By guest blogger, Mark Bernstein, Regional Consultant for Growth Development with the Central Eastern Regional Group

Friendship Sunday

Let’s start with some statistics:

  • 70 to 90% of people who join a congregation have a friend or relative already in the congregation.
  •  75 to 90% visit because someone invited them.
  •  We know that the most frequent way in which people hear about us is through word of mouth.

However, the average Unitarian Universalist only invites a person to church once every 26 years.

So what’s up with that?  Why are we so hesitant to invite people to our congregation?

So here’s something that might surprise you: The short term goal of Friendship Sunday is not to increase the membership.  The short term goal is to enable our friends, neighbors and loved ones to experience the place that has brought us such joy and meaning. The immediate purpose is to spread the good news about Unitarian Universalism.

Let me share a story with you:

A blind beggar boy was once sitting on the pavement. He held up a sign which said: “I am blind, please help.” There were only a few coins in his begging bowl.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.

That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, “Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?”

The man said, “I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way.”

What he had written was: “Today is a beautiful day and I cannot see it.”

When we invite people to Friendship Sunday, the sign we’re displaying should not be, “We need more members.  Please help.”  It should be, “We have a beautiful congregation and a beautiful building and you haven’t seen it.”

We are inviting people because we want them to meet the people and see the place that has brought us so much joy and meaning.  And we want them to see it because they as well have brought so much joy and meaning to our lives.

The Big Pitch

Disclaimer:   A true and authentic “ask” comes from the heart and in one’s own words.  Please use this document merely as a guide and a resource of gentle suggestions.

“On Sunday, March 17th, my congregation is having a “Friendship Sunday.”  There will be a service featuring a sermon by our minister and an informal reception following the service.  As you know, this is a community that is very important to me, a place where I feel at home.  As someone who is also important to me, I want you to see this place and to meet the people who mean so much to me.

Will you accept my invitation?”

So what makes this invitation so special?

  • You are only asking the person to experience something that is important to you, not to convert to Unitarian Universalism
  • You are honoring the person by inviting them to meet others who are also important in your life
  • You are being very clear and honest about the agenda and content of the day
  • You are making a straight forward invitation without bargaining, pleading or coercing.  The other has the right and opportunity to say “no” without consequences or diminishing of the relationship
If they ask… You say…
What happens during the service? We listen to music and sing hymns.  There are opening and closing words read by the Worship Associate.  Our Minister also gives about a 20 minute sermon.
Do I have to sing? Only if you want to.
Do people pray? We often have moments of silence and reflection.  These are private times when you can be alone with your thoughts.
Will I be asked to introduce myself? You won’t be singled out in any way.  Hopefully, people will come over to us to say “hi” because they’ll want to meet you.
I won’t have to sign anything, will I? Just a blank check.  I’M KIDDING. You don’t have to sign or do anything you don’t want to.
Can my children come and what will they experience? Yes, and they have the choice of joining you in the service or going to children’s Religious Education classes with a friend of with their own age group.
So why is this Unitarian Universalism faith so important to you?OrWhy is this congregation so important to you? Insert you own answer here and be ready to respond.  If you stutter and stammer and have to think about it for too long, your friend will begin to wonder if this is a place worth visiting.


Mark Bernstein, Regional Consultant for Growth Development with the Central Eastern Regional Group

About the Author
Tandi Rogers


  1. Lou Csabay

    I joined the Unitarian Church at Washington’s Crossing, in Titusville New Jersey last Wednesday. The entire congregation welcomed me and my partner to the church at last Sunday’s services. I cannot describe how fulfilled I feel now that I “took-the-plunge” and joined. Your words and story here are very inspirational to me; thanks for posting them.

  2. Paul Rioux

    Thanks for writing this. Very insightful and informative.

  3. G Kevin Mark

    My fiancee and I have become the “unofficial missionaries” of our congregation. We like to invite people to church, because we think we have something special going on in the UU. A place to formulate and celebrate our own beliefs, while enjoying a community that shares our values. We have the wallet cards with the UUA principles. I usually carry 2 or 3 copies in my wallet to give out to people who want to know “what do UUs believe?” I answer the question by telling them, “pretty much whatever resonates with their own spirit”, but we pretty much share the values on the card, and teach about the six sources of spiritual inspiration listed. It’s really not hard to talk about. We like to tell people that most Americans are UU at heart, but just don’t know it yet.

  4. Laura Estan

    As the new Chair of our Membership Committee here at the historic First Parish Cambridge I am so appreciative of the timely arrival of your article to my inbox today! Just last week I mentioned having a Friends Day next year and your breakdown of Q & A is extremely helpful! Your words range so true and will be quite helpful as a resource for us! Thank you

  5. Adam

    This is one of the reasons that I am against churches whitewashing their newsletters and websites for privacy. I like to know who attends a church before I attend, and have at least one person that I know in the congregation. I often wonder how many other people do this same thing before they attend a church, just to see who goes there? I also wonder how many people are brought in once they see a name that they recognize in a newsletter, for example and how many of these people later become members?


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