By The Numbers: but are we growing?

it’s Friday!  Time to snack on data. I’ve been deluged with the question — But are we growing?!


Now, dear ones, you know that there are many indicators to growth. Impact is really the growth I’m most interested in.  We’re working at fine tuning some data collection at the UUA to better measure impact. Until then, we classically measure by membership.


Most other traditions count Average Sunday Attendance, but for us that’s still soft data. Why? Because we’re still getting the hang of it. About ten years ago Religious Education Enrollment was also soft.  Today, it’s much more reliable.  In a couple years I think the majority of our congregations will be sending a solid count of everyone in the building on Sunday (or your other main day of all-gathered worship–whatever worship means to your community.)


So, are we growing?

15 year trend

Don’t get distracted with the squiggly line – On a larger scale it looks like a flat line growing by 1% over 15 years.


Interesting fact — Currently we have 1043 active congregations world-wide. 2% of our member congregation and 2% of our adult membership are abroad.

member RE ASA


This represents active congregations for the year indicated belonging to US regions and CLF.


Religious Education is dropping significantly. And this is a ministry we are known to do well. Your Congregational Life staff and the Liberal Religious Educators Association are alarmed, too and trying to figure out what this means for us. When I was with my research counterparts in August we were all wringing our hands about the decline in children and youth.  It’s everywhere.

compared to other religions

The yearbook with the above data only comes out every-so-often. This is the most current data we have available.


I see opportunity.  Many folks are leaving main-line Protestant traditions because of their behind-the-times stance on gay marriage and other liberal issues.  We’ve got that. In spades.  My question is how welcoming will we be to folks coming from other religions who don’t want to leave all their religious language and practices at the door? Will we make room? Will we be open to be transformed ourselves by expanded community and increased diversity in beliefs?  May we make it so!



red glassesRev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

What if membership was a spectrum?

Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President
Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President


As Unitarian Universalists, we have a traditionally operated under a model of church that doesn’t acknowledge the changing social norms about religion. Historically, we’ve only kept track of one aspect of involvement in church life, “membership”, which typically means signing a congregation’s membership book and making an annual pledge. But in reality, people interact with faith communities in dozens of different ways beyond the traditional notion of membership, often deepening and stepping back over the course of their lives. If we truly believe that everyone in our faith movement matters, whether they are official members or not, it is clear we need to re-conceive what it means to be connected to Unitarian Universalism.


We created a spectrum to help congregations see that there are distinct levels of belonging to our faith communities. Together, as leaders in the UU Association of Membership Professionals and as UUA staff working on outreach, we offered a workshop at 2015 General Assembly about how to engage the whole spectrum.


Curious Individual

These are the people who know us and are in sync with our values, but not involved in our programs or ministries. Some examples would include those who participate in community activities related to a UU group, follow UUs on social media, share UU content, read UU books, see and/or support UU social justice actions.


Welcomed Visitor

Those who are involved with UU programs or ministries at a basic or fluid level, and may or may not identify as UU, are at this stage. They may attend events hosted by UU congregations, go to Sunday services occasionally or participate in UU community-oriented ministries and programs (e.g. day care, lecture series). Sometimes they have a friend or family member who serves as a tie to the congregation.


Succeeding in the first two stages (outreach)
  • Pay attention to how you show up virtually (website, social media, Yelp/Google/search functions, news media), so you look as beautiful from the outside as you do from the inside.
  • Create multiple entry points that don’t revolve around Sunday morning (get creative! Get passionate!) AND pay attention to visitor experience at all of these entry points.
  • One transition between welcomed visitor and connected friend is the traditional “pathway to membership,” but support is needed for all transitions.


Connected Friend

After attending services several times, those who attend a one time or low commitment activity outside of services have become a connected individual. This gives them better opportunities to meet people and start building relationships. Having several easy opportunities, like a Circle Dinner, one time small group, helping set up at an event or serving coffee give new folks a way to meet others without making a big commitment.


Engaged Individual

When a person gets involved in a regular activity, such as an affinity group, small group ministry, religious education teacher or serving on a committee, they have engaged with the community. All of these programs require ownership in one way or another, an expectations of regular participation and, in many cases, opportunities to share spiritual journeys with each other.


