Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 9, 2008

An Alternative Unificationist Family Church Model: Where, Why and How It Works

Chad Hoover
Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 9, 2008

During the past year, the Unification Movement in the United States has conducted a series of focus groups, called “Witnessing Summits,” in order to study best practices and to brainstorm about ways in which the movement might become more effective in its outreach. Out of these meetings, there has developed a consensus that there are two specific audiences which the movement should try to reach. The first of these is a traditional one for new religious movements; young people ages 18 to 35. The second is families. The two groups are generally viewed as having different interests and needs.

This paper will provide the background and some detail about a model for both outreach and inreach which focuses on the two groups, young adults and families, concurrently. For Unificationists living in non-metropolitan areas in the United States today, it is almost impossible to maintain the infrastructure for two separate programs. Thus identifying ways to bring these groups together for spiritual development and fellowship is a practical necessity. If this model can work in non-metropolitan areas, it may also suggest new opportunities for synergies between young adult outreach and family outreach in metropolitan areas.

For over two decades my wife and I have been developing an approach to ministry and mission on campus at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York. This development has largely been driven by adaptation, not theory. At first, we tried to apply models which were then in common use by the Unification Church and by CARP, the collegiate student outreach organization affiliated with the Unification Church. Over time we observed that many aspects of these models were not applicable to our situation. Gradually, we experimented and found different ways to be more effective in outreach and inreach. More recently, as we observed that these old models were also being discarded in other locations, we realized that some of our discoveries and methods might be instructive for others in different mission and ministry environments.

Ironically, what began as a fine-tuning to meet local needs on the Cornell campus has resulted in the most promising inreach and outreach activities of the Unification Movement in Central New York. This is not boasting but only a reflection of the specific difficulties of maintaining and developing Unificationist activities in remote if not rural areas in the United States.

The first sections of this paper will examine some commonly held assumptions which we found problematic to our work. The last sections describe the model we’ve developed and explain why we think the model may be applicable to conditions beyond Ithaca.

Critiquing the Status Quo

Commonly Held Assumptions about Mission Fields

It is stating the obvious that the United States is neither Japan nor Korea. Still, these two countries continue to be the ones which our American movement looks toward for successful models. This is because the church has been established longer in these countries than the U.S. Also the United States was missionized by Unificationists from these countries and our senior leaders until very recently have been almost exclusively selected from Japanese and Korean Unificationist missionaries.

It is an open question whether missionizing in this country has been or should be more contextualized. This paper focuses on a small component of contextualization which largely has to do with the venue, rather than the content of what is communicated about Unificationism. Several standards need to be defined. In this paper, when referring to Hoon Dok Hae format worship services the content is restricted to the published and unpublished transcripts of speeches given by the Founder. Principle Education refers to the Outlines of the Principle (Levels I through IV) and the Exposition of the Principle as the authoritative texts from which lectures or presentations are derived.

Although venue may sound insignificant relative to content, it is not, as will be shown. Demographics and geography may be easily overlooked, but they can have great impact on venue choices for worship and spiritual education. The geographic and demographic differences between the United States, Korea and Japan are quite significant Simply put, taken as a whole, the United States is much less dense in terms of population than either of these countries and its land mass is more than an order of magnitude greater. In addition, the number of members in the United States is commonly identified as around 3,000 active families. In Japan the number is approximately 10 times as large. Korean membership is harder to gauge because affiliation is less clearly defined, but is generally acknowledged to be somewhat smaller than Japan’s. Thus national population densities, physical distances and church membership numbers all are factors which are seldom addressed when discussing mission and ministry placement, but they should be.

When leaders and paradigms are transplanted from Japan or Korea to metropolitan areas in the United States, the perceived population density differences are not very pronounced. In fact, some metropolitan areas, such as New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles or San Francisco no doubt have densities which exceed some of the less densely populated mission areas of Japan or Korea.

From a pragmatic perspective, leadership which is trying to “grow” a church might simply take the perspective that the most fertile mission fields are to be found in metropolitan areas and that the majority of efforts and resources should be placed there in order to maximize growth. As reasonable as this may seem on the surface, there are several factors which need to be considered before perpetuating an outreach approach which doesn’t work well in urban areas and doesn’t work at all in the less densely populated areas of the country.

