Look for the Unbuilders

by Natalie Briscoe,

Congregational Life Field Staff for the UUA serving the Southern Region

One of my favorite teaching stories is “The Carpenter and The Unbuilder.” The main character of the story is the Carpenter, who is the most skilled tradesperson in the whole country. The Ruler hears of the Carpenter’s accomplishments and sends an invitation to come to the palace for dinner. The Carpenter, who is used to construction, spends a long time – years even – preparing for the journey. Etiquette lessons, new clothing, and classes in politics and current affairs all must be acquired before the journey can even begin. Once the trip is underway, the Carpenter finds many reasons to stop along the way: building elaborate, beautiful, and – most importantly – comfortable houses to stay in. The Carpenter often allows fear of the unknown and of their own inadequacy stall the journey. These detours keep happening until one day, the Carpenter meets the Unbuilder. The Unbuilder shows the Carpenter how to dismantle, take apart, and “unbuild” the structures around them so the journey can continue. The Undbuilder teaches the Carpenter that it is impossible to reach the Kingdom if these things we have built – no matter how beautiful – keep distracting us. Sometimes we aren’t building homes; we are building prisons.

This story is a metaphorical telling of our journey through Faith Development.  We begin at home, learning what we can trust, what we can rely on. We hear the stories of who we are, and we learn to tell those stories to others. We come to know these stories as part of our history, our identity, and our legacy. We build lots of structures – churches, curricula, pedagogy, programs, worship services, polity, governance – around the truths we hear in these stories. Our love of the story, the story that informs who we are, transfers to a love of these structures we’ve built. They are comfortable to the Carpenters. The Carpenters learn to recognize other Carpenters, the people who are skilled at building like they are. They tell them the stories, and together, they make something bigger than themselves. Individuals spend a lot of time in this building stage as Carpenters and often leave a great legacy of structures behind them. James T. Fower, the author of “Stages of Faith Development,” calls this stage “Synthetic-Conventional.” It is a community-based stage, where building a community of those who know our stories is important to us.

Eventually, on our Journey of Faith Development, we meet the Unbuilder.  The Unbuilders can be inside our UUA and outside; inside of our member congregations and outside; inside our own souls, and outside. Meeting the Unbuilder, in the metaphorical sense, ushers in the stage Fowler would call the “Individuative-Reflexive Stage” of Faith Development. The things we built with such care and time must be deconstructed. Where once they were vehicles to bringing the story to life, they are now the things which stand in the way of our journey. We must take them apart in order to remember what about them was so important to begin with. This part of the story – this Stage of Faith – is scary and often very painful. We have worked so hard to build these structures. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to see them torn down. And yet, if we don’t do this, we are stuck. Our stories and the values they represent are held captive to the structures, and we become unable to move forward on our Journey to a deeper Faith.

The moral of the story is this (and it is more true this very second than ever before):

Unitarian Universalists have long misunderstood themselves in the context of religious mission.

The purpose of the church is not to have the church.

Unitarian Universalism can save the world, but we don’t let it. We lock it away in scaffolds and structures. We confine it to process and systems. We build walls to hold it prisoner. We keep our mouths closed when we should scream. We keep our hands still when they should work. We let fear guide us instead of love.

That is wrong. This structure, this church, this building, this person – none of that can contain the whole of Unitarian Universalism. The purpose of the church is not to keep its structures in place. The purpose of the church is to be the institutional incarnation of Love on earth. And it grows organically out of the needs of the people who are transforming the world through active, forceful, and fearless creation of love and justice. Saving the world leads to the need to feed the souls of those who are DOING it. The work comes FIRST, the structure comes SECOND – if at all.

Tearing down the structure only destroys the mission if the mission wasn’t there to begin with. If the work is clear, and we understand ourselves to truly be the builders of the beloved community, then this process won’t destroy us. It will set us free.

___________________

 

by Natalie Briscoe,

Congregational Life Field Staff for the UUA serving the Southern Region

Natalie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000 where her focus was on learning and perception across the lifespan. She received her Master’s Degree in counseling and human development from the University of North Texas in 2002. She has amassed over a decade as a Religious Educator, serving first as a Children’s Program Coordinator and then as a Director of Religious Education for two churches, one in North Texas and one in Seattle, Washington. In 2012 Natalie received both the Ruth Clark Award for Service to Unitarian Universalism and the Norma Veridan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Religious Education. She has served on the Congregational Life Field Staff for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association since 2013. Natalie is married to her best friend Sean Briscoe, and the couple have two children, Ian and Ayla.