Integrated Leader

At the final stage in the spectrum, individuals emerge as leaders. We have found that as someone steps into the role of a leader they are more than simply engaged with a community, but they are also integrated. And by being integrated they are changing the community. They put their own personal twist on the programs they lead and that is a deeper level in involvement then just showing up, even on a regular basis. You become an integrated leader when you are willing to put your efforts into making the community better. Some examples would be a committee chair, small group leader or religious professional.


Succeeding along the spectrum (welcoming and membership development)
  • Make sure facilitators and leaders of groups know how to welcome newcomers at each stage as people enter the spectrum at different points.
  • Have training in place for leaders to ensure they have healthy boundaries and motives consistent with the mission of your congregation.
  • Have a tracking system in place to know where people fall on the spectrum. This will be an invaluable resource for recruiting for programs and volunteer opportunities, discovering emerging leaders, as well as those who need assistance in connecting.
  • We need to understand that there will be people who move both directions on the spectrum, and even leave our path. We want to support them in their journey and leave room for them to comfortably return should their path bring them back.

Looking at these stages calls us to pay attention to how we help people move from one stage to another. Again, most of us will move up and down the spectrum over time, but transitions between stages will always be important for religious leaders to support (the transition of “bridging” from youth to young adulthood is a great example). We hope this model will inspire UUs to think differently about their faith, from outreach to curious individuals all the way to spiritual enrichment for our integrated leaders. It can even include non-congregational groups, conferences or ministries. Embrace the full spectrum!

Additional Resources

Notes from 2015 General Assembly Workshop

Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals


Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President

By the Numbers: another serving of pie

Last week I introduced some numbers from a high balcony.  Let’s break down those numbers into regions.

2015 UUA cong by region

And now membership by regions…

2015 UUA membership by region


Is this what you expected? Anything surprise you?


Next week I’ll show you some growth trends…



Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

It Starts And Ends In Love

The following post by Rev. Cynthia Cain was first featured by Standing on the Side of Love.


Dedication of Black Lives Matter sign on August 23, 2015. Sign was defaced 10 days later.
Dedication of Black Lives Matter sign on August 23, 2015. Sign was defaced 10 days later.

Not long after I returned from the events in Selma, marking the 50th anniversary of the historic march it became clear to me, even though I was an interim pastor at the UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore, that there was a compelling need at this time for a renewed civil rights movement, and for liberal congregations like ours to speak out and stand up, and we could no longer stand by in silence. Most important among the narratives and images that I brought back from Selma were the words of Mark Morrison-Reed, when he told us that it all begins with relationships; the powerful teachings of Opal Tometi, one of the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and the warmth, affection, and tenderness expressed by the families of James Reeb, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Clark Olsen, and Orloff Miller.

This great love, a love for humanity, for justice, for goodness, a genuine faith and a passion for what is best in humanity permeated the time we spent together. Walking toward that bridge amidst a throng of thousands, holding the hand of my adopted boy Seth, a child who lives with autism, I felt that day part of a great sacrament. I felt that a promise was made, to carry that spirit of love back to every town and city from which we had come.

Walking toward Edmund Pettus Bridge during Selma 50th Anniversary march
Walking toward Edmund Pettus Bridge during Selma 50th Anniversary march

Soon, we formed an Anti-Racism Task Force. We talked about what we might do: study, have forums, outreach, a partnership with a mostly Black congregation. I knew that other UU congregations had put up banners saying, “Black Lives Matter,” so I threw out the query, almost as a kind of provocative idea: Would you suggest we post a sign? How about protesting by the road if there were an incident in this community? It was a surprise, then, when the team members, unanimously, said, by all means. And since this team consisted of some of the founders and most highly respected members of the congregation, we stepped out, with Love. It wasn’t just an idea, but something I felt deeply embodied in these ten or twelve people: they meant it.

I was out of town when the Board unanimously approved the sign. I was at General Assembly when the task force planned and held a beautiful vigil for the victims of the massacre at the AME Church in Charleston the Sunday after the shooting. But I had returned by August 23rd when we had an afternoon ceremony, attended by new allies and friends in the community, to dedicate our sign. The relationships we had begun to build already showed.

The entire afternoon was about love: for me, the image that captured my heart was that of a young, African-American boy from the neighboring AME congregation to which we had sent flowers after the shootings holding hands with an elderly Black gentleman, the father of one of our members, as we sang, “We Shall Overcome.”

I believe that we lived into our best selves that day.