First, the Founder has persistently directed that there shall be mission activities in all 50 States. Additionally, in the mid-80’s there was an initiative to create a minimum of 5 church centers in each state. For less populated states this was extremely difficult and by necessity had to include some very small communities. Even though many of those satellite centers closed, maintaining a presence in every State in the Union has remained a goal of the Unification Church and its successor organizations for decades.

Second, the Founder has also encouraged members to return to their home towns. Although for many families this was viewed as a “mission”, something to be accomplished and followed by a return to previous and/or more pressing providential activities. For others it has become a permanent move and has profoundly affected personal, family, religious and economic activities. Although the majority of Unificationists still live in metropolitan areas, the sum total of these various initiatives to decentralize has meant that well over 40% of the membership live outside of the metropolitan areas described above.[1] This is a marked difference from the early 1980’s when roughly 90% of our membership in the United States resided in metropolitan areas.

A third reason for outreach beyond metropolitan regions has to do with the priority of establishing a broad-based network of Unificationist faith-based organizations on campuses throughout the United States. This priority is viewed as important not only for outreach but also for influencing the direction of higher education in this country. The Founder has talked frequently about the importance of universities as the places where the next generation of leaders will be prepared and therefore critically important for a “revolution of heart” which would promote absolute values as an antidote to moral relativism.

No one can deny that there are many excellent universities and colleges in metropolitan areas. What may be easily overlooked is the fact that historically, despite the lack of local constituencies to support them, a great number of institutions of higher education have chosen to locate outside of cities. This is no accident. The American college campus is a unique social invention and is largely guided by the religious convictions of the academic and civic leaders of past centuries. Why would they intentionally choose sites for colleges and universities which are remote and largely rural? Land acquisition costs may be one reason, but it does not begin to explain the phenomenon of planting many of these schools rurally. If that were so, the wealthiest schools would remain in urban centers, while only poorer schools would have to resort to the countryside. If one looks at the etymology of the word “campus”, it is from the Latin for “field”. It becomes clear that remoteness from cities was viewed as ideal for the spiritual and intellectual formation of young people. Simply put, rural locations were favored because people believed that the students would be protected from the corrupting influences of urban life.[2] Thus to create a network of college-affiliated Unificationist organizations today, it is important to include non-urban campuses as part of an overall strategy because they are disproportionately significant and influential.

In addition to the counter-intuitive quantity of colleges and universities with small-town and rural addresses in the United States, it is important to understand some qualitative differences of these schools as compared to their urban counterparts. As originally intended, they are somewhat isolated. When compared to those attending a commuter school or matriculating at an urban campus, the students in rural areas or small towns are more likely to depend on friendships among their peers and will spend their free time looking for interesting things to do on or near campus. There are few outside distractions -- again by design. From the perspective of selecting locations for effective outreach, it seems obvious that getting the attention of students in a non-urban environment is no harder and probably easier to do than in an urban one.

For all of the reasons described above (state-level outreach, hometown outreach and campus outreach) the Unification Movement has not and really cannot abandon non-metropolitan areas. Not abandoning and promoting are not the same, however. A top-down organization (the Unification movement still largely is) seldom gets it right from the bottom-up perspective. Strategies initiated in urban areas often get promoted which don’t necessarily work in sparsely populated areas. To take a simple example, if one holds the belief that a norm of membership will include attendance at a worship service on Sunday, in a metropolitan area knowing where the church building is, the time of the service and then attending the service is a fairly straightforward process. Not so in rural areas. How far should one drive? To which location does one go if there is more than one within driving distance? If, by chance the one designated by the church hierarchy is more distant than another (part of another district or region), where does one go? This leaves aside any questions about personal preferences, which may also be a factor for some members.

Living at significant distances from other church members makes it impractical to participate in large format worship activities except on a very occasional basis. In addition to the actual monetary cost of transportation, the time commitment becomes overwhelming if one needs to commute weekly more than 2 hours in one direction to participate in church activities. For the purposes of this paper a 2-hour threshold will be used to define the difference between non-urban and urban membership in the Unification Movement in the United States.