 

Show, don’t tell, your values in the world

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

Is there such a thing as being too public about your values? The world today can feel like a hard time to reach out, given the uncertainty in the news, on social media, and in our hearts.

But the truth is, it’s never been more important to get out there and be our progressively faithful selves, even when that’s imperfect. Yes, that takes courage. You bet it requires risk. Just remember that inaction carries its own risk in this historic time in American public life. Attendance is up at many churches, a sure sign that our message is a needed one. How can we honor that need and answer its call?

We want to highlight two opportunities to help frame and support the work you are doing in your community – the Love Resists campaign and the UU White Supremacy Teach-In. These are two ways that the UU faith tradition is finding traction in these days of churn and change.  

Love Resists

Started as a joint initiative between the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Association, Love Resists offers tools, tips and connections to help expand the notion of sanctuary in our communities, grow our solidarity with oppressed communities, and raise our voices for justice. The campaign models partnership and collaboration from the bottom up, drawing heavily on the framing and guidance of our community organizing partners.

This month’s social media graphics come from Love Resists, and are a great way to show your support for expanded sanctuary policies, rapid response networks, physical shelter, and more. Download all eight graphics.

We hope you’ll share them! And when you do, it’s a great opportunity to talk about what commitments you’ve made to help expand sanctuary and create safe spaces for those most under threat. Perhaps you’re advocating for your local school district to refuse to cooperate with immigration orders, or members of your congregation are accompanying undocumented folks at their regular check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or maybe you’re part of an interfaith coalition offering physical sanctuary in one of your congregations. Regardless, it is so important to be public in our work for justice right now, to show that people of faith and conscience are invested in a different vision for our communities. Visit loveresists.org for more information.

UU White Supremacy Teach-In

You may also know about the grassroots UU White Supremacy Teach-In, just wrapping up its two weekends of disrupting “church as usual” to focus on the racial injustice and cultural whiteness of our faith. With nearly two-thirds of UU congregations participating, the Teach-In is a powerful testament to Unitarian Universalists’ shared desire to build a new way forward and reach new audiences (and kudos to religious educators and event organizers Aisha Hauser, Christina Rivera and Kenny Wiley!). If you didn’t sign up for the Teach-In, remember it’s never too late to talk about decentering whiteness :). If you’ve completed the Teach-In, find a next activity for your congregation (see the “next ask” recommendation from our Entry Points post) to show how you’re carrying its lessons forward.

I’ve heard some people wonder if a focus on examining our internal white supremacy will turn off spiritual seekers. I feel pretty sure we aren’t going to turn people off with heartfelt internal discussion; instead we will help outsiders understand how seriously we take our values. In a time when trust of institutions like church is weak, especially for younger folks, it’s critical that we show we’re serious about practicing what we preach.

There is no more distinction between what happens backstage and what is thrust into the spotlight, this is the era of leadership in the round.

Both Love Resists and the White Supremacy Teach-In are an opportunity to “show, don’t tell.” Instead of just talking about our principles and commitments, we are embodying them with clear action. It can’t be overstated how important this is in the era of 24/7 social media transparency. Make sure you’re Tweeting, Facebook-ing, and talking about the work you’re doing, so that your light may inspire others to let theirs burn bright.  

I am committed to Unitarian Universalism because of its aspirations for a just, compassionate, beloved community for all. If you believe that more people hunger for this vision, show them you mean it. There’s no such thing as being too public about your values days.
How are you showing your values these days? Add your thoughts to the comments below.

Whiteness’ Supremacy and Reaching Out

White supremacy. Patriarchy. These are hard words to hear fully, even more difficult forces to challenge, and yet we cannot be the Unitarian Universalist faith that we want to be without confronting them. Our liberal religious tradition — proud, historic, vibrant, ever-evolving, and deeply flawed — is right now wrestling with the roots of white supremacy and patriarchy in our faith. On that, our tradition is surely not alone. Yet the power of our faith’s principles also calls each of us, and particularly those who are religious leaders and those who identify as white, to not flinch from that reality. In this time in the United States, we can only be a beacon for hope and justice if we demonstrate the integrity of our principles through our actions. Inspired by our friends in the UUA Youth and Young Adult Ministry office, our team wants to tell you the ways we have fallen short of this integrity so that we can act differently in the future.