Children from St. Paul AME & UU Congregation at Sign Dedication
Children from St. Paul AME & UU Congregation at Sign Dedication

Yes, we have been viciously attacked on Facebook and threatened. Yes, the sign was defaced, scrawled over with white paint by vandals. Yes. We hung it back up after we found it could not be cleaned. Each decision we have made has been to respond with love, not fear. If your congregation has, or is interested in, putting up a banner check out this resource page on The Power of the Black Lives Matter Banner.

I refuse to listen to the messages of hate and scorn. I refuse to listen to the rhetoric that calls “Black Lives Matter” a hate-filled, cop-hating movement. For us, they are three words that send a signal to the world: we care, immensely, and we intend to live into these words with actions that show it. Indeed, our task force has worked diligently to build relationships with law enforcement, and to learn more about their challenges as well.

Task Force members & Rev. Cain with Atlantic City officers on weekly walks through the neighborhoods of AC. We have joined the ACPD & community organizers all summer.
Task Force members & Rev. Cain with Atlantic City officers on weekly walks through the neighborhoods of AC. We have joined the ACPD & community organizers all summer.

I sincerely believe that it is the nefarious design of institutional racism in this land, in which all white people are complicit, that has kept many of us from deep and genuine encounters with people of color. And it is only through proximity, and through building relationships, in which we listen, and open our hearts to love, that this will begin to be reversed.

I have learned this: as you build genuine relationships, you will stand up. As you make a stand, and take a stand, genuine relationships will follow. But you have to show up, and show up, and show up. This isn’t a flirtation, or a whim. White people, even liberals, have deceived, let down, and disappointed People of Color, and Black people specifically, in organizing for racial justice throughout history.

Don’t go in unless you intend to stay in relationship. And once you know, really know, the truth, you will never be complacent again, until all are free.

I feel so blessed to be a part of Unitarian Universalism in this time, when we are awakening to the new Civil Rights movement, and when we can be the people who show up, and stand, and move, with Love.


Our sign (two sides) on Pomona Road across from the entrance to Stockton University. We replaced the sign with damage after it could not be cleaned, feeling that was a “teachable moment” and people needed to see how far some were willing to go to shut down this conversation. We are currently planning forums with a primarily Black Methodist congregation in AC.


Improving your User Experience (UX), online and in person (Part 3)

In this day and age, peoples’ experience with our UU congregations and groups typically begins online. They engage with our websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, and the feelings and conclusions they develop will lead them towards, or away from, engaging in our communities. I blogged here this summer about the rising field of User Experience (UX): how it can reveal to us the unintentional signals we send to newcomers and how we can learn a lot from our new users.

If we’re going to do effective outreach online, we some insight into the experience of the large and slightly mysterious pool of people we call prospective visitors. Who are they? What do they want? And how do we design our websites for their positive UX?

Creating personas can help. It’s an imaginative exercise, one that helps us “insiders” see things from a different viewpoint.

For a General Assembly 2015 workshop on websites, I developed two personas and “looked” at two congregations’ websites through their lenses (with their blessing, of course!)

First persona: James from East Tennessee. James is a white male high school student, age 17, who identifies as gay. He’s been raised without religion, yet he has had some profound spiritual experiences he wants to talk about with peers. His ideas about the sacred don’t fit neatly into any box. He calls himself agnostic.

from Flickr ©Jasn/CC BY-NC 2.0
“James” the persona

James has some questions. He goes to the nearest UU congregation’s website, in this case Oak Ridge UU Congregation, and tries to find out:

  • Is this a place where I can talk about my spirituality?
  • Will they accept me as a gay person?
  • What is there for high school youth?
  • What are the other teens like?

I encourage you to click through Are you able to find answers to his questions? How hard, or how easy? It’s a beautiful website. You might notice that right away, the website speaks to his spiritual question. Yes! You might also notice that it doesn’t say it’s an LGBTQ welcoming congregation, though the FAQ indicates that there are transgender-welcoming bathrooms. And where does he know to look for information on the high school youth program? Under “Get Inspired?” “Grow in Faith?” “Be Involved?” He doesn’t really know what any of those three sections are. He’s kind of confused. Even though this is an extravagantly welcoming congregation for a gay teen like himself, he doesn’t know that. Looking at the website he is getting some really positive answers to some of his questions, and is not quite sure about the answers to some others.

from Flickr ©Jennifer Borget/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“Tricia” and her family

Another persona is Tricia. She is 37 years old, an atheist, a teacher, multiracial, and a mom of two. Her husband is white and believes in God. Their daughter is asking them big questions, and Tricia is looking for a place where their whole family can explore meaning together. She lives in Eastern Massachusetts, and she Googles First Parish in Cambridge to find their website. She explores it with these questions in mind:

  • Is this a place that includes people of multiple ethnicities and cultures?
  • What do they believe? Will everyone in my atheist/God-believing family be respected?
  • What do they teach the kids about God and the supernatural?
  • Will the kids like it?

