- American Ethical Union
2 West 64th Street
New York, NY 10023
phone: (212) 873 6500
fax: (212) 362 0850
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100 + ideas
100+ Ideas for Membership Growth, January 2001
adapted by Bob Kaufman from a document on the UUA web site
the living document is part of the Unitarian Universalist website:
- Put name tags in a convenient location, and encourage everyone in your congregation to wear one on Sunday.
- Provide different colored name tags for visitors.
- Provide coffee mugs with a different color for visitors and others who may want to meet people. (Be sure to talk with those with mugs!)
- Hold special events for newcomers, such as an informal dinner, dessert, or a luncheon following the Sunday platform. Plan to offer a tour of your facilities and a description of Ethical Culture.
- Appoint someone to be responsible for following up on all visitors, including children, youth and young adults. When a member calls a newcomer within 72 hours after the visit, the chances for a return visit increase by more than 50%.
- Assign 'buddies' to every visitor. The buddy stays with the visitor to answer questions, to introduce the visitor to others, and to follow-up during the coming week.
- Hold regular "Invite-a-Friend" Sundays when active members are encouraged to bring friends who are potential Ethical Society members to platform and other activities.
- Make regular announcements about how one becomes a member.
- Encourage each committee to take time for orienting and training a new member who joins them. It is helpful to provide new committee members with materials that include the committee's mission statement and minutes form past meetings.
- Invite promising new leaders to attend lay leadership summer school and/or the AEU assembly or the AEU Growth and Development workshop or the AEU Religious Education conference.
- Have regular adult education programs to which newcomers can be invited. One-time events or a discussion series should be planned throughout the year, including summer months.
- Hold Sunday platforms all year long.
- Reserve several "choice" spaces in your parking lot for "visitors" and mark them clearly.
- Put all visitors on your mailing list without requiring them to request it. Never remove someone without first telephoning to confirm that they are no longer interested.
- Have a variety of pamphlets on Ethical Culture and your Ethical Society handy for visitors.
- Develop a brochure that describes your congregation and its history to hand out to visitors and place in your brochure rack.
- Give an attractive "welcome bag" to all first time visitors. It might include a pen with your congregation's name on it, RE offerings, a Society newsletter, a mission statement, a description of ways to get involved, a card listing the AEU mission, an introductory pamphlet on Ethical Culture and ways to contact the Leader and Religious Educator. (One congregation even includes four freshly baked muffins.)
- Take time in the platform meeting to joyfully welcome all visitors. Invite them to raise their hands and have the ushers give each of them a "welcome bag".
- Develop a "new member's" packet. It might include your Society directory, bylaws, history, Society and AEU mission statements and purpose statements, religious education brochure, and last annual report and a pledge card.
- Include a space for telephone numbers and email addresses in your visitors' book so you can follow up with them later.
- Have specific breakfasts or luncheon pot lucks so newcomers can meet members and leaders of the congregation.
- Make sure that your membership committee has a budget that enables it to do the best possible job.
- Offer a pictorial directory. It will enable both newcomers and old-timers to learn more easily the names of members.
- Make sure that your religious education facilities are attractive to children and their parents. Pay special attention to the Society's nursery (for babies and toddlers). Make sure it appears safe and inviting.
- Provide Sunday morning greeters at each of your major entrance areas. (If yours is a larger congregation with more than 20 visitors a week, station your first group of greeters in the parking lots.)
- Have an 'unofficial' Young Adult greeter who identifies and connects with visiting Young Adults.
- Identify 2 Young Adults who are committed to going out for brunch every Sunday with any Young Adults who come to platform. Same place, same time.
- Have an attractive, user friendly web page which is updated regularly.
- Join with other area congregations to advertise Ethical Culture. Welcome Wagon, the local media and the web are often the first places newcomers to your community will hear about you.
- List the time and location of platform meetings and a telephone number that will always be answered, even if by a machine, in the yellow pages.
- On your answering machine message, include an option to listen to recorded directions to your society. Read the directions a bit slower than normal.
- Evaluate the quality of your Sunday platform programs. Regular participants sometimes put up with situations that make visitors feel uncomfortable.
- Develop strategies to assimilate newcomers quickly into the life of the congregation. New members who are not involved within 18 months after joining frequently become inactive within 3 years.
- Expand the "ownership" of your congregation by including young adults in their twenties and thirties in leadership positions.
- Hold religious education orientation sessions for parents.
- Provide child-care for your newcomer meetings and all other activities. Give all committee chairs a sheet listing pre-approved sitters' names, phone numbers and directions for getting them paid.
- Post flyers about you're your special events in key locations around your community.
