second more modest increase begins.[5] This suggests that universities where Unificationists are now attending will probably see a continuation of attend­ance by Unificationists at approximately the same levels for the next 10 years. Understanding the probable presence of second generation Unifica­tionists college students may be helpful to local families as they try to develop their ministries and worship patterns. There is some good news and some bad news in this scenario.

The good news is that locally in Central New York, families can host effective worship services in their homes to which Unificationist college students (and their friends) can practically participate, should they choose to do so. There will be a "critical mass" of probably at least three students at most of the major universities in these villages and cities during the next 10 years.

The bad news is that the small group setting (i.e., the family church in one's own home), although potentially intimate and spiritually nurturing, has more the feeling of being part of an Underground Railroad than a worldwide religious movement. Even if one hears the message that this venue is part of larger network, the network is not easily perceived. In the case of the Underground Railroad it was intentionally stealthy. Still, it had conductors and station masters to help "passengers" to get to their destination. In the case of the Unification Movement, there is a need to create something institutional which instills confidence that worshippers are participating in something that is larger and more powerful than just the local activity. In short, if the Family Church small group setting is the one which can inspire new worshippers to affiliate, how and where will that affiliation be deepened?

From a top-down perspective the current pattern and generally accepted practice is that Unificationists in good standing should expect to travel long distances frequently in order to attending meetings, worship services, workshops and speeches in order to remain spiritually connected to the church. From the bottom up, leaving aside for the moment the actual content and value (for the participants) of those activities, for the reasons stated previously this doesn't work well on the basis of travel costs, both in terms of time and money. In addition, from the perspective of those serving in missions and ministries, time spent away from the home mission field is time lost in developing effective outreach and in-reach.

If the current pattern doesn't work very well for the non-metropolitan Unificationist, are there alternatives which already exist or are potentially feasible? The next section of this article will enumerate ways in which this need for large format venues is already being met effectively as well as articulating additional ones which might be developed to complement the Family Church model in non-metropolitan areas.


Examples of Large Format Activities Possible in Non-metropolitan Areas

It is worth noting that in the nineteenth century, as the precedent for the mega-church developed in urban areas as the auditorium church, con­cur­rently the camp or revival meeting developed in rural America. Some cues can be taken from this latter model in looking at modern counterparts.

An additional observation about the activities listed below is that most of them are not actually new, but reinterpretations of ones utilized by Unificationists in the United States. Many of these activities are also utilized by other religionists, but not necessarily viewed as components of religious education and spiritual formation. It is the purposeful use of these various activities for spiritual formation and development which may give them new meaning and importance. Where Unificationist precedents exist, they are given. Otherwise precedents are provided from other religious and social traditions.

Actual and possible venues for these various activities will be described in the following section. These activities can be accommodated in various venues and some venues support multiple activities.

Before identifying specific activities, it is important to recognize that most of these will probably involve staying away from home for at least one night. The destination needs to be practical for overnight lodging. In addition to the travel time and cost, overnight lodging and food, participation in most events will also have a direct or indirect cost. If the participants are paying for all of this, the events need to be planned in advance, budgeted for, etc. In short, these events start to look more like a vacation or a mini-vacation in terms of their impact on family schedules and finances. This can and should be viewed as a positive aspect if the participants are going to gain from the worship, educational and/or fellowship experience.


These can range from national level events such as the Global Peace Festival held in Washington, D.C. in 2008 to picnics sponsored by individual families in rural areas. Sports festivals, arts festivals and many other kinds have been and will continue to be viable. Major Unificationist holidays may also be included in the category.

Intensive Religious Education

This refers to cognitive teaching/learning of theology, religious history and internal guidance. The traditional Divine Principle workshop is the most obvious example, but it is only one of many. It is assumed that basic teaching occurs in the Family Church environment. The Oakland, California, Belvedere, New York and Barrytown, New York Training Programs from the early to mid 1970's are the most famous examples of intensives.


These can range from the purely academic or professional meetings to conferences for capacity building for general membership. Examples of the latter category include relationship training, marriage enrichment and parenting workshops. The Educator's Conference is an example of an ongoing annual professional conference. Examples of conferences of the first category include the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences and the numerous conferences sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation.