Recently, through the Witnessing Summits, there has been some recognition on the part of church leaders that different forms of worship and fellowship need to be explored within the Unification Movement at this time in order to promote church growth. Among these, “Hoon Dok Family Church” (recently renamed “Family Fellowship”) and “Small Groups” continue to be viewed as promising. On the other hand, these have been commonly viewed as adjunct to and subordinate to the large group meeting -- presumably where the “real” spiritual formation occurs. Thus small group meetings are held at a different time from the large-format Sunday services so as not to create scheduling conflicts. It appears that the thinking about this is largely derived from mega-church models, where the pairing of small groups and large groups makes sense and is the engine for growth of the community of faith.

With respect to the 40 percent of Unificationists who live in non-urban areas, who cannot practically attend a large format church service on a regular basis, the promotion of a model dependent on the large format setting leaves a huge gap.

It is possible to develop small group settings in both non-urban and urban areas which are not dependent on the large group format for spiritual formation and sustenance. Not surprisingly, when one investigates spiritual development in the United States in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, there are plenty of examples of fully functioning churches which were small, rural and decentralized. Can a church whose middle name is “Unification” learn anything from these models without the risk of creating an environment which will lead to schism? It may be possible. Two factors which contribute to this possibility are improved communication and the extent to which the Unification Movement has codified scripture.

Commonly Held Assumptions about Spiritual Formation

Before examining new models for small groups, it will be useful to take a closer look at some of the frequently expressed assumptions about spiritual formation in our movement which many believe are theologically derived. If these assumptions are incorrect and the problems which they create are understood, it may be possible to move beyond them and thus become more effective in both outreach and inreach.

By the mid-1970’s, the Unification Movement in the U.S. had transitioned to a sub-culture which remained viable for about 15 years. This sub-culture was predicated on removing people from the larger society in order to further their spiritual growth. The primary means for doing this was the creation of several types of intentional communities, primarily mobile teams, “centers”[3] and workshop sites. The result was that almost all interaction with the larger society by converts was through the filter of representing the Unification Church in one manner or another rather than through personal and familial relations, socializing in the workplace or association with peer groups.

Prior to the early 1970’s, this was not the case in the United States. Many Unificationists held full-time jobs and/or went to school. They maintained active spiritual lives and focused on church-related activities when not engaged in work or school. Gradually people were encouraged to move into centers and ultimately to resign from their full-time jobs in order to participate in full-time missionary work.

People were invited “up to the Farm”, “over to the Center”, “to attend a Workshop” all in an effort to “Separate from the Satanic Culture” and allow participants to experience a taste of the “Kingdom of Heaven”.

Upon joining, members were directed to accomplish a “Formula Course”, the theological purpose of which was to establish a personal Foundation of Faith (the external aspect of this was to make a material offering to God) and a Foundation of Substance (witness and obtain at least three spiritual children) as a Foundation to Receive the Messiah (propitiation through the sacrament of Marriage Blessing).

MFT, by definition, was a mobile or nomadic lifestyle, in which it was physically impractical to maintain an ongoing relationship with people in the “outside world”, including family members and friends (unless they had also joined the Unification Church).

After completing the first component of the formula course, members were to transition to another intentional community, the Church Center. In the Center, members were expected to participate in full-time missionary activities, which included outreach (witnessing), fundraising (to support center life and usually the costs of maintaining a workshop program) and other support activities -- lecturing and general affairs (maintenance of the facilities) and bookkeeping. People were discouraged from getting “outside” jobs; for fear that they would lose their lives of faith or at the very least severely retard their spiritual development.

In all of these activities, there were few pretensions of normalcy. In fact, crazy or extreme dedication was usually rewarded as a demonstration of faithfulness.

Only with the advent of the mass wedding and formation of nuclear family units at the time of the 2075 Couple Blessing in 1982, did the movement in the United States begin to experience a transformation in which members transitioned to activity within the larger community. Center life, workshop activity and mobile fundraising teams all dwindled.

Challenging the Traditional CARP Model

The U.S. model for CARP had its origins in an anti-communist, college-age youth group imported from Japan. This same model from Japan came to dominate church center life patterns in the United States from the mid 70’s onward.[4] This pair of models was prevalent from the mid 70’s through the 80’s in the U.S. One distinction between the church and CARP was that full-time study at the University level was tolerated within CARP, but was largely discouraged if one joined a church center. Even within CARP the preferred route was for students to take classes part-time, so that they might focus more fully on the spiritual activities of center life.