Our team is three Unitarian Universalists – two people of color: one man who is the staff supervisor, and one woman who is a religious educator; and one white woman who is an ordained minister. We help Unitarian Universalists build new relationships with people, and make it as easy possible to share the gifts of our faith in the wider world. Some of our jobs include overseeing the content and design of UUA.org, curating the site’s WorshipWeb section, editing the weekly Braver/Wiser message, managing creative and digital strategies at the UUA, leading workshops and trainings for congregational leaders through our Outreach Revolution network, and publishing this blog.

The face of Unitarian Universalism

In many ways, we are responsible for defining the face of Unitarian Universalism. Who do you see when you land on the UUA homepage? What text do you read? What information do you encounter? We try to balance the reality of who we are as UU’s – older, whiter, more liberal and more educated than our neighbors – with our aspiration for who we want to be – multicultural, multigenerational faith communities. We neither want to whitewash the diversity we do have, nor do we want to fall into the “college brochure” trap of showcasing a diversity that exists only in our fantasies.

We know we get this balance wrong sometimes. We’d like to hear from you when we do. But more importantly, we have been making these decisions in a vacuum, relying on our own best judgement. In the future, we commit to working in ways to do this more honestly, openly, and accountably.

The voices of worship and inspiration

Sunday morning worship is at the heart of our faith, and it is interwoven with a culture of white supremacy — not only its content, but its shape, its patterns, its sights and sounds, and its unstated rules. Our theology compels us to create experiences in which, to quote Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout,  “there’s a larger ‘we’ each time we worship,” but few worship services live up to that standard. Our congregations are filled with white folks who, despite their best intentions, often fail to recognize that when they approach people of color, they are attempting, again quoting Dr. Rideout, “to partner with people for whom love is not an automatic privilege.”

WorshipWeb and Braver/Wiser are widely-used tools for planning worshipful spaces, and we can and will do more to use them to de-center whiteness in Unitarian Universalist worship life, lifting up the voices of people of color and reconsidering our basic assumptions about what feels most spiritual and profound.

The “growth” mindset

We describe our work as helping Unitarian Universalists build relationships with new audiences, to help our saving message reach more people. We are careful to say that, yes, this relationship does not necessarily translate into membership, that it may take place outside your congregation, and that we can do ministry at many levels no matter who we are. But the truth is that we have also allowed the UU’s we train and advise to believe that, really, it’s about getting more members on the books and more pledges in the bank. We need more of “them” to join “us,” more brown and young people in the pews. We as a team sidestep this assumption which separates “us” and “them” even before we welcome newcomers through our doors. We allow it to persist, choosing to believe in good intentions rather than leaning into our discomfort and the higher calling of our covenants.  We have avoided interrupting conversations that perpetuate both conscious and unconscious beliefs in the white experience as primary, normative, “better than,” and dominant (just look at the title of this blog).

Our churches often hide the best parts of our faith inside our congregations, and use it as a lure to become a member. We do this knowing that, as a predominantly and culturally white faith, people of color must make ourselves uncomfortable and endure our own marginalization to access the Unitarian Universalist spiritual wellspring. The UU need to grow, to prove our value by claiming others, can be traced to a Puritanical, colonial impulse to control.

Do we have the spiritual strength to give away the best that we have? At the recent Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism gathering, all main events were livestreamed for everyone. How many UU spaces and congregations would be willing to do the same? How many would be able to liberate their principles from the membership growth mindset? We as the outreach team have failed to bring this multicultural strength and value forward, fearing being seen as “too radical” or feeling that such changes were beyond the realm of possibility.  We can and will name this truth in our work going forward.

 

Who do we serve: our mission and our principles, or our institutions? This is not an intellectual exercise for our team. It is physical and emotional and visceral, and our livelihoods are connected to it. When we whitespeak to pass as educated, competent and respectable, and center white audiences in our writing, we are not living up to our calling. And we say now, publicly, that we are committed to doing better, because we believe our faith depends on it.