Celebrations of Life Transitions

Per Unificationist teachings, there are three great transitions in life: birth, marriage and death (transition from the physical world to the spiritual world). Although birth and dedication ceremonies are usually private and family oriented, it is possible that in the future birthing centers may develop which will focus on both the spiritual and physical needs of the parents and children during this time of transition. Traditions around the Marriage Blessing continue to evolve, but this is typically an activity which requires a space larger than one's home. Presumably the celebration of the transition to the spiritual world and interment of the body will continue to follow societal norms, culminating in an event shared with the larger community and in a location other than one's home.

Wellness Training

Mind/body unity, a watchword of Unificationist ideals, will probably evolve into programs where spiritual practice will be integrated with physical training to achieve a healthy balance. Training will no doubt take many forms, and is likely to incorporate "best practices" from traditional Eastern types including yoga, martial arts, various forms of meditation, as well as Western forms such as counseling, aerobic, cardio-vascular and strength & conditioning training, among many others. The programs sponsored by the Peaceful Center, directed by Farley and Betsy Jones in Troy, New York, provide examples of these types of activity.[6]

Service and Service Learning

The Religious Youth Service was an early program which grew out of a pilgrimage by youth from various religious traditions to world religious sites. It was the first of many initiatives of the Unification Movement to integrate service with service learning. Experiential education by design has been a hallmark of the Founder's vision for many activities which he has been responsible for initiating. There is every reason to believe that these particular types of educational/service activities will continue to be a priority.

Higher Education

The Unification Theological Seminary was established as the first institution of higher education to be intentionally informed by the teachings of the Unification Movement. Clearly, the Founder has a vision to inspire a reformation of higher education. This vision will ultimately require a worldwide network of academic institutions, including undergraduate colleges and universities large enough to embrace many fields of study.

Summer Camps

Summer camp activities within the Unification Movement are diverse and decentralized. They were primarily developed from the ground up. The fact that most of these are open to Unificationist families from almost anywhere is a source for tremendous cross-fertilization and fun.


Large-Format Venues to Serve Non-metropolitan Populations

Does a model of non-metropolitan church activity suggest anything about the nature of spaces to be used for large format meetings? Before exploring this in detail, it is important to identify some recent developments within the Unification Movement in urban areas in the U.S. and Korea which may have impact non-metropolitan areas in the future. Within the past few years in the United States some of our national leaders have promoted the idea that the Unification Movement needs cathedrals or at least a national cathedral in the United States in the near future. Although there has been a renaming of one existing facility to reflect this vision, that doesn't seem to be the focus as our current national President, Rev. In Jin Moon, as she moves forward with developing a vibrant, mega-church type service in New York City. Concurrently, the Founders' youngest son, Rev. Hyung Jin Moon, has been commissioned to create a Temple in Seoul, Korea. This has been described as a temple of the world's religions and as intended to embrace various religious traditions and articulate some shared common spiritual practices. In a recent sermon, Rev. Hyung Jin Moon described the current effort to renovate a major building in Seoul, Korea as a "growth stage" structure (i.e., not the ultimate expression of the idea).[7] Hence, it will be some time before the "completion stage" facility will be designed and built. In summary, it is not clear if elements of either the national cathedral, the Lovin' Life Ministry venue at the Manhattan Center or the Temple in Seoul can or even should be incorporated into the modest venues in non-metropolitan areas.

For activities of infrequent occurrence, renting large format venues may be more practical (as long as they can be scheduled in advance) than buying and/or building them. This begs the question of what is permanent for the Unification Movement and what is transitional. The Founder has expressed that certain practices of faith, including the recitation of the Family Pledge and the reading of Hoon Dok Hae, are permanent, but both of these are better accommodated in a small-format venue, probably in members' homes.

If one thinks about the needs of people and families who may join in a Hoon Dok Family church environment, in which they affiliate with the Unification Movement (perhaps without ever experiencing a traditional workshop) and wish to focus on raising an ideal family, the base level education is probably going to be comprised of two components: character education and family education. Although the curricula for these may be provided within the walls of a traditional church building, there is no particular advantage to doing so and some real disadvantages; First of all, much of this education is likely to be experiential and centered on family relationships. By contrast, traditional church buildings are often rather other worldly, by design. High church (Roman Catholic, Anglican) buildings mostly articulate and reinforce theology and liturgy. Mainstream Protestant churches vary more, but many of them aspire to High church standards and borrow heavily from them. In any event, these norms of Christian ecclesiastical architecture are largely driven by theological precepts which are quite different from those promoted by Unificationism. What would Jesus say? It's like putting new wine in old wineskins-not a good idea.