Although the Street Witnessing/Center Life/MFT model was quite effective in achieving church growth during that period, the same cannot be said for CARP. CARP’s ability to attract students to join the Unification Movement was never strong. The only period in which CARP in the United States experienced significant growth was when it focused on street witnessing which was virtually identical to that undertaken by the Unification Church. Nevertheless, this model for campus outreach has been upheld until recently as the dominant one. Why is this so, even though it has never been effective in this country?

The model from which it was derived was hugely successful in Japan. Since Japanese CARP was the primary model for church growth in Japan, it has been the base camp training ground for numerous waves of Japanese missionaries prior to their arrival in the United States. When they have arrived here and have seen other models at play, they’ve concluded that these needed to be “fixed” and placed in alignment with the correct and successful Japanese model. Regardless of these numerous “corrections”, CARP has never taken off in the United States, in large part because of the inappropriateness of the model relative to the American university system.

The primary difference in the situation between Japan and the U.S. is rooted in the difference between the educational systems in the United States and in many other parts of the world. It is well understood internationally that the United States lags well behind other countries in the level of learning which is achieved through completion of high school. Alternatively, United States universities have been and continue to be the gold standard for higher education in the world. Students in U.S. universities are expected to apply themselves and work much, much harder than they did in high school.

In most Asian countries, including Japan, the cultural norm is that students must work very hard in elementary, middle and throughout high school to do the very best that they can on what are essentially placement exams. These exams determine a) where a student can attend University and b) what their social/career track will be. In one sense, the hard work is over by the end of high school and undergraduate education is relatively easy, when compared to university curricula in the United States.

On a practical level, this meant that undergraduate students who joined CARP in Japan even if they were full-time students could also fully participate in center life (including fund-raising and witnessing) and still perform sufficiently well to graduate from their universities.

By comparison, relatively few students in the United States can handle maintaining a full academic load and center life simultaneously. There are exceptions, but there is no question that time is a limiting factor. Given this reality and three decades of failed collegiate outreach strategic planning, it is clear that aggressively exploring other modes of combining the pursuit of higher education, spiritual formation and participation in outreach on campus is well past due.

Alternative Models

An Alternative Model for CARP in the United States

This section will provide detail about a paradigm which is in use currently at Cornell University and Ithaca College. It has developed over a 25-year period out of practical necessity and pre-dates the proclamation of the Family Fellowship model. Although it was developed under the auspices of the CARP organization, to avoid confusion with the traditional CARP model, this model will be called “Campus Fellowship” in this paper.

The failed CARP model which was predominant in the Unificationist witnessing/center life/MFT model of the 70’s and 80’s, can easily be described as based on a Christ against Culture paradigm as defined by H. Richard Niebuhr.[5] This paradigm has been abandoned for empirical reasons in the church arena, and this fact should pave the way for letting go of the same model for CARP if it is truly unworkable.

Before taking a careful look at a campus model related to Family Fellowship, it will be helpful to examine how Family Fellowship may differ if viewed in the context of a non-metropolitan church community. If there is no “church” (building) to bring people to, then individuals and their families are the church. Then externally, the Family Fellowship (Church) family looks very much like its neighbors. It is within culture.

Turning again to H. Richard Neihbur, can the Family Fellowship model be viewed as “Christ above Culture”[6] and if so, might it be appropriate and more effective than the “Christ against Culture” models used in the past? The answer to both questions is yes. Clearly, recent changes in leadership structure and the directives to develop Family Fellowship suggest a sea change towards a church model that is much more embedded in the dominant culture without being subsumed by it.

In this model of church formation, the church members are empowered to “think globally and act locally,” to borrow a counter-culture mantra. If individuals and families are to be effective locally, first of all they must develop relationships with their neighbors and recognize that these neighbors are central to their “mission field”. The implications are both frightening and amazing. It means that a primary way to witness to one’s faith is to be exemplary and consistent in one’s attitude towards one’s neighbors. It also means that members can no longer “shake the dust from their sandals” and move on, if people do not respond or they react negatively. In such an environment going deeper and continuing to find new and effective ways to serve one’s neighbors is required if the neighbors are ever to become open to engaging in dialogue much less to listening to a new revelation of God’s Word.