We applaud and support the work Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) and Diverse & Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) are doing for our collective liberation. We urge you to support the #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn by signing up here and donating to BLUU and DRUUMM.

 

With love,

Anna Bethea, Erika Hewitt & Carey McDonald

Outreach: Do they need us, or we them?

by AJ van Tine

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

The current social and political climate presents Unitarian Universalists with an opportunity, as well as a challenge. We are overwhelmed by the need to reach out to support those affected by recent racist, heterosexist, transphobic, and Islamophobic policies, and counter with our Unitarian Universalist message of radical love and beloved community. In times like these, how do we stay grounded in our core purposes for reaching out and not get swept up in the latest news cycle, as relevant as it may be. Why do Unitarian Universalists want to reach out?

girl looking out from door
Photo via Pixabay

One reason to reach out is to be loud about our values of love and justice – to evangelize. Evangelism isn’t about recruiting; it says that we have good news for the world, and that we should spread it! We have a truth to share because it may benefit others. Unitarian Universalism may not have a single creed that we want others to adopt, but we do have a message of hope. Our principles describe a vision of an equitable, peaceful, and justice-filled world. We can call this the “they need us” approach, although we know more accurately that they do not need you and me as individuals, but they need the message that we share.

On the other hand, there is a “we need them” approach. This is the seventh principle kind of “we need them.” More than the practical logic that we can accomplish more together than separately, it is the recognition that we have always been inherently interconnected to one another. When we try to achieve our vision of diverse and equitable community with only the people we already know, through networks and methods we are already familiar with, we fall short that very vision which calls us on. The act of outreach is not merely a means to the beloved community, but it is actively how we create it.

Of course, the truth is that these two approaches are not opposites. They are deeply intertwined aspects of outreach. I strongly believe Unitarian Universalism proclaims a saving message that our country is in dire need of today.  If we are to stay true to the content of this message and spread it far and wide, we have to be on guard against talking only to ourselves. Opening our hearts and doors to create vibrant relationships with new people and their communities is both the method and the message.

This isn’t easy. It requires being brave and putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable, and we always want to articulate our message as clearly and powerfully as possible. The good news is you are not left on your own! Here are some social media graphics you can use to spread the good word.

Why outreach? Because it is by building relationships and diverse community that we can transform ourselves and the world. If it is true that we should be the change we wish to see in the world, then our congregations can start the process by practicing radical hospitality within our walls and by preaching love outward into the larger society.

___________________

AJ van TineAJ van Tine is a field education student completing an internship at the UUA. He is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist from Virginia with an aspiration for ministry, and in his second year at Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife Ada, who is also a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.

More Like a Marathon than a Sprint

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

Growth isn’t always about numbers and getting more people in the door, as has been the premise of this blog all along.  But there’s no denying that the act of growing Unitarian Universalism will always require us to focus outward while simultaneously nurturing capacity and spirit inward.  As more UUs ramp up the exercise of living their values in the political world, the Rev. Dr. James Kubal-Komoto shares the results of some studies that will train us for a marathon.

___________________

Unitarian Universalists by the hundreds and perhaps by the thousands participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and in sister marches in cities across the United States to stand up for our shared values of compassion and justice for all people. I suspect this was the largest Unitarian Universalist public witness since the 1963 March on Washington. A weekend later, Unitarian Universalists across the country participated in demonstrations again at our nation’s airports.

Will this level of participation continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead, or will it fizzle? It may depend on three things:

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Let’s Roll – Reaching out like never before in the age of Trump

The 2012 inauguration of President Obama

From the Outreach Revolution Series:

What if this moment, this time in American history, is the reason we’re here as Unitarian Universalists? That’s the thought that popped into my head with the dawn of 2017, on the heels of a very rough 2016. Religious leaders have been put on notice by the decline in church attendance and the rise of the “spiritual but not religious,” yet in many ways our engagement with these trends as Unitarian Universalists has been about us – what we want, what we hope for, what we feel. Right now, the world needs us in a different way, as the fear-filled national election and the incoming administration’s political agenda are sure to demonstrate. It’s why attendance has spiked at UU congregations across the country. We have to push outside the four walls of our congregation because the call to ministry has never been stronger, and it’s happening in the streets. I, for one, feel that this call to action has started to, er, trump our other ideas about the future. Over the last few years we’ve also started waking up our activism with the movements for black lives, immigration reform and gender equity. And now it’s time to level up.