Secondly, building traditional-looking churches doesn't help to "brand" Unificationism as offering something unique and qualitatively better than traditional Christian practice. Devout Unificationists are largely bullish about the core teachings, tepid about the ways in which they are practiced and decidedly cool about the way these teachings are communicated to non-Unificationists. This issue of branding needs to be considered very carefully before the Unification Movement invests in new structures which inevitably will become interpreted as icons.

The following venues, none of which are traditionally identified as religious, are potentially quite flexible and as such, more likely to be used a greater amount of the time.

Conference Center

This could be anything from a resort inn to a conference hotel. The Unification Movement owns some facilities of the upper end of this category, and individual members own and manage facilities at the lower end:

  • Festivals, Intensive Religious Education, Conferences, Wellness Training


Wellness Center

Probably the best known and least understood precedent of this category is the YMCA. Its original purpose was to provide a wholesome environment for spiritual and physical development of young people. Membership was intended to be affordable. At the opposite end of the spectrum are luxury spas. There seems to be tremendous potential for overlap between these and Conference Centers. In addition to numerous new age religious groups, Unificationists could easily brand themselves in the creation of wellness centers and link physical and spiritual well-being to our theological teachings:

  • Intensive Religious Education, Conferences, Celebrations of Life Transitions, Wellness Training


Summer Camp

State park systems, having camps which can be leased for a few weeks or for a season, are often much more cost effective than owning property, since they are underwritten by tax dollars. They range from primitive camp sites to ones with cabins, hot showers and full mess halls. The major downside is that one can't choose one's neighbors and they may be close. Even if a camp is owned by a church community, one still can't choose one's neighbors. These facilities are essentially usable for 3-seasons of the year. They are quite versatile:

  • Festivals, Intensive Religious Education, Conferences, Celebrations of Life Transitions, Wellness Training, Service and Service Learning, Summer Camps


Birthing Center

With the resurgence of midwifery, the number of birthing centers has grown significantly over the past few decades. This is a niche which some Unificationists might choose to fill, but obviously it would be tied to a personal calling in this area:

  • Celebrations of Life Transitions


Marriage Hall

We Unificationists are still defining and contextualizing the Blessing of marriage. Our ceremonies, in which multiple couples take their vows if not unique, are unusual. These traditions may change further and local Blessings may become the norm. Since this ceremony is central to our belief about absolution of original sin, the manner in which we conduct these ceremonies and the spaces in which they are performed will probably have increased significance over time. Creating environments which both reaffirm the coming together of two families in the marriage and on the other hand acknowledge the beauty and power of multiple couple ceremonies is a paradox yet to be resolved:

  • Celebrations of Life Transitions


Ascension Hall

From the National Won Jeon Shrine in Washington, D.C. to a local funeral home, these are venues Unificationists need to understand in order to help families during this life transition. Ultimately, Unificationist attitudes towards spiritual life can and should inform the creation of such facilities:

  • Celebrations of Life Transitions


University Campus

Most universities are small worlds by definition, with teaching facilities, chapels, conference facilities, sports fields and recreation facilities. For those engaged in campus ministry, their local campus can offer tremendous resources for various types of activities:

  • Higher Education, Conferences, Festivals, Intensive Religious Education, Celebrations of Life Transitions, Wellness Training, Service and Service Learning


The Unification Theological Seminary at the Barrytown Campus has proven time and time again to be an invaluable resource for the Unification Community. Even though the "Unification imprint" is not strong on the built environment there, the sheer beauty and peacefulness of the campus is something that few people miss.

Peace Embassy

Although the intended uses for a Peace Embassy are none too clear, it appears to be a flexible venue, something like a large house. Although probably neither a non-metropolitan venue nor one found in the United States at all, it is included because it might serve as a long distant partner for some locally organized programs:

  • Service and Service Learning, Conferences


Possible Impediments to Utilizing New Venues

Commonly Held Assumptions about Church Authority and Structure

Since the Divine Principle establishes a schema for salvation which is predicated on God's election of a central figure to move the Providence forward, it seems only natural that our church would reflect this in its structure. Authority, from the Founder to the individual member or family, is frequently diagrammed as a branching pyramid with the Founder at the top transmitting authority to Continental Directors, National Leaders, State Leaders and finally City leaders. This is not unlike church authority traditions found in many Christian denominations. Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox[8], Russian Orthodox and even many mainline Protestant denominations have similar structures.

