Overheard by a Unitarian Universalist congregational lay leader recently: “I know Americans are going to church less, all the ‘spiritual but not religious’ stuff, but I’m not sure what to do about it. How are we supposed to respond, how can my congregation adapt? How do we reach out with our saving message? Where do we start?“

calming-manatee-memeDon’t panic, dedicated UU leader! Hopefully, you already know there are lots of guides, curricula, videos, templates, tools and resources to help you do better outreach, available through the UUA at uua.org/outreach. But for most congregational leaders I know, especially volunteer leaders, it’s a lot to digest. Integrating social science research, theological reflection, event planning and Facebook posting into a single overarching strategy is a lot of work when you’re just trying to keep things running week to week. I totally understand.

So we’ve created the 4×4 plan for outreach in your congregation. The 4×4 Plan is a simple, easy and low-cost way to help your community connect with your congregation, integrating all those tips and suggestions into four basic steps. If you don’t know where to start with outreach, start here!

4x4 planThe 4×4 Plan
In one year, the 4×4 Plan asks you to do the following four things in your congregation. They don’t need to be done by one person – in fact, it’s better to spread the joy around! But two or three dedicated folks can knock this out if they want to help their congregation reach out in love. Are you ready? Here they are:

  1. Conversations – Talk to four people in your community (other faith leaders, community leaders, friends, local business owners, etc.) to get some feedback about your congregation. Take them to coffee, ask them what do they know about your congregation? What niche could you help fill in the community? This is the beginning of mapping user experiences, it will give you a valuable outside perspective, and it helps build your network in the neighborhood.
  2. Opportunities – Offer four “entry point” opportunities for people to get to know your congregation. Typically not on Sunday morning, entry points can be events, programs, speakers, concerts, forums, book clubs, play dates or classes. Make sure they connect to your congregation’s mission, and they pass the “friend test” – you’d be willing to invite your non-UU friend.
  3. Content – Create four pieces of original content which can be shared online that relate the life and mission of your congregation to something going on the world. Write a letter to the editor or a blog post, create a shareable holiday image or a short video, put up a piece of art on your front lawn and tell the world on social media. Get creative! Make it something you are excited to share.
  4. Promotion – For each of those opportunities and content pieces, promote them in four different ways. Example – for a community workshop for parents, you could email info to community partner groups, boost a Facebook post for $10, put up flyers at local day care centers and coffee shops, and add it to your local weekly newspaper’s calendar.

Now, while I can’t guarantee that using the 4×4 will instantly generate a flood of new members for your congregation, I can promise you will learn a great deal about how to reach out and make new connections in your community. Give it a try! And if you do, be sure to let us know how it goes in the comments section below. Or email us at outreach@uua.org, we’d love to add a postscript to this post with some stories.

About the Author
Carey McDonald
Carey is the Chief Operating Officer for the UUA.


  1. Kay Crider

    Carey – these posts are fabulous! Concrete and meaningful things that congregations can try. Thank you!

  2. Mark Rego Monteiro

    The ideas have merit, but I know that my greatest enthusiasm has long been for the support group structure. The 12 step groups, Al-Anon or ARTS Anonymous, for example, are a phenomena that has diversified not only for its psychosocial healing quality, but for its participatory community. I now live in Brazil far from my UU membership at the NYC Community Church, and nearby congregations, while UUism is still a sparse network throughout the country. While the US’s history of democracy is long, the practice survives best in what remains of Civil Society opportunities to participate, while it has been eliminated in some important ways as Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, and DemocracyNow! News have been documenting, The Quakers have a long history of democratic worship in their tradition. UU congregations have some participatory groups already, workshops, and so on. The on-going sharing at Recovery support groups, perhaps best of all ARTS, offer a model of participatory worship and community sharing that perhaps touches something crucial in anybody at a certain level of heightened consciousness. Like UUs and potential members. All the best.

    • Carey McDonald

      Mark – cool, I hadn’t heard of ARTS Anonymous, I’ll check them out. The suggestions in this blog post could easily be paired with a program like that, since they’re really about how to connect with new people (which, presumably, any ministry or group has a need to do).


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