- Print an eye-catching flyer about your society and put it on the windshields of cars in major parking lots.
- When you are 80-85% capacity on Sunday morning in the adult program and/or RE program, you have three choices if you want to be growth oriented: a) expand your facilities, b) add a second platform program and Sunday school session, c) start a new congregation.
- If you chose to add a second platform program, consider using a different style.
- Involve a number of people in your Sunday platform programs, such as candle lighters, readers, and moderators for announcements.
- Make announcements at a place in the platform program when they won't overwhelm what comes before or after.
- Announcements should not exceed one-tenth of the total time of your Sunday platform program. Encourage people to submit their announcements in advance and print them in the Sunday bulletin.
- If you have five or fewer guests per Sunday, provide a time for them to introduce themselves if they wish.
- Provide good music during your platform program. Even a recording played on a quality sound system is better than nothing at all.
- Conclude every Sunday platform program with a note of hope. Visitors never forget the "downers".
- Place occasional "testimonials" in your Sunday platform program, bulletin and newsletters, in which members share why they joined an Ethical Society and what the Society means to them.
- Devote space in each of your newsletters for a personal/inspirational note. The people who read it are your enlarged congregation.
- Look at your facilities from a visitor's eye. People feel friendlier in a space that communicates warmth through its colors and d�cor.
- Keep your building clean and attractive. A sense of pride in your space communicates a sense of pride in your faith.
- Designate specific individuals rather than committees to look for and attend to visitors.
- Begin and end your platform on time.
- Meet diverse needs by offering many choices in your programming. Smaller groups permit sharing more than large groups.
- Begin Covenant Groups in your congregation. (Small-group "ministry" is key to making members feel they are part of the community.)
- One way we grow is by being welcoming, honoring and inclusive of diversity. Do an audit of your space and programs, including Religious Education programs and platforms. Ask yourselves questions like these and then develop a plan to make needed changes:
- Whose pictures are on the walls? The bulletin boards? What are the messages?
- What celebrations are part of your congregational life? What do you learn about the "other"? How does this learning affect your life and the life of your congregation?
- What are the themes and values of the curricula you use? Whose values are they? What is implicit in them?
- Explore the environments for Religious Education programming. Look at every thing in each room, in each space. What messages do the spaces convey?
- What kind of diversity is present in your congregation? At platform? In the Religious Education program? Age? Race Ethnicity? Gender? Family configuration? Sexual orientation? How is this diversity represented in the life of the congregation? In Religious Education? On committees? In Adult Religious Education? In decision making?
- What place does the diversity of your larger community have in the life of your congregation? How do you approach your responsibilities for justice? Out of entitlement? With a sense of accountability? Accountable to whom and how?
- If your parking lot is always full, expand it, find other spaces, or add a second platform program. People hesitate to walk more than a block to church or its equivalent.
- Keep your bulletin boards attractive and up-to-date.
- If your meeting room is uncomfortably empty, set out 2% fewer chairs than you'll need. Setting up more chairs provides a more positive note than looking at empty ones.
- Remind members that welcoming newcomers is everybody's job, no just that of the designated committee members.
- Organize a program of direct mail advertising. If your congregation can't afford it all at once, divide the zip code(s) into thirds or fourths and target one section per year.
- Do a demographic study of your community. See how your membership compares with the community around you and make knowledgeable decisions about folks that you might want to attract in the future.
- Allocate 5% of your budget to advertising. Web pages, direct mail, telephone, ads in newspapers (including alternative papers), radio, shopping "throw-aways" are the most effective. Also, post flyers in laundromats, coffeehouses and on the local college campus.
- Conduct a person-to person canvass of your congregation every year. The personal visits provide an opportunity for outreach and communication with every member and friend. Direct solicitation will produce greater pledging than any other method.
- Put up signs along well-traveled routes directing people to your building.
- If the main entrance to your building is not obvious mark it with visible signs.
- Make your building accessible to those who use mobility devices.
- Make sure ushers know how to welcome people with various disabilities in a friendly way.
- If your building is accessible to people who are physically challenged, include the symbol on your print advertising to let others know.
- Ask a local agency or member of you congregation who is physically challenged to help you assess the accessibility of your congregation. People who do not have disabilities frequently overlook such things as high counters, narrow passageways, etc.
- Offer large-print song books. Enlarge bulletins with a copy machine.
- Help those who have difficulty hearing participate in your activities by installing and using a good sound system, by asking all speakers to stand in a place visible to the entire audience and by offering Sign Language interpreted platforms consistently. In the Deaf press, advertise when interpreted programs are held.