By contrast, over the past three decades the Unification Movement has seen a number of developments initiated by the Founder which seem to work in ways quite independent of this traditional model of church governance. First there was the Home Church initiative, in which individuals were directed to take responsibility for 360 homes in the neighborhood. Another was the Hometown movement, which was similar to the Home Church model except with the introduction of the concept of a member assuming the role as a "tribal messiah" to his extended family and neighbors. Then there is the distribution of the Blessing or at least the administration of the rite of Holy Wine. If one views this as a sacrament, and if the directive implies that any member in good standing can administer this sacrament, then the Unification movement has reaffirmed a universal priesthood in a manner more commonly found in less hierarchically structured denominations such as churches related to the Anabaptist Movement. In some of these, ordination in the conventional sense is replaced by election of ministers by the general membership, and thus the role of "priest" is one which can rotate among peers.

More recently, the Founder has empowered Central Blessed Families to match their own children. Prior to this, church tradition affirmed that God worked through the Founder in a unique way to facilitate the matching process. Similarly, in exhorting Blessed Families to pray in their own names as Central Blessed Families, the founder empowered these families based on the concept that for those who have received the Marriage Blessing from the True Parents there are no intermediaries between them and God.

The cumulative affect of these changes is the articulation of a paradigm which both reaffirms grace received from God through the Founders in the form of the Marriage Blessing and makes no reference to intermediaries, nor does it reference the Founders as being responsible beyond the administration of the Blessing. In short, the structure implied instead of being deeply pyramidal is extremely flat. The individual couple in the process of accepting the Blessing and choosing to live by the precepts of the Family Pledge become central figures in their own right.

Although reviewing the developments described above may seem to be restating the obvious to many Unificationists, collectively they suggest a possible trajectory for the movement. In this regard, it is in non-metropolitan areas, where the traditional hierarchical structure has little impact on day-to-day spiritual maintenance, that families are more keenly aware that they are responsible for their own spiritual lives and more apt to embrace peer-to-peer support. For most this is a practical necessity that is called for even despite deeply ingrained beliefs about "correctness" hierarchical church authority; it is not due to any overt reaction against that church authority.

Implications for Non-urban Regional Organization Strategies

In non-metropolitan areas, peer-to-peer support among Unificationists has already proven that it can be strong. It is often the only way for individuals and families to successfully provide activities which promote church values, priorities and traditions, whether it is ministerial outreach, family values or spiritual education seminars, church holidays, etc.

In the past, Unificationist large format worship has tended to be a zero-sum game, in which a large format setting trumps the smaller, local one and the local activity is cancelled at the time of the large format one. In the recent inauguration of the large format service in the Manhattan Center, the organizers have promoted a promising change, in which local congregations were encouraged to maintain their services, especially for families with young children for which the large format would have been unworkable. This practical approach also reinforces consistency in the schedule of local services, which is critical to inviting new walk-in attendance.

From this example, small groups in remote areas can also learn; if large format attendance is to be encouraged and developed, it should not be to the detriment of local, family church activities. On a practical level, this means that people (and families) should take turns in attending large group activities and ensure that those who remain in the local venue have the resources to maintain local worship. This simple, but important point cannot be overemphasized.


Distributed Networks and Their Impact on New Initiatives

In a questionnaire distributed by the Blessed Family Association [BFA] in 2003, there was a series of questions on parameters which make attendance at events practical. These included distance, cost and whether organized activities for children were desirable or necessary. Out of approximately 2000 questionnaires circulated, 250 were returned and the responses in this area are quite telling.

Not surprisingly, the responses differed between people living in metropolitan versus non-metropolitan areas. Metropolitan members indicated a preference for shorter travel distances and a willingness to pay more for events, travel and lodging. Members from non-metropolitan areas were willing to travel further and generally not willing or able to pay as much as their more urban counterparts.

Few people in either group would consider traveling more than 400 miles to an event.[9] Ironically, the BFA was considering co-sponsoring a Family Day event in conjunction with the Global Peace Festival held in August 2008, even though the notion that everyone from all over the country would commit the resources to get together clearly was at odds with the BFA's own survey results. The event was cancelled, so it is unknown who would have actually attended, statistically speaking.