It is also possible to think about branding in a new way -- how do Unificationists make themselves positively distinct while also “fitting in”? Every family who engages in Family Fellowship activity will have to find a way to create a personal “brand” -- they as a family should be identifiable within their community as exemplary and lovable through their ability to live for the sake of others and their exhibition of a true standard of love. This is not the kind of activity that can be or will be directed “top down” by our church hierarchy. They are in the process of proclaiming and empowering our Unificationist families to take up this commission, but they cannot do it for individual families.

If one applies this model to the campus environment and student life, several parallels become apparent. First, recognizing that one’s friends, classmates and those who live on one’s dorm floor constitute a “mission field” is a paradigm shift. This is scary for the same reasons that neighbors constituting a “mission field” is in the Family Fellowship model. One has to be exemplary if one wants people to see one as a role model. It means one must balance an acceptable standard of performance in academic study and one’s ability to love and serve others from God’s perspective. There is no place to escape in terms of maintaining morality and standards. This may make one unpopular with those who do not adhere to the same standards. Alternatively, by visibly maintaining a high standard, one can become a role model for others who also aspire to this. If one lives in an open environment, people will come to know a person’s character and standards. This approach to outreach is diametrically opposed to the notion that our Unificationist students can only have power in numbers and by living in a center environment. The underlying assurance of center life is a type of inreach in the form of maintenance of sexual purity. If this assurance can only be guaranteed by separation from the larger community, it will also cut off many opportunities to relate positively to that community.

With respect to our second generation, assuming that they have been raised in the United States and have attended public schools, if they have remained sexually abstinent through high school, this indicates a high level of understanding and commitment to Unificationist teachings with respect to the importance of sexual purity. This is unlikely to be undone in college by the removal of parental control, if that is the only factor. On the other hand, if a student is seriously questioning their commitment to the teachings of Unificationism, specifically with respect to sexual purity before marriage, it is unlikely that they will opt for center life, even if it is available.

If one accepts the possibility that the traditional Unificationist center should not be the focal point for spiritual and social life for a Unificationist college student, then what is? There are three possibilities. First, there is no physical center. Students gather in various locations including student housing or a specific place on campus for “gathering and reading”. Second, there is a more traditional Unificationist church or chapel off campus. Third, there is the home of a Unificationist family close to campus, which is available for meetings and worship. It is worth examining the pros, cons and probabilities of the existence of each of these three.

If there is no physical center, the belief system of the practitioner can be easily viewed as insubstantial, remote or at least marginal relative to the larger society. This may be only the perception of non-Unificationists or it may also affect the faith of Unificationists who are uncertain about their faith. In short, if other religious traditions have a “presence” on or near campus, and Unificationism does not, it may not be viewed as on parity with other traditions. Marginalization is probable. On the other hand, the time and costs associated with maintaining a center are not a factor in this model. Practitioners can focus on spiritual formation and providing service to the larger community, unencumbered by maintaining a building or space.

In the second case if there is a Unificationist chapel or larger church building near campus, this can provide a sense of substantiality as well as access to a community of faith beyond the campus. Two obvious distractions are that this may tend to make Unificationism look externally very similar to traditional Christian practice. It may make it actually harder for prospective members to understand the uniqueness of Unificationism initially. In this respect, a traditional Unificationist center has the advantage of providing an environment which is not perceived as a traditional religious one. The existence of a chapel or a church building is a large financial commitment and typically cannot be undertaken by a very small community of faith. If the maintenance of the building becomes a burden there are potentially three downsides: 1) the building will not be adequately maintained and will thus detract from its effective use as a place to communicate about the immanence of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, 2) maintenance of the building will consume all or more than all of available resources, both in terms of time and money, will thus contribute to debt and leave few resources for outreach and 3) ultimately, if the costs for maintenance are disproportionate, a local or centralized church authority may push for the elimination of the facility during a downward economic cycle. A side note: if the church community is widespread, perhaps over a metropolitan area, the nearest church building may not be close to any specific campus at all. If travel time to and from campus is large, it reduces the likelihood that the college students (and their friends) will desire to participate on a regular basis.

