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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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.