Congregational Life - Membership
Congregations seeking to grow membership and the ability to serve its members and the wider community often express concerns regarding the “right way” to approach guests and visitors: how to be truly respectful as we welcome them, creating an experience and environment truly reflective of our appreciation for diversity. (How not to “scare them off”).
Following is my list of generic suggestions found helpful to congregations seeking to thoughtfully and effectively engage with guests/visitors - to manifest hospitality and enrich existing and future membership. This is not an exhaustive list, and it does reflect many of the things already being done well by most congregations.
This list is offered with the hope that it will foster reflection and prompt open discussion -- raising congregational awareness and sensitivity, thereby empowering members to continue to participate in the health and growth of their congregations and this Faith!
ENRICHING & GROWING MEMBERSHIP
When congregations seek to enrich and grow their membership, it’s usually because they are enthusiastic about who they are: their own vitality and ability to respond to the real concerns of their members and the wider community! This is an exciting place to be, but it also offers some challenges. In particular, how to live out that vitality so that newcomers can experience it without feeling pressured (and inadvertently disrespected).
Some first-time visitors enter the experience with a strong UU background, ready to engage in conversation about their religious journey and already pretty sure that they’ll be joining up soon. Other first-time visitors enter the experience with great caution (with or without a religious background), preferring to remain observers for the duration of several visits, until they feel comfortable enough to engage more directly. In any case, it’s important for all members, friends and guests to feel warmly welcomed, accepted and supported -- on their own terms.
Below are some ideas that could help members and friends support the health and growth of their congregation. You are invited to read, reflect, discuss, and amend these suggestions. What’s already being done? What could be added? How can you best reflect your own enthusiasm for this Faith and this congregation?!
· Love your congregation: be an active, supportive, participant & talk it up!!!
· Develop your own “elevator speech” (a 3-minute description of Unitarian Universalism, in your own words)
· Be committed to enriching membership at all stages: be aware of the personal and organizational challenges involved, and know why you’re committed to supporting it
· Make a good first impression – maintain sanctuary and all church property with an eye toward accessibility, organization, cleanliness and aesthetics
· Have strong representation and clear, regular, communication within and among leadership, committees and volunteer projects
· Know, reflect and support your surrounding community (its needs, interests and special gifts)
· Have a strong and vibrant intergenerational life-span religious education program: including intergenerational social opportunities, Time for All Ages during the service; coordination with DRE/parents/teachers; child care; etc.
· Have a strong Membership Committee with shared leadership under the supervision of the Chair, with monthly meetings and representation at Board meetings.
· Have quarterly Prospective Member meetings, including UU History and congregational History and membership focus (and opportunities for attendees to share some of their own faith journey).
· Consider that confirmed membership should involve: overview understanding of UU History, affirmation of UU Principles & Purposes; knowledge of “cost of membership” and willingness to pledge, as feasible, that amount or higher; regular service attendance; engaged participation in church events and committees…
· Have yearly New Member Recognition service/celebration, during which new members sign the membership book, make their financial pledge, and are publicly charged to engaged membership by the Minister and are covenanted with the congregation
· With their permission, post photos and bios of all members on bulletin board, web site, and in newsletter – regularly highlighting newest members, elders, children/youth
· Maintain an up-to-date directory of all members/friends – consider including photos, birthdays, etc. (Permission required)
· Have active outreach to local colleges/universities and a campus presence, if possible
· When members (particularly youth) move away, help them connect with UU resources in their new location and stay in touch!
· Have well-designed, consistently updated, a. newsletter, b. web site, and c. bulletin board space: providing descriptive and visual insight into the life of the congregation: its leadership, calendar and newsletter; various social, educational, and social justice related activities and opportunities; its history, and mission; its membership
· Proactively provide new members with opportunities to connect with others in congregation – while respecting that they may need to enter slowly into congregational involvement (examples of opportunities: Covenant Groups, volunteer projects, lay leader role in worship services, etc.)
· Have a consistently staffed office, with all phone calls/email inquiries returned within 24 hours
· Website and phone answering machine message provides up-to-date information options for: our service hours, our office hours, our address & directions, contact information for the Administrator, the Minister, the Director of Religious Education, The Board President
· Assure that the regular services and special events of the congregation are regularly posted a. in local newspapers, b. in the newsletter and on the website, c. in orders of service; d. by email to members/friends; e. announced from the pulpit
· Take every opportunity to celebrate the life of the congregation. Be sure to thank volunteers and lay leaders: personally, from the pulpit, in newsletters, in Orders of Service, etc.!
BEFORE THE SERVICE
· As you greet your fellow-members, be mindful of anyone who may appear to be a newcomer, and smile at them! Know that it can be very intimidating for some folks to come to a new church for the first time. It’s important to be friendly – but not invasive!