Are you doing something for the Week of Action, January 14-21st? I hope you are. It includes a National Day of Action for Immigrants, Muslims and Refugees, the week-long #Fast4Power, the Women’s March on Washington with sister marches nationwide, the J21 Teach-In on voting rights at All Souls Church Unitarian in DC, and the beginning of our own 30 Days of Love. Here are four ways to maximize your outreach that week, wherever you are:

Be loud
Resist the pressure to normalize the Trump administration’s agenda and the way it will target people of color, queer people, women, and anyone with minority status. The whole world will be paying attention, and it matters that we as a denomination with historic stature begin to resist this agenda. Proclaim your values from the rooftops. People are starting to hear us, so don’t stop now.

With this month’s Outreach Revolution virtual care package, you can download four customizable images to promote the themes of 30 Days of Love. Share them on your personal or congregational Facebook page to show what relationship, covenant, transformation and sustenance mean to UUs who join social movements.

Find friends
Have you reached out to your community partner groups? Interfaith groups and neighbor churches? You’re going to need one another for what’s coming next. You may even need to reach out to each other as members within your congregation, to break down some silos and just make sure your fellow congregants are doing ok. Who in your community will be on the frontline of harassment from the Trump administration and its allies? You may be targeted, or you may know others who will, but in either case you will need friends in a whole new way.

Do stuff
Be out in public this week. Follow the Week of Action links to find an event near you, or maybe you already know of one! Wear t-shirts, carry banners, find a way to express your hopes and fears for the country, your community and the world. Help people who are reconnecting with your community get plugged into these actions. Remember, we need to show the love, not just say the love.

Do more stuff
Keep it up, there will be plenty of opportunities and needs. For all the people who you turn out for the Week of Action and 30 Days of Love, have a next event ready in the coming weeks or months that you can invite them to. Get in that “next ask”! Show your involvement during the Week of Action isn’t a one-off event.

Stay strong, friends. We’re headed towards tougher times, things will get worse. But maybe that’s what we’re here for, and the calling of our times will help us as UU’s become who we were meant to be. As nonprofits, religious organizations are allowed to talk about political issues and needs,* so let’s make the most of it! I believe that if we answer this call, it will lead us to the purposeful and faithful future we’ve hoped for. We’re just getting started.

Let’s roll.

 

*See the UUA’s Real Rules for more information on the actual limits of political activity by religious nonprofits. You may be surprised how much we can do!

Passing the Flame

Ignite the Moment by Stuart Williams

In this darkest time of year it is my pleasure to pass the flame that is the Growing Unitarian Universalism blog to my good colleague Carey McDonald.   I know his added breath and vision will fan the flames even brighter.

 

I started this blog in January 2012 as a platform for the UUA’s Growth Office. Back then Rev. Stefan Jonasson was the head of Growth Office, and the two of us were pretty much given carte blanche to think outside the box regarding UU growth.

 

The blog’s original mission read:

We will use this blog to share research, review resources, articulate strategies, identify good practices, present guest commentaries, and share stories from the field—all in an effort to stimulate Unitarian Universalists’ passion for sharing our faith and growing its congregations.

 

The first blog post explained our framework for growth, taken from Loren Mead’s book More than Numbers: the Way Churches Grow:

  • Organizational Maturity
  • Spiritual Vitality
  • Faith in Action
  • Associational (addition made by Jan Gartner)
  • Numerical Indicators

 

It’s worth stating (over and over) again that the numerical indicators are only important in checking your perception and assumptions. It helps you see what’s really going on. Misused, numerical indicators can distract or induce shame. When congregations and Covenanting Communities focus on the other four kinds of growth, their vitality grows. What the world needs are more UU groups alive and awake in the world. Perhaps the most important blog post I ever wrote offered a tool for congregations to discern their Call in the world.

 

Getting up on the balcony and looking at the last four years of Growing Unitarian Universalism blog, we see some trends in writers, types of posts and topics of posts.