What can the national church leadership still learn from the BFA survey? If the national organization wants to have face to face contact with its membership, which is unevenly distributed throughout the entire United States, it needs to think about organizing events which are on a grid which is no larger than 800 miles, so that no one has to travel more than roughly 400 miles each way. The continental U.S. is approximately 3000 miles east to west and 1500 miles from north to south. If a grid of 800 miles from north to south and 700 from east to west is used, this would require 10 events to serve the members in a way which comes close to meeting their practical needs. A slightly finer and more realistic scaled grid would of 600 miles from north to south and 500 miles from east to west would call for 18 events. One needs to add to this the number the usually required venues to meet with members in metropolitan areas (New York, Boston, D.C., Chicago, L.A. San Francisco and Seattle).

Although certainly a step in the right direction, Rev. In Jin Moon's 2008-09 tour of the United States may have barely met the number of meetings dictated by the coarser grid. With the exception of statewide tours (which are usually brief, single event speeches followed by hurried meetings with locally gathered members) it is unlikely that the national leadership has ever taken its messages to the members in a way which was designed to be effective from a purely logistical perspective.

For example, the 2007 Amnesty Ceremony was a major disruption for people everywhere to attend, but especially so to those from non-metropolitan areas living at great distances from the events. To attend a meeting of this type on short notice is similar to attending to a family emergency, a funeral or a wedding.

Still, frequent directives/invitations are sent for all members to attend large format meetings in relatively few and distant venues. Given that full-family participation and frequent participation are infeasible, it stands to reason that representational and/or irregular participation are what will occur at best. In practical terms, our members and our leaders should not view the lack of this higher level of participation as a sign of disloyalty and should structure events with realistic expectations about levels and frequency of participation.

The above-mentioned Amnesty Ceremony is an example of a meeting which could be called "centralized." That is, everyone needed to be in the same place at the same time, per the design of the program. What might "decentralized" interaction look like?

For example, if there were an activity in Binghamton, rather than expecting that all the church families and their friends will (should) come, it would make more sense to suggest that representatives from the families in a 90 mile radius would benefit from attending this activity. That would mean practically inviting church members (and their guests) from Scranton, PA, to the south, Liberty, NY to the east, Alfred, NY to the west, Ithaca to the northwest and Syracuse to the north. Likewise, if a Central Blessed Family in Rochester, NY were hosting an event, they might be inviting participants from Buffalo to the west, Syracuse, to the east, Ithaca to the southeast, Alfred to the South and nobody to the north (middle of Lake Ontario). Finally, an event hosted in Syracuse might draw on members as far as Schenectady, NY to the east, Watertown to the north, Rochester to the west and Binghamton to the south.

As representatives attend these various programs, accidental and intentional interaction does occur and cross-fertilization of ideas and best practices as well. On the downside, the events are not as large and thus the number of serendipitous interactions is reduced when compared to the centralized events. On the upside, the network is fluid and more diverse and there are more opportunities to meet people who are not "the regulars" as compared to attending meetings which are constrained to an ecclesiastical jurisdiction. This is a form which supports loosely structured interactions on a peer-to-peer basis.

In such an environment, each family can choose to host, or not, based on their interests and needs. They can plan and promote their scheduled programs well in advance and thus increase the likelihood of success and minimize the potential for scheduling conflicts. People can specialize in events that they enjoy and do well. Instead of having a church center seeking to provide interesting programs all of the time, there is a network of families promoting interesting activities to which church and non-church friends may attend. Together, everyone contributes to a rich offering of interesting, spiritually nurturing activities. The Blessed Family website already has sufficient infrastructure to assist people in promoting their events and a large enough readership for families to find out about these events.

Over time, if families or groups of families choose to create unique programs which have an appeal beyond their local community, or if they choose to invest in the development of venues (such as described in previous sections), then they can develop market niches in relationship to and in coordination with people within practical travel distances.

ElderHostel, a not-for-profit association which specializes in promoting educational and recreational activities geared for older adults (middle-aged and seniors) has a similar "franchise" model, in which anyone can offer whatever programs they desire. By contrast, an undesirable franchise model would be McDonalds, which can only promise that you'll get the same fare from coast to coast (or around the world). Unificationists would benefit by creating the former type of network, in which individuation is promoted and celebrated.

