Tops Picks for Growth at General Assembly

uua_ga2016_logoAre you looking for new ideas to grow your congregation? General Assembly is just around the corner, and there are a dozen workshops on growth to choose from.

Here’s a list, sorted by topic for you to mark in your Program Book or Mobile App.

Small Congregations

  • LEGACY OR RENAISSANCE: SMALL CONGREGATIONS ON THE EDGE
    #210 Thursday, 10:45am – 12:00pm E160
    Some small congregations are realizing that the way they’ve been operating is no longer sustainable. What’s next? Is it time to move towards a holy death? Or are you ready to make a vibrant new start with radical re-envisioning? How can you decide which choice is your congregation’s? This workshop will provide a framework and examples for both paths.
    Megan Foley & Rev. Mary Grigolia
  • SUCCESS IN SMALL CHURCHES: HOPE IN UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM’S HEARTLAND
    #410 Saturday 3:00pm – 4:15pm CC C226
    Small churches, the heartbeat of our faith, are uniquely positioned to innovate and experiment with new ways of being healthy, vibrant, and relevant – if they put mission and covenant first. Learn to identify your small congregation’s gifts and plan strategically for innovations to grow new possibilities for our faith.
    Rev. Megan Foley & Karen Bellavance-Grace

Hospitality

  • THE SPIRITUAL PRACTICE OF WELCOMING ALL
    #228 Thursday 1:15pm – 2:30pm CC E162
    Many congregations have mastered the process involved in opening their doors for newcomers but are they opening their hearts? What would that welcome look like in our greeting, programs, and emerging ministries? We will consider together how our spiritual baggage could be preventing us from truly being welcoming to all.
    Marie Blohowiak, Rev. Tandi Rogers & Tina Lewis
  • BRINGING ACCESSIBILITY AND INCLUSION MINISTRY TO YOUR CONGREGATION
    #330 Friday 3:00pm – 4:15pm CC C223-225
    Heard the buzz about the Accessibility & Inclusion Ministry (AIM) Program for congregations? Wondering how to bring this new ministry to your congregation? Learn how to form an AIM Team to widen the welcome to people with disabilities. Become an AIM Congregation – moving ever closer to the beloved community.
    Michelle Avery Ferguson, Rev. Barbara Meyers, Michael Sallwasser & Suzanne Fast
  • WE MET ONLINE! GREAT VISITOR EXPERIENCES START WITH GOOGLE
    #432 Saturday 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC Union Station Ballroom A
    From the first online search to an in-person visit, emotions are a key part of what makes a visitor stay or go. User Experience (UX) approaches uncover the emotions we’re evoking to create positive and integrated experiences. Learn how to apply UX to your congregation to improve the visitor experience.
    Sarah Gibb Millspaugh & Carey McDonald

 Outreach

  • OUTREACH 101: JOIN OUR CAUSE, NOT OUR CLUB
    #317 Friday 1:15pm – 2:30pm CC C223-225
    Religion is changing, and just preaching to the choir ain’t gonna cut it. Learn how to reach out to your community as an extension of your congregation’s mission, get the tools you need to move forward, and hear inspiring outreach stories from congregations like yours.
    Carey McDonald
  • INNOVATING IN COVENANT: EMERGING MINISTRIES REACH OUT
    #422 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC E161
    Emerging ministries are new endeavors that are grounded in our faith and formed by covenant.
    How do some of these innovative ministries fulfill our UU mission in the world? Come learn
    from the stories of a new campus ministry, a network of interdependent communities and a forming congregation.
    Kevin Lowry, Rev. Nathan Hollister &Lori Stone Sirtosky

Innovative Ministries

  • UU MODELS OF PARTNERSHIP AND MULTI-SITE MINISTRIES
    #328 Friday 3:00pm – 4:15pm HR Union E
    We’ve featured various models of congregational Partnership & Multi-site over the years: branches, yoked, mergers, etc. This year we’re highlighting Clusters and Partnerships just starting their covenantal relationships, at the beginning of the continuum of collaboration. Especially useful for lay leaders discerning deeply partnering with other UU communities.
    Joan Van Becelaere & Rev. David Pyle
  • LIVING THE PRINCIPLES: THEME-BASED PROGRAMMING FOR ALL AGES
    #352 Friday 4:45pm – 6:00pm CC Hall E
    Many of us are seeking new ways to support multigenerational faith formation in our congregations. Living the Principles is an engaging full-year, theme-based program for congregation-wide exploration of the Unitarian Universalist Principles. This workshop equips professional and lay leaders to use this program, with free online materials, in your congregation.
    