 

Over the years we invited colleagues from other UUA departments as well as leaders from the field to guest blog.

 

 

Readers craved tools, examples, and stories.

 

 

Growth and data topped the topic chart.

 

 

No more blogs about the 12th Man, Seahawks, and football. Those brought the most ire from readers.

 

My top 10 favorites (in no order):

  1. Curious Facebook Phenomena & Thanksgiving Assignment
  2. Holy Envy: #DunkintheDark
  3. Dog Poop and Congregational Adaptive Change
  4. Beauty and Play as a Growth Strategy
  5. An Innovative Learning Circle of Your Own…
  6. The Magic of Empty Chairs
  7. “What now?” What’s next?”
  8. On Wholeness and Worship
  9. Road Tip! We’re better together!
  10. Holy Coffee Making

 

I’m stepping down from Growing Unitarian Universalism for two reasons:

  • This fall I joined the Pacific Western Regional staff team.  I honestly don’t have time for the Growing Unitarian Universalism blog. My plate is full.
  • I am also a fervent believer in leadership succession planning and not hogging the potential. Religious work is a spiritual practice. When we claim a position for too long we rob others from the experience and those the position serves of refreshed perspective.

Carey McDonald, my colleague and sibling in faith and good friend, I officially pass the flame. I know you will tend it well and guide us on our way. I am thrilled and grateful you said, “yes!”

 

Over 100,000,000 views of 228 posts about growing our Unitarian Universalist tradition and amplifying love and goodness in the world. I’d say that’s a good run.

 

Happy New Year!

___________________________

Rev. Tandi Rogers now serves the UUA as the primary contact for congregations in Alaska, Washington, and Idaho as well as shepherding the emerging ministries and the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministries program throughout the Pacific Western Region. She is also adjunct faculty with Meadville Lombard Theological School, teaching Religious Education for a Changing World. Tandi’s personal blog is Putting Religious Education in Its Place.

Xmas CTA: Engaging visitors during the holidays

This post (and its customizable social media graphics!) is offered through the monthly Outreach Updates. Sign up here to get your outreach virtual care package each month. 

It’s hard to believe it’s already December, after what’s been a grueling November for many of us.  And yet, time marches on.  The holiday season calls to us, asking us to lean in and integrate our current circumstances with the joy and abundance that usually highlight this season.  Your congregation will also see an increase in visitors, especially for special holiday services that appeal our neighbors who aren’t regular churchgoers.  They come to you because you help them bridge the gap between tradition, cultural expectations, and a liberal worldview.

An outreach mindset asks us to open ourselves to the experience of meeting people where they are.  Especially now as people are looking for groups which will uphold hope and love for diversity in beliefs, culture, and identities, we as Unitarian Universalists can meet that need.  But an outreach mindset also asks us to risk our own comfort, to show that we’re interested in their welfare beyond just a holiday encounter.  We have to invite them into a mutually transformative relationship.  That’s where an XMAS CTA comes into action!

Use this and other UUA-branded backgrounds for your messaging and event announcements. Click the picture to download from Google Drive.

A Call to Action (CTA) is anything that invites someone to deepen their engagement and relationship with you.  And they’re essential for you to plan thoughtfully ahead of time.  When someone’s looking for a faith community to celebrate the holidays with, we want them to have an open and clear invitation to your congregation.  When they’ve come to visit, you want them to walk away knowing a little bit about who you are and what you offer that fits their ongoing needs.  After they visited, they need to know that you’re looking forward to seeing them again – that they’re wanted and welcome.

 

Before…

  • Social Media Engagement.  Whether people decide to attend a holiday service, you can engage your members, their friends, and your wider community through your congregation’s social media presence.  Being a strong voice for liberal values in your community this December will help sow goodwill and merriment in your community, while also building awareness about your congregation.  You can use these ideas and adapt them to other holidays or specific to the types of services or events your congregation has planned.
  • Schedule Your Posts.  Make a Facebook event.  Use our free holiday graphics to post a visually appealing invitation to your service or event with clear information.  Schedule them or make sure to post several times… a few weeks, a week, and the day before.  Engage your members and ask for commitments from some of them to share and invite their friends on social media or personally.