Synergies between Campus Fellowship and Family Fellowship

The third case, in which a Unificationist family lives close to campus and the family chooses to make its home available for meetings and worship, represents a convergence of Unificationist Family Fellowship and “Campus Fellowship” as an alternative to the traditional CARP model. In this third case, a Unificationist family would make a long-term, part-time volunteer commitment to providing a nurturing spiritual environment to Unificationist students (and their friends) by moving to a college community, if they do not already live there. Ideally, they would choose to live within walking distance of the college or university to which the family seeks to provide ministry.

This convergence can be beneficial both for the students and the ministering family in a number of ways. First, for the students this provides “a home away from home”. Especially for first year college students, the desirability of a visit to a home environment for fellowship and an occasional home cooked meal should not be underestimated.

Second, it showcases the very environment which Unificationists uphold as the building block of the Kingdom of Heaven, the family. Increasingly in the United States, the two-parent family is not the norm and modeling this is the essential experiential complement to talking about it.

Third, the financial costs to provide ministry in this way are minimal beyond the commitment to maintain a household within a college community. Thus funding by the students (and their families) or an external funding source is not necessary. This promotes a sustainable campus ministry independent of funding cycles.

Fourth, there are potentially great synergies which can develop between the college students and families in the local community as they develop their faith together. The home environment is good for the students, and the vitality of college-aged young people can also be fun and inspiring to church families and other families with whom they’d like to share the vision and practice of Unificationism. It works both ways. Ultimately, this should contribute significantly to church growth among young singles on college campuses as well as families living within college communities.

Fifth, from the perspective of a campus ministering family, locating in a college town may be a desirable choice both in terms of quality of life and employment. College towns in the U.S. are some of the most attractive places to live and work, especially if one’s income is modest. There is no such thing as a recession-proof community, but college towns in which private universities are major employers benefit from their endowments buffering against economic fluctuations. Cultural resources and public schools also tend to be strong in college towns in large part because of the indirect influence of the universities.

Sixth, although not a career path for the ministering couple, it is a significant and important form of lay ministry. One of the beauties of this model is its simplicity and flexibility. Any faithful Unificationist family can fulfill this role, but it is much more likely to be successful if undertaken as a family ministry, not an individual one. Everyone can and will approach such a ministry a little differently. If one or both of a couple is college educated it is a plus, since the mission field is the university environment. Some UTS MRE graduates may consider this a desirable area of ministry; one in which their spiritual and intellectual resources from their graduate studies can be utilized, especially if they’ve made career and professional choices in areas other than professional ministry.


There is a potential convergence between Family Fellowship and CARP, if the Campus Fellowship model is applied. It so happens that the natural venue for Family Fellowship, a Unificationist family’s home, is also an ideal one for college student spiritual formation, if that home is located near a campus.

This is a venue which both reinforces the central tenet of Unificationist teaching (that the family is the building block of the Kingdom of Heaven) and provides a practical and cost-effective way to strengthen support for Unificationist students on college campuses. This has been largely overlooked because of the prevalent assumptions about the absolute desirability, if not necessity, of providing center environments for outreach to college students.

Should CARP and Family Fellowship leadership partner in promoting this paradigm shift, it will not only serve to provide better support for our second generation in college and Unificationist families in college communities, it will also provide a sustainable outreach environment, both for students on campus as well as singles and families living in and near college communities.

Finally, if the proposed forms of restructuring Unificationist worship, fellowship, education and service to college campuses can be implemented systematically, the Unification Movement could be in a much stronger position to assume a Christ Transforming Cultural[7] role. This could begin around college campuses and ultimately contribute towards positive change within the society at large.


[1]The Blessed Family Association maintains an online directory Data were derived from a state-by-state analysis.

[2]Paul Venable Turner, Campus: an American Planning Tradition, p. 4, paragraph 1.

[3]The typical Unificationist center was either a missionary residence or a non-residence to which guests were invited to study Unificationist teachings. Moving into a center was viewed as a demonstration of faith, and a precursor to joining the church as a full-time missionary.

[4]Most of the members who joined the Unification Movement in Japan in the late 60’s and 70’s did so through CARP and that the Unification Church was relatively invisible.

[5]H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 68.

[6]Ibid., p. 122.

[7]Ibid., p. 194. 

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