- Put up signs directing people to offices, rest rooms, the meeting hall and religious education areas.
- Ask a young Adult to assess the Sunday morning platform program from Young Adult eyes. Is the program participatory? What is the pace? What kinds of music do you sing and play? Will Young Adults see themselves reflected in the program?
- If your meeting room is crowded, encourage long-time members to leave empty seats along the aisles. It is more comfortable for a newcomer to slip into an aisle seat than a middle seat.
- Keep meeting areas free of clutter. Build storage cabinets for supplies and equipment, and encourage folks to clear away leftovers from various activities rather than let them collect in the building.
- Allow other groups to rent your building, and put brochures about your Society near entrances where visitors will see them.
- Put a visible lighted sign on the building or property.
- If you do not have your own building, ask the owners for the right to put up a sign as part of your rental agreement.
- Display multicultural artwork and symbols representing a diversity of ethnicities and cultures.
- Start new groups with every 40 members. It is easier for newcomers to make friends in a newly formed group than to "break in" on established groups with a shared history.
- Offer a variety of music and platform styles to appeal to and learn more about people of different cultures and age groups.
- Host a few special speakers at your congregation each year , and publicize them widely. At each event, publicize follow through programs on the same theme.
- Provide quality activities for children during coffee hour and other times when parents are busy with adult activities.
- Join the local cable network and train someone in your congregation to videotape special programs for cable. Include these programs in a tag line about your congregation's program and a few testimonials from members, including young adults.
- Send press releases regularly to community newspaper calendars or newsletters
- Volunteer as a congregation for the telethon for the local public television or radio stations. Purchase as a congregation one or more days of programming.
- Set up a booth about your congregation at a community fair.
- March in a gay pride with a banner designating your congregation. Set up a booth about your congregation.
- To become more visible in the area, make your building available to community groups. Volunteer for joint projects with some of these groups so they get to know you as more than a "landlord".
- Train the members of your congregation in listening skills, and have them connect with members of your congregation who have stopped coming to platform or other meetings.
- Have someone call new members six months after they have joined your society to explore ways they can be incorporated into the life and ministry of your Society.
- Plan committee meetings to include opportunities for a brief spiritual reflection, personal sharing, and fellowship. Always evaluate your committee meetings at the end. What went well? What do you hope to do differently in the future?
- Have a committee fair once or twice a year so that new and long-term members can become informed about your committees and find a place to invest their talents.
- Nurture enthusiasm among your present membership. If the present members are enthusiastic about the congregation, they will want to tell their friends and neighbors about your Society.
- Have a workshop in "witnessing" Ethical Culture, such as Sharing (Y)our Faith. Help participants tell about their spiritual journey and how Ethical Culture has supported them. Include role plays.
- Invite newcomers to join you in doing a job at a Sunday platform, such as ushering or serving coffee hour refreshments.
- Gather a group of newcomers together for a feedback session. Ask them what they found attractive about the congregation. Ask them what has been difficult in becoming active.
- Hold a variety of events, such as retreats, family nights, and pilgrimage trips that meet religious, educational and social needs. Include others besides children and parents who want to take part.
- Ask newcomers to sit on the Membership Committee to add their experiences to the projects and planning sponsored by that group.
- Hold a special celebration for welcoming new members.
- Convene a meeting for committee chairs in which the names and interests of newcomers can be passed on to the related committee.
- Record how visitors are hearing about the congregation.
- Publish an attractive RE prospectus each year, describing programs for children, youth, Young Adults and older adults. Have copies to give away in your pamphlet rack.
- Make sure the ushers know where to direct new families as they arrive at the Society door.
- Have good signs to the Sunday School parts of the building and a clear indication of where new children are registered.
- Display children's artwork attractively with signs to explain the themes and programs from which it came.
- Have a special RE greeter/registrar.
- Hold programs for parents to 1) get acquainted and 2) learn how to talk about Ethical Culture with their children.
- Introduce each newcomer to yourself and one other person.
- Bring a visiting Young Adult over to meet another Young Adult member during coffee hour.
- Consider changing 'coffee hour' to 'something like 'social action'. Many young adults do not drink coffee. Augment your 'coffee hour' with juice, seltzer, herbal teas, etc. and have it available for everyone, not just for children.
- Have a Young Adult (18-35) category on the form your Membership Committee asks visitors to complete. (It might ask, Year-of-birth if Young Adult (18-35)?")
- Have a Young Adult tell you what they see, as they arrive on Sunday morning.
- Complete a Welcoming Congregation Program. Afterwards, place the rainbow flag icon on your sign.
- Tell your friends, coworkers, and others with whom you associate what you love about your Ethical Society.