She explores and immediately sees text and images that tell her this is an intentionally multicultural congregation. She is thrilled to learn this and thinks this bodes well. She loves what they affirm on their homepage: “You are loved… You are free… Your are called…” She wants to know more about what they believe. Where does she look? The navigation bar says “Home, Welcome, Get Connected, Worship, Children/Youth, Justice and Transformation, Y2Y, Pastoral Care, Giving, and Contact Us.” Hmm. No obvious place to click to learn about beliefs. So instead, she clicks on Children/Youth to learn more about the kids programs. She finds this great page called “What We Are Learning.” “Yes!” She says. She reads about “Spirit Play” and “Moral Tales,” which are both focused on the kinds of questions her daughter is asking: “Where did people come from? What are we doing here? What happens when we die?” She really likes this, and the programs sound like things her kids would love to do. She still doesn’t have the detailed answer she seeks about beliefs, but she’s willing to give the congregation a try.

Using these personas, we are able to imagine the experience of a user, and change our design accordingly. For James, we’d make our inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities much more obvious, with words, photos, and images. For Tricia, we’d create clearer path to find out what UUs believe. For both personas on both websites, we’d do some re-organization and re-titling of the sites’ sections, to ensure our navigation headings are clear, and help our users find what they need to find.

Do you see what James and Tricia helped us see? As makes clear, personas help us write for the appropriate audience, focus our content decisions, test and prioritize, evaluate new content and features, and more. They help us improve our users’ overall experience, by expanding our frames of reference beyond those that have become habitual.

Who do you as a congregation want to make sure you’re reaching? Try creating some personas, some real-seeming people with real needs that might be served by your congregation. You might develop five or six personas, or even more, and look at your website with the questions and concerns of people who are:

  • Different theologies/spiritual orientations
  • Different ethnicities/races
  • Different social classes
  • Different ages
  • In interfaith families
  • Parents of young children
  • Single
  • Going through rough times and needing support
  • Not experienced participants in any religious community

Two cautions in using personas: one, beware of stereotypes and pigeonholing. Just because you changed your site to work well for your persona who’s a lesbian in an interfaith family, it doesn’t mean that all lesbians in interfaith families are going to like what they see on your website! Every person is unique. Two, don’t use personas heavy-handedly. For example, let your atheist persona help you find places in the site that are unconsciously marginalizing people who don’t believe in God. But don’t let your atheist persona demand removal of references to the sacred in order to be welcoming to her! We want our personas to help us clearly communicate who we are: an inclusive and spiritually-diverse movement that is seeking to grow our love and broaden our welcome.

In addition, real people come with a range of abilities, disabilities, and educational levels. Some users may be having a very difficult experience of the site because of the color contrast, the reliance on un-transcribed video content, or the highfalutin language. The UUA’s Web Team offers guidance and tools for building accessible sites. You don’t even need personas to work on making your site work for people of all abilities.

May personas prove to be a fun, creative way to build a more effective web presence for Unitarian Universalism. I would love to hear your stories of what you learn!



SarahRev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.

By The Numbers: pie for everyone!

I was on Church of the Larger Fellowship‘s The VUU last week on a segment we called Correlations and Covenants.  I talked about data and the implications of knowing who we are more clearly. That’s why I love numbers so much.  They can break down assumptions and help us see ourselves and our context more clearly so we can make better decisions as to how we change our behaviors and/ or allocate resources and so much more. I’m going to try to set aside Friday’s blog post for tastes of data in form of (mostly) pie charts.


While talking on The VUU I threw out some numbers and then immediately regretted not having pie charts ready for people to “see” the numbers.  I’d like to remedy that here.  I now present to you two pies…

2015 UUA Congregations by size tkr


What was your assumption before looking at the pie chart above? So many leaders at the regional and national level are from mid-size and larger congregations.  We often bring our assumptions that most of our congregations are like our own. And look at that!  Over two thirds of our congregations have <160 members!


