We keep refining our “Ten Good Ideas” series of online workshops, and this on welcoming and integrating new members was one of the best yet! Justin Schroeder, Director of Congregational Development at Unity Church-Unitarian, gave an hour-long presentation to a virtual “full house” (we had 22 people registered for the workshop, which is our limit!). Here it is, along with Justin’s revised notes and the links we sent to the participants. Enjoy!
Pathway to Membership Presentation 2009 by Justin Schroeder…General Operating Framework:
- People come to church with a deep yearning for community, for religion, for depth – how they are received and engaged matters! (Church may be one of the few places people are truly seen.)
- Radical hospitality: The stranger offers us something valuable; the stranger holds a piece of the divine; it’s the church’s job to incarnate the radical, inclusive love that reaches out to all people.
- Who is the church for? The church exists in large part, for those who aren’t yet there, but dream of a transformative, justice seeking, liberal religious community.
- Mission and Vision: What is the church in the world to do and why? Share this with people!
OUR JOB, GIVEN THE ABOVE: Provide an adequate orientation, including a) spiritual orientation (help people understand our faith tradition and examine their own faith), b) physical orientation (getting oriented in the building, knowing where restrooms are, etc.), c) institutional orientation – helping people understand how to become members (the Pathway), articulating expectations of membership, inviting people to “grow their souls.”
How Unity does this: “Pathway to Membership – a series of three classes”
- Notice/acknowledge guests
Offer a guest registry, specific welcome and announcements for newcomers/guests, including basic orientation class, well trained Sunday ushers and greeters, “Welcome Pack” for visitors cars. Have well stock brochure racks that highlight classes for newcomers.
- Follow up with guests
Followup emails, letters, or phone calls. “We noticed you worship with us! I’d love to hear your impressions? Any other questions?”
- See the church through a guest’s eyes.
Is the signage clear? How informative is the website? Is the newsletter accessible to newcomers? Be aware of insider language.
- Crowd Control – Important for all groups, but especially for groups of newcomers/guests: Have a strong leader/facilitator in charge that can manage the group, make it “safe,” and give people the sense that this is a place “where someone is in charge.” Remember: 1 dominant or out of control person can RUIN a small group experience, and turn off visitors.
- Ditch the “you can believe” anything you want mentality.
You can’t believe anything you want. “An unexamined faith (an accidental faith) is not worth living.” We have a particular history and theology and we need to effectively invite guests/visitors to join our non-dogmatic, non-creedal faith.
How? By offering a clear pathway to becoming a member…sign ups available every Sunday.
- Welcome to Unity
Goals: Basic overview of church – mission and vision – core aspects of the faith; invite people to share parts of their story. Offered 1 x month. (Share posters). Participants learn about church, see how they could be a part of it; leave with a packet of info. Low commitment class.
Follow up email with a link to “A Liberal Faith” video, additional info, and times the next classes are offered.
- Finding Yourself at Unity
Goals: Deeper exploration of UU history, share history of Unity, tour of building, talk about expectations of membership (pledging, spiritual practice, sharing gifts, etc), covenant group experience, meet ministers. Sign up for “Three in three” – three service opportunities, one a month for three months. Helps people connect to various ministries in the church – and meet other people.
- Committing to Unity
Goals: Create a powerful “joining ritual.” Deeper exploration of the meaning of membership. Participants fill out gifts and talents form, pledge card, and write down “what it means to be joining the church at this point in their lives.” Ceremony at end of class as they sign the membership book (ministers join for ceremony.) Take their picture, new member bios, etc.
- Follow up and invitations. Follow up with new members based on what you know about their gifts and talents, etc. Invite them to join a covenant group, or other small groups. Invite them to become involved in something that feeds their spirit.
- Remind new members that they are the church, that the ministry of the church (including welcoming, etc.), and the mission and vision of the church, is theirs to live into and to own!
Here’s a link to UUA Resources mentioned during the workshop, including the UU Primer and the Voices of a Liberal Faith DVD.
UPDATE: Here’s a link to Unity’s membership class information. Unity pathways to membership.