If I could attract 588 lesbians to dinner in Charlotte, North Carolina, think how many people you could get to your congregational events! Ok, not all 588 of them have come to dinner, but they are all members of the “Charlotte Single Lesbians Dinner Party” Meetup.com group.
I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2006, to become District Executive of the Southeast District. When I moved to Charlotte, I didn’t know a soul and my job required me to travel on weekends to visit congregations around the district. That made it virtually impossible to attend the various LGBTQ functions in the area. So asked myself, why not see if I could find six or eight lesbians who wanted to have dinner on a Wednesday night?
I started a group on www.Meetup.com and scheduled our first dinner at a local restaurant. I put notices up (all provided by Meetup) at our local LGBT bookstore and a couple other lesbian hang-outs in town, and sent some individual invitations to lesbians on Match.com (that’s a whole other story). I expected four or five women to join me for the first dinner. Within days of listing the group, forty-two had joined! And better yet, twenty-six showed up for first dinner! Within a month, we had seventy-five members, then hundred, then two hundred, and more have joined each month since. It’s now an established community where lesbians meet each other, develop friendships, have fun together, and occasionally, fall in love.
So how does Meetup.com work? Meetup is a social media site with a twist: members who connect online over a common interest, actually meet together in person. Meetup is designed for people to find each other, but unlike a dating site, its focus is to bring groups of people together. Using the Meetup.com tools, you can schedule events, sign-up members, post photos, hold discussions, email all the members, post static pages, even print name tags for your events.
It’s a perfect tool for congregations to reach out and find people. In fact, when new people move to town, especially new people under 40, Meetup is one of the first places they check for ways to connect to their new community.
Some UU congregations, like the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Benton County, Arkansas, use Meetup as their primary website. Congregations, such as Fourth Universalist Society of New York City, use Meetup to encourage fun activities for their members and the community at large. Still other congregations use Meetup to attract people who are interested in a particular faith development topic, a social justice issue, or connecting with others with particular affinity. North Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Danvers Massachusetts, for example, sponsors a GLBT Parents on the North Shore Meetup group.
For a group to be successful, you need three key ingredients:
- A topic or affinity that people will want to connect with
- An organizer or team of organizers who welcome new members, online and in person, and keep the site up-to-date (generally, once it’s set up, site maintenance is less than an hour a month, at most)
- Regularly scheduled meetups to keep the group active and alive
How might a Meetup group serve your congregation and your community? How about sponsoring an LGBTQ Meetup group and hosting a monthly dinner for the members? Your congregation could provide a vital link for LGBTQ people, especially in rural communities, who often have nowhere to gather and connect. How about a Zen group or a liberal Christian group? Maybe you want to start a multicultural writing group or a jazz music group. The possibilities are endless.
Who do you want to attract to your congregation? What population could you support by offering a place to meet? How might you extend your congregation’s reach using Meetup to doing the reaching for you?
If you have a successful Meetup story, we’d love to hear it.