Another common assumption is that most of our adult members attend the large congregations. Another way to look at that is assuming that most of our adult membership is carried by large congregations.

2015 UUA Adult Membership by size tkr


From this pie chart you can see that most of our adult membership resides in the Small and Mid-Size Pastoral size.  The rest of the categories are fairly evenly split.


How does this change your concept of who we are as an Association?  How does it change your concept of your own congregation in relationship to the collective? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment area.



red glassesRev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.







Join our “cause,” not our “club”

CauseWe know that religion is changing in America, but in those changes there’s a hidden trend. Did you know that what attracts people to a congregation or religious community and what keeps them there are different things? What attracts people is the opportunity for meaning-making, and what retains them as members is the community and friendships they build. People don’t come because they are in search of friends or a community, per se, they come looking for spiritual deepening for themselves and their family and only then may they find a community which enriches the meaning-based experience and makes them want to come back.

This is clearly demonstrated through research. In his book “American Grace,” sociologist Robert Putnam digs through mountains of data to identify some key trends in American religious practice. Here’s a quote from his book: “Americans may select their congregations primarily because of theology and worship, but the social investment made within that congregation appears to be what keeps them there.” (pg 174).

You can see this dynamic at play within Unitarian Universalism, most recently in the multicultural ministries Sharing Project. This survey of UUs from marginalized groups (gender identity, race, ability, etc.) asked why respondents first decided to attend their congregation and then why they continued to attend. The top response for the decision to attend was “I wanted to deepen my spiritual life,” and the top response for staying was “I love the community of people”(page 15, or the 23rd page of the PDF).

Ok, you say, fascinating point, but what am I supposed to do about it? Simple: when you talk about what your congregation offers, think “join our cause” instead of “join our club.” Show what your congregation does, how it helps people live better lives and make a better world, instead of only talking about what a great community you offer. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a congregation say “all are welcome” (including UU, UCC, Catholic, even conservative evangelical!), well, I’d have a lot of dollars but no idea what I would be welcome to spend them on. It’s great that you’re not turning people away, but what are you actually offering them? Seriously, “all are welcome” at the movie theater, but I’m still not going to the movies unless I know what’s playing.

The key to successful outreach amid the changing religious landscape, particularly with the unaffiliated or Spiritual But Not Religious sets, will likely be to speak to why people would want to show up in the first place, not just what can keep them there year after year. Describe what we offer for learning, yearning and working for our values. We can’t assume people are already looking for a church on Sunday mornings, because in fact we’re competing for their time and attention against sleeping in, talking a walk, soccer practice, Facebook and brunch. We have to focus on what we DO as UUs, not just who we are.

To help you think “cause” over “club,” check out the values of the UU brand identity – boldness, compassion, reverence – that are geared towards the most active and authentic spiritual elements of our faith. They’re a departure from the pastoral, supportive, caring community connection values that we’ve often described in the past, but they’re well-positioned to help you get to the heart of our faith movement’s drive to advance our values in the world.



cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach, total data geek and trend-spotter, as seen in his presentation Future of Faith.

Covenanting Community Highlight: Commitment Ceremony

Sacred Path is a UU religious community in Indianapolis, Indiana that was welcomed into relationship with the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Covenanting Community.


“Love, above all things, is a commitment to your choice.” ―Rob Liano


commitment-sacredpath brighterAs we enter our fourth year together, Sacred Path held a ritual of commitment over Labor Day weekend. Sitting in a circle, we began by naming and honoring our ancestors: those who helped bring us to this place and time.


Our prayers were silent, spoken, and sung.


We lit candles and honored the ministers who have served faith communities we have been a part of in the past.


We lit candles for each of the Unitarian Universalist congregations in the central Indiana area.


We lit candles for our individual spiritual guides and teachers, sometimes speaking their names into the space, sometimes silently honoring their influence in our lives.


We named parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. We named ministers, nuns, teachers, and entire congregations. Some of us named authors, philosophers, and theologians as well as familiar intimates. We named those who lovingly guided us as well as those whose lessons came through difficulty and hardship, all of whom helped us to grow.


Before the ritual, each adult, young adult, and youth was invited to bring with them a small token symbolizing their commitment to the community to be left on the altar. People brought stuffed animals, books, cds of music they had recorded, stones, geodes, beads, feathers, pinecones, shiny boxes, poems they had written, and even glitter glue!