During…

  • Have a Specific Ask or Invitation.  Don’t overwhelm your guests with a lot of announcements or tell them all about your committees.  Decide with greeters, staff, and other lay leaders to make one specific call to action.  If it’s relevant, you can highlight any new sermon series or themes you’ll be exploring in January.  Be consistent in your messaging.  Fewer choices often help people feel comfortable with a clear path to engagement.
  • Plan a Specific Event for Holiday Visitors.  If you can, plan an entry point event in the near future that will meet the needs of your holiday visitors.  Although inviting them to a specific church function is better than nothing, you want your visitors to feel that you’re there for them.  The more barriers they feel in learning the UU lingo or having to get comfortable in a sea of strangers, the less likely they are to come back.  Think about if you were visiting your congregation for the first time during the holidays, what would you be most inclined to come back for?  Your congregation may already be engaging in post-election actions for justice, so that’s a great place to start. Or what about a newcomers or Intro to UU group starting in January?  A coffee  and tea gathering with the minister?  A new parent group with childcare?  Find where your unique offerings and ministry can provide, and match it with the people you’re most likely to meet during the holidays.
  • Invitation to Reflect and Connect.  Perhaps during the service, or through visitor cards, ask people what their needs are.  Acknowledge that the holidays sometimes ask a lot of us, and that we’re here to listen and find ways to meet those needs.  During the December holidays, many people are looking for warmth.  If you’re providing a New Year’s related service, you may also have them reflect on their skills and strengths, and how they want to contribute to the world around them.  In January, people are often ready to be transformed and develop healthy and life-giving habits.

After…

  • Offer a Gift.  Buy or ask volunteers to donate some baked goods, candies, cards, UU CDs, books, or any other small, inexpensive gift.  The Principles and Sources bookmark or the new UU World Seeker Issue may be good choices if you don’t have something available locally.  Attach a card with your congregation’s service times or invitation to a specific event for visitors.  This lets people know that you consider it a privilege that they chose your congregation to visit.  It’s a way to thank them for sharing themselves with you, even for a short visit.
  • Follow Up.  Setting up a series of 2 or 3 short automated email follow-ups lets visitors know that you’re still thinking of them and would like to connect again.  It’s also helpful for staff, who may be taking time off for the holidays and won’t be able to follow up until January.  Include a specific invitation in these emails, as well.

 

As always, practice empathy and make adjustments based on a visitor’s individual needs.  Understand that you’re holding space for complex needs.  Some are there to celebrate.  Some are hopeful.  Some are weary, tired, or at wit’s end.  And most are likely holding some combination of these at once.  We’re here to walk alongside, listen, and work toward a dream of what we want our lives and communities to look like in the future.  Next year, you’ll have an even better idea of who your congregation attracts during the holidays.

Don’t Panic! The 4×4 Outreach Plan

Overheard by a Unitarian Universalist congregational lay leader recently: “I know Americans are going to church less, all the ‘spiritual but not religious’ stuff, but I’m not sure what to do about it. How are we supposed to respond, how can my congregation adapt? How do we reach out with our saving message? Where do we start?“

calming-manatee-memeDon’t panic, dedicated UU leader! Hopefully, you already know there are lots of guides, curricula, videos, templates, tools and resources to help you do better outreach, available through the UUA at uua.org/outreach. But for most congregational leaders I know, especially volunteer leaders, it’s a lot to digest. Integrating social science research, theological reflection, event planning and Facebook posting into a single overarching strategy is a lot of work when you’re just trying to keep things running week to week. I totally understand.

So we’ve created the 4×4 plan for outreach in your congregation. The 4×4 Plan is a simple, easy and low-cost way to help your community connect with your congregation, integrating all those tips and suggestions into four basic steps. If you don’t know where to start with outreach, start here!