· Make note of those members/friends who are not present – consider calling them after the service to let them know they were missed
· Orders of Service are handed out with a smile! They include the mission/vision of the congregation, the Principles & Purposes, information regarding upcoming events, names of Board Members, contact information for the Administrator and Minister
· Name tags and markers are provided, so that guests can choose to personalize and wear them
· A guest book and pen are provided, so that guests can choose to provide their name/address/phone and receive monthly newsletters for 3-6 months
· Large-print Orders of Service and hymnals are readily and regularly available
· Newcomers are greeted as follows (no personal questions, please!): “Welcome! My name is _________ and I’m glad you’re here today!” (Show guest where the pamphlets & newsletters are kept and invite them to browse, take). We have refreshments after the service, and a time for personal reflections, so please feel free to join us, and to find me after the service if you have any questions.” During the first visit it’s important not to overload guests with information or ask personal questions regarding their religious journey. Just be friendly and available! Invite them to sign the guest book, so that they can receive the newsletter by mail, if they wish.
· Return-visitors are warmly greeted: “Welcome! It’s so good to see you again – my name is _____________, and I remember greeting you on _______! How have you been?!” At this point a conversation may arise organically, in which the guest reveals something of their prior experience at UUFKC and what moved them to come back. If not, consider sharing something of your own first experiences with this congregation, such as: “I remember when I first came here three years ago. It was a little intimidating, not knowing anyone – but I really liked how friendly people were and the activities I learned about. How has it been for you so far?” Sharing your own experiences first can make it more comfortable for guests to share something of theirs. This is a better approach than asking direct questions too soon, such as: “So what’s your religious background?” or “When are you going to join?”
DURING THE SERVICE
· Attendance is tallied and recorded every week, noting members, friends, first-time visitors, return-visitors (for followup and for statistical purposes)
· The service is taped/record (recordings are posted on the website and Facebook page within 48 hours, and provided to members who are shut-in due to illness)
· Services are designed with consideration toward accessibility for all, and toward newcomers: utilizing an amplification system/microphone; using beeswax candles in consideration of chemical sensitivities; assuring ample space for wheelchairs/walkers; having large-print materials handy. The basic tenets of the Faith and various elements and rituals of the service are announced and explained each Sunday (ex: Chalice Lighting, Joys and Concerns, Time for all Ages, etc.)
· Services are designed to reflect affirmation of diversity: racial, cultural, age-related, theological, educational, socio-economic, gender, gender identification, sexual and/or affectional orientation, physical ability, etc.
· Services are designed to provide embodied opportunities for personal transformation, through meditation/reflection, personal sharing, stimulating engagement with topics of personal, societal, environmental significance
· Consider a “Greet Your Neighbor” portion of the service, as a way to notice and welcome each other as present
· Consider opportunities for personal milestone sharing during the service (this does not include political statements or community announcements). Some options: providing a means through which personal information (illness, recovery, births, deaths, etc.) are provided to the Minister beforehand for announcement from the pulpit; inviting individuals to come forward themselves to to light a silent candle or drop a stone into a bowl of water
· Consider following up to offer support to or help celebrate with those individuals whose milestones have been made public
· Pulpit messages regularly encourage focus on the meaning and power of Unitarian Universalism, membership, hospitality, ethics and personal responsibility
AFTER THE SERVICE
· The guest book is reviewed by the Minister and Membership Committee, with follow-up calls made and/or cards are sent to first-time visitors. (Consider sending newsletters for a period of 3-6 months)
· Consider approaching first-time visitors and return-visitors, thanking them for choosing to spend their Sunday morning with this congregation. Let them know of any interesting upcoming services/events and invite them to return: “Thanks again for being here today - I hope you’ll join us again!” It is appropriate to offer to introduce return-guests to the Minister or other members: “I’d be happy to introduce you to ____________ or to our Minister today, if you like, or perhaps next time. Just let me know. By the way, my name is____________!”
· Hopefully those guests who have attended several times will continue to be recognized, warmly welcomed, made aware of future events/service, and invited back
· By this time they could also be approached by the Membership Committee and/or Minister to invite discussion regarding their experience: “I noticed that you’ve been coming pretty regularly for the past few months! I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share with me (or the Minister) your reflections on your experience here: What aspects of this experience do you find most interesting or satisfying? Are there any questions or concerns that are coming up for you regarding UU or this congregation?” (The gist of this conversation is: “Is there anything I can offer to help you along in your religious journey, or your search for a religious home?”
· Ongoing reflection regarding the meaning and power of Unitarian Universalism, membership, hospitality, ethics, and personal responsibility