When the time came, one-by-one we approached the altar in the center of the room and shared our commitments with the community. Sometimes our commitments were named confidently others more softly. Sometimes they were silently placed on the altar along with the tokens.


In the next round, we honored our commitment to self for the next year. One-by-one we approached the altar again, sharing our commitments to self-care and growth. Each person received an item from the altar that spoke to them in a special way, while the community bore witness to these commitments and agreed to gently hold one another accountable to them.


Finally we honored the joys and sorrows the community had shared over the past year, embodied in the strings of many colors wrapped around a prayer stick made of rosewood that a member had offered for this purpose shortly after last year’s ingathering.  We sang in gratitude then processed outside to burn the stick in a sacred fire, sending its prayers skyward. We concluded by singing, “Spirit of Life.”


Afterward, we held a feast outdoors under the stars and the canopy of trees that rises over the land we hold sacred in this time, knowing it is made so by the many who have walked and worshipped here in past generations.


We invite everyone in the larger Unitarian Universalist community to keep Sacred Path in your thoughts and prayers this next year. We know all too well the inherent risk in starting something new. It would mean so much to us to feel the supportive energy of others enveloping this emerging ministry!



lori-photo-squareLori Stone Sirtosky has served as a lay leader with Sacred Path since its inception in 2012. For her day job, she wrangles the technology needs of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalism’s congregation without walls. The biggest lesson she has learned in working with innovative and emerging ministries is to breathe. Whatever you are dealing with today, rest assured, another seemingly big scary thing is coming down the pike, and you will survive it, too.

Improving your User Experience (UX), online and in person (Part 2)

UU faces taken during registration and other times
UU faces taken during registration and other times, Photo credit © Nancy Pierce/UUA

In part 1 I began to explore how the principles of User Experience (UX) Design can improve people’s experience of our congregations. Attention to the emotional and informational transactions of the “user” has become deeply important to me: not just because I’m a minister, not just because I’m in the UUA’s Outreach staff, but also because I’ve recently been new in a congregation.


I spent months last year exploring websites and visiting congregations with my toddler before I settled on the one I attend now. The incredible friendliness of that congregation made a difference. It wasn’t accidental: the congregation had put work in to their welcome.


The first time I visited, no one knew I was a minister, just a mom with a two year old. People greeted me warmly even before we’d crossed the street, and someone offered to carry the stroller that my child was refusing to ride in. At the door, a trained greeter met us, helped us create nametags, gave us a mini-tour, and helped my child find and feel comfortable in the nursery. The nursery was staffed by a paid professional, someone who exuded warmth and confidence. The worship was excellent too – but I was already deciding this was a good place to be before I even set foot in the sanctuary. I had a good user experience.


“User Experience design… is about giving people a delightful and meaningful experience. A good design is pleasurable, thoughtfully crafted, makes you happy, and gets you immersed.” (From

Let’s get new people immersed in Unitarian Universalism! But how do we know what will delight them? What they’ll find meaningful?


When we’re trying to attract new “users,” we can try to get there by thinking about what we like, but we are often not good judges of what a new user is looking for. Especially since many of the things that members like are things that come with time (like community, or ministry through life changes.) In order to design for new users, we need to talk with some of our relatively new users. While we get curious about who they are and we get to know them, we can also get curious about their experience, asking questions like:

  • How did you learn about our congregation? Why did you decide to interact with/visit us?
  • What were your goals when you started interacting with us (online or in person)? Did our congregation meet your expectations related to these goals?
  • What are the most frequent tasks you do on our website? (For example, finding out what’s happening this week.) Is it easy or difficult to accomplish those tasks?
  • What are the most frequent tasks you do when you attend? (For example, get a cup of coffee after the service.) Are there frequent tasks that don’t feel easy to accomplish? If so, why? (For example, having to wait in line for a long time for coffee.)
  • When you are interacting with us online, do you find anything frustrating that you wish was easier/different?
  • When you are interacting with us in person, do you find anything frustrating that you wish was easier/different?
  • What else would you like to tell us about your experience getting involved?
    (The first six bullets are from, adapted for congregational use.)


What we learn from their answers can help us improve the experience of people who interact with us in the future.


We can also do some of this work without talking with new users: we can just try to see things with new eyes, as my old congregation did with the parking lot entrance in Improving Your User Experience (Part I). And we can do through the use of personas – another powerful methodology from web development that helps us design for particular audiences. I’ll discuss those in the third part of this series.


