Leader Services Catalogue: Congregational Development and Growth
Emily Newman, Dialogue Editor
Each Ethical Culture Society is concerned with growing its congregation. How does a Society spread the word to visitors and encourage them to become members? How does it build on its strengths and meet the needs of those looking to join an organization like ours? What makes members become more involved? Using some of the newest research across religious lines, Leader Jone Johnson Lewis (Northern Virginia Society) has prepared an interactive workshop entitled "Congregational Development and Growth" to help Societies navigate these questions. The answers may be different because our Societies differ in size, location, organization, and traditions. I encourage all Societies to take this workshop to find their own answers.
In October, Jone led the workshop at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. She opened the meeting by asking: what attracted you to Ethical Culture, what were your first impressions, who/what made you feel accepted at the Society, what surprised you about the Society, when did you become aware of financial responsibilities, and why did you decide to become more active. Some participants grew up through a Society, some became members as young professionals and are now retired, and others had only been with a Society for the last few months. While this range of participants generated a variety of responses, there were several shared ideas. Most agreed that like-minded, kind people made the Society more attractive. Jone reminded us that our experiences help us learn how newcomers feel and how we might address their needs.
Although the 2001 Hartford Seminary study that Jone used as a reference did not explore Humanist organizations as much as more traditional religions (there are newer studies that do so), we learned that many factors and conflicts are the same no matter how you label your beliefs. Active members must find inspiration in "worship," they want to be inspired by Platforms and other services to act. They also want Societies to offer them support, have a free flow of information, and (most importantly) set boundaries. Finding the right balance in a Society can be difficult and it needs to learn how to handle conflict proactively and creatively.
A Society's visual appearance, both in person and online, is another significant element of growth. A Society should be welcoming, easily accessible by car and/or public transportation, clearly labeled (especially restrooms and meeting locations), and filled with inviting people. Online a Society needs a clean presence that includes contact information, schedules, images of members, and a description of Ethical Culture and the Society specifically. One tip that stuck with me, especially as I edit the Dialogue
and post on Facebook
or the American Ethical Union website
, was that we need to use language that is clear to the general public. Using too much jargon and abbreviations that are only familiar to fellow members is uninviting to non-members.
These are only some of the many inspiring elements of Jone Johnson Lewis' workshop. Again I encourage every Society and circle to run the "Congregational Development and Growth" workshop with its members. And be prepared to bring extra chairs.Visit the Leader Services Catalogue to book this or one of several available workshops.