Although it is the author's perception that the major disadvantage of worship patterns which depend on long travel distances is the amount of time spent in travel, there is no question that there are financial and environmental costs as well. What could be greener than developing and promoting worship patterns which have smaller carbon footprints than the current norms?



Given the current circumstances, rural areas can be assisted in some simple ways by organizing peer-to-peer networks (which they are doing). The national organization can take the lead; alternatively, the BFA or other membership-based organizations can do this job. Properly organized and promoted, members in non-metropolitan (and metropolitan) regions can have access to many choices for family education and also for educating the people to whom they are witnessing. Since the numbers of families in these remote areas are significant, it is critical that this organizational work take place in tandem with the development of new programs in urban areas. There are three specific ways a national organization can help:

1. Create a national online "magazine" or calendar (possibly through the BFA website) which publicizes and promote activities nationwide. Utilizing a uniform format and rating system-similar to that used in ElderHostel publications-would make it far simpler for people to scan the offerings and plan well in advance to attend.

2. Provide endorsement for distributed programs. This really costs nothing and would help to affirm the validity and vitality of such programs.

3. Sponsor specific programs and take them to an adequate number of venues reasonably distributed. This would mean 10 to 18 locations, not 3 to 5, per the BFA feedback received.

By their nature, institutions like to undertake large, earth-shaking projects. This is true for churches just as it is for universities. In his book, The Oregon Experiment, Christopher Alexander makes the case that the University of Oregon needed to embrace a project planning process which included budgets for a mix of big, medium and small projects.[10] His reasons for recommending this had to do with counteracting the tendency to focus on too few larger projects rather than a lot of smaller projects. The fact is that the larger projects are easier to manage. The problem is that a lot of work needs to occur at a finer grained level to keep institutions human in scale. It seems the same may be true for religious institutions. A steady diet of grandiose projects does not create a sense of humanity. A mix which includes small ones as well as large ones helps to restore balance to the community.

In an era in which Blessed Central Families are invited to pray in their own names, can match their own children and are commissioned to be messiahs to their neighborhoods, it seems entirely consistent that a distributed network like the one described here can work and might actually flourish. Informal interaction in many non-metropolitan areas already occurs in ways described in this article. If these modes of communication, cooperation and support were to be embraced by our church leadership as viable and commendable, that endorsement would probably serve as a stimulus to its increased utility and success and stimulate church growth at the edges. Don't forget the edges; it is where growth occurs!

Over time, a distributed network such as this could offer diverse opportunities for education, fellowship and recreation. It could evolve into a paradigm for a new religious practice; one which is not tied to a single iconic building type for identity and gathering, but links numerous healthy, life-transforming activities which could enrich and invigorate the lives of Unificationists as well as the larger community.



[1] Chad Hoover, "An Alternative Unificationist Family Church Model: Where, Why and How It Works," Journal of Unification Studies 9 (2008): 1-14.

[2] In this context, "regular basis" is defined as either weekly or monthly.

[3] A neighborhood-based small group venue should be significantly more accessible, a half-hour maximum travel distance seems like a reasonable benchmark.

[4] In the author's opinion, if one is committed to outreach within one's own community, any large-format worship destination which is more than a 2-hour drive, each way, is infeasible.

[5] Business Plan Barrytown College - Draft 1.pdf. Unification Theological Seminary Office of the President, February 25, 2005, unpublished, p. 8.

[6] The website for the Peaceful Center is: http://www.peacefulcenter.net

[7] Hyung Jin Moon, Presentations Regarding the Construction of the Growth Stage Level of Cheon Bok Goong (Unification World Temple), http://tworiversvip.com, accessed April 18, 2009.

[8] Perhaps it is more than a coincidence that the word "metropolitan" so frequently utilized in this paper was originally an Eastern Orthodox term referring to the head of an ecclesiastical province.

[9] The Blessed Family Association questionnaire was tabulated in early 2004. A summary of the results was posted in an article on the BFA website dated June 17, 2009. Electronic copies of the summary are also available upon request from the author. The document is BFApresent_2004-03-09.pdf, pp 45-49

[10] Christopher Alexander, et al, The Oregon Experiment (New York, Oxford University Press, 1975).