Even though we can’t control every element of a new user’s experience with a congregation, there is much we can learn, and much we can change, when we make the effort to understand the emotions we’re evoking in the people we’re hoping to serve. A “delightful and meaningful experience” at the front end can lead users to a faith that changes their lives profoundly. Let’s not let a clunky website or confusing signage get in the way. Unitarian Universalism saves lives: may a positive user experience make it so, all the more.



SarahRev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.

MultiSite Ministries: the promise of partnership

We want to extend the reach of love in Northern Colorado.

Dana and Gretchen IVRev. Gretchen Haley and Diana McLean kicked off the partnership between Greeley and Foothill churches and explored the theology of a good partnership. I highly recommend their podcast, The Promise of Partnership.


“This ministry partnership is not just a partnership between ministers and staff, but also the people of two congregations.. What does this mean? What kind of relationship is it? .. The goal for us (Greeley) is to have excellence in worship every Sunday, and consistency in ministerial presence. The goal for Foothills is to help spread the Universalist faith. We will both benefit from economies of scale, as three ministers will be in relationship with one another and with both churches. This will leave more time for ministers to be with congregants and performing other ministries.” ~ from their podcasted sermon


As we began our year together, the lay and clergy leaders gathered to create a covenant to document what we each understood as the promises we were making in their partnership.  To do this, we went around a circle, with each person getting a chance to say one response to the question “What do you think we are doing together?” Responses were invited without comment or dialogue until everyone felt they had said everything they could think of.  Then, we talked through what we each meant by those statements, and fleshed out precisely what we hoped for in the coming year.  From these hopes, we created the following covenant.  As you can see, it includes both practical and visionary promises.  It is understood as an evolving document that we will return to again and again throughout this experimental year.


Covenant of Partnership – Unitarian Universalist Church of Greeley and the Foothills Unitarian Church

We the congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greeley and the Foothills Unitarian Church, united in our shared commitment to Unitarian Universalism and the Spirit of Life and Love, and as religious communities each with our unique missions, vision, values and histories, covenant with one another:

  • To grow the Unitarian Universalist faith and strengthen each of our congregations and our impact, growing in openness to new possibilities and claiming a broader vision.
  • To utilize and contribute to the resources of the Unitarian Universalist Association, including providing input about our experiences so that we may learn from and benefit others who are engaging in similar experiments.
  • To form heart-to-heart connections between the ministerial team and congregants as well as across our congregations, creating opportunities for the congregations’ members, lay leaders and staff teams to see one another and build relationship.
  • To share three professional ministers who serve as a team in both of our congregations.
  • To roll out our partnership in partnership – respecting the need to build buy-in in each of our congregations before moving forward on initiatives while also discerning when we need to lead our congregations towards leaping ahead to the next opportunity.
    • We will not merge our congregations, but rather we will act as partners, thinking like a “we” on decisions that affect both congregations.
    • We will work from the assumption that our congregations are equal in faith if not in size or in budget.
    • We will acknowledge and value the different gifts and skill sets each of our congregations bring.
    • And we will “date” so that we might see if we “fall in love” – which means we will pace ourselves.
  • To remain flexible and to keep a mindset of “experimentation,” assuming good intent and bringing up issues before they become problems, and to create a Partnership Task Force who will help facilitate this communication.
  • To leverage economies of scale across both churches, sharing administrative resources especially in the realm of bookkeeping and membership administration, and professional knowledge, including across our religious education and music ministries.
  • To create patterns of interaction that create in both congregations a sense of relief rather than overwhelm – with the value being that this is a mutually beneficial relationship for both communities in both impact and efficiencies.

We acknowledge that we are each new to this partnership and so we assume we will stumble at times and encounter challenges that test the well-intended explicit and implicit promises of this covenant. When these challenges arise, we promise to come together in conversation, and seek help from outside resources as we may need, to seek and offer forgiveness generously, to learn well from our experiences, and to begin again.




Rev. Gretchen Haley is entering her 4th year as the Associate Minister for the Foothills Unitarian Church and as of August, serves as part of the ministry team serving the UU Church of Greeley.   She finds great inspiration from Alice Blair Wesley’s 2000 Minns Lectures, The Lay and Liberal Doctrine of the Church: The Spirit and the Promise of Our Covenant.