I emailed the following question to either the minister or president of each congregation: “What is your pathway to membership?” When I did not receive an email back, I picked up the phone. Reponses fell into three easy categories:
- People sign the book.
- People meet with either the minister or a committee, sign the book, make a pledge.
- People go through a class process, sign a book, make a pledge, participate in a ceremony and more.
I color-coded their adult membership growth trends: green (growing), pale yellow (no change within past five years*), gray (declining.) I laid those colors over the pathway to membership.
What I found was crystal clear. There was no wiggle room. There was no stray congregation. The gray congregations in decline merely had people sign a book. The congregations who had plateaued maintained the quick process of a meeting, a pledge card, and a book signing. The congregations who were growing were the ones with a clear pathway to membership. There was a class. Often an inventory of gifts and/or needs. Official or covert mentorship. A retreat with a class cohort. Keeping in mind that correlation is not causation; I believe the trend was clear enough to surmise that organizational maturity is attractive, plain and simple. And organizational maturity often goes hand in hand with spiritual maturity, which is also magnetic.
Of course there are other variables. If I tagged the congregations by size, they were well represented in all categories and colors. If I tagged them by the number of professional staff, they were also balanced in each color and category.
What I came away with back in 2007 is that the pathway to membership matters. Being clear about what it means to be a member matters. How you welcome new comers in, invite them into meaningful community, and equip them to thrive in your community matters.
Five years after I explored my assumption, we have some great resources available to you incase your congregation is pale yellow or gray.
- The Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals has a lot of great resources on their website. A core of their organization’s leadership are committing to one of the Growth Office’s Innovative Learning Circles. And another group of their leaders are updated the Membership Journey.
- I highly recommend the Commission on Appraisal Report, Belonging: The Meaning of Memership, which includes a study guide within the report. The report states: “Membership is not just a technical or legal state or a numerical measurement. It is a process that engages human beings and takes us from a starting place to a new place. (We) hope that congregations will take seriously the possibility of making membership more meaningful by paying careful attention to the paths they provide for this journey.” The Study Guide can
- The New UU – The New UU program provides important tools to help congregations welcome, orient, and integrate newcomers into their faith communities. The program addresses the needs of newcomers who want to know more about who we are and what we believe. It provides opportunities for members of your congregation to share with newcomers what it means to them to be a Unitarian Universalist. It gives newcomers a chance to examine their own personal stories in the light of our Unitarian Universalist tradition and heritage. It provides a chance for newcomers to the congregation and long-timers to connect. It provides an explicit invitation to become a member.
If you have a pathway to membership that especially feeds your mission, we want to know about it! Please comment in this blog or send us an email.
*Some congregations turn in the same certification numbers over and over, year after year. It is hard to determine if this a true representation of Adult Membership (or Religious Education Enrollment) or an indication of a reporting issue.
Tandi Rogers is still friends with the people who were in her New Member cohort back in 1990. And she remembers fondly being interviewed by elders from the church about what she was looking for and how she wanted to get involved. They became her go-to mentor and advocates.