4x4 planThe 4×4 Plan
In one year, the 4×4 Plan asks you to do the following four things in your congregation. They don’t need to be done by one person – in fact, it’s better to spread the joy around! But two or three dedicated folks can knock this out if they want to help their congregation reach out in love. Are you ready? Here they are:

  1. Conversations – Talk to four people in your community (other faith leaders, community leaders, friends, local business owners, etc.) to get some feedback about your congregation. Take them to coffee, ask them what do they know about your congregation? What niche could you help fill in the community? This is the beginning of mapping user experiences, it will give you a valuable outside perspective, and it helps build your network in the neighborhood.
  2. Opportunities – Offer four “entry point” opportunities for people to get to know your congregation. Typically not on Sunday morning, entry points can be events, programs, speakers, concerts, forums, book clubs, play dates or classes. Make sure they connect to your congregation’s mission, and they pass the “friend test” – you’d be willing to invite your non-UU friend.
  3. Content – Create four pieces of original content which can be shared online that relate the life and mission of your congregation to something going on the world. Write a letter to the editor or a blog post, create a shareable holiday image or a short video, put up a piece of art on your front lawn and tell the world on social media. Get creative! Make it something you are excited to share.
  4. Promotion – For each of those opportunities and content pieces, promote them in four different ways. Example – for a community workshop for parents, you could email info to community partner groups, boost a Facebook post for $10, put up flyers at local day care centers and coffee shops, and add it to your local weekly newspaper’s calendar.

Now, while I can’t guarantee that using the 4×4 will instantly generate a flood of new members for your congregation, I can promise you will learn a great deal about how to reach out and make new connections in your community. Give it a try! And if you do, be sure to let us know how it goes in the comments section below. Or email us at outreach@uua.org, we’d love to add a postscript to this post with some stories.

Host a Conversation about the Elephant in the Room!

Elephant in the roomI am so proud to be part of a denomination that is focusing much of its social justice energy on the Movement for Black Lives. How proud? Proud enough to have hosted a Conversation about the Elephant in the Room with my own congregation along with our county’s Interfaith Network.

 

She’s big, she’s blue, emblazoned on the side of her body in bold letters is the word  RACISM, and she cannot be ignored. She’s heading out on a coast to coast tour, and she would love to come to your community. There are lots of ways to use her.

 

This is how we did it: At our local Gay Pride Festival this summer, we set up some comfortable furniture (and the giant pachyderm) and simply invited people to talk to each other. Some white people wore blindfolds that said “White Privilege”, a literal way to experience being blinded by white privilege while trying to understand racism.  

 

elephant-solidarity-22When the Movement for Black Lives called for a national day of action focussed on law enforcement on July 2, we answered the call by bringing the Elephant to our local police station, displaying signs to passing cars with messages in Solidarity. Many were uncomfortable with this action, maybe a bit too “edgy”. Ultimately it resulted in an ongoing positive dialogue that helped build relationship with our local police department.

 

That’s what’s happened locally, and my local action has been inspired by what’s happening denomination wide. At Portland’s 2015 General Assembly, the Movement for Black Lives was a focus through the whole week, ending in the dramatic final plenary session where we struggled to agree on the wording to the Action of Immediate Witness titled “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement”. I was privileged to participate in the die-in where more than 200 of us were in the street, closing a busy intersection for 4 ½ minutes representing the 4 ½ hours that Michael Brown’s body was left lying in the street in Ferguson. It has not been a part of my Unitarian experience to be involved in nonviolent direct action to such an extent. I know it has been part of our history, but I’ve only been a Unitarian for 15 years!

 

I couldn’t make it to the Columbus GA in 2016, but I followed it online. And there was Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost at the Closing Worship, leading thousands of Unitarians singing “Get Ready. We Comin’”, and yes yes yes, I felt the Spirit.

 

If you feel it too and would like to bring that Spirit into your community by hosting a Community Conversation about the Elephant in the Room sometime in the next twelve months, follow the link to sign up!

 

 

This is an Action-in-a-Box project of The Backbone Campaign in collaboration with SURJ, and soon, Unitarian friends across the country! The “box” will be shipped to you with everything you need to stage a successful Conversation on Racism event. Click here to express your interest, explore dates and get your questions answered http://www.backbonecampaign.org/organize_a_beyond_denial_installation. And feel free to contact Jo Walter with questions
The #BeyondDenial Racism is the Elephant in the Room Action-In-A-Box is a terrific tool to engage in transformative dialogue on racism and white privilege, how racism continues to seep into the structures of society and manifest in our communities, engage the larger public to make commitments to do racial justice work, and practice showing up as better allies in the movement for racial equity.

 

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Jo Walter is a lay leader of the Kitsap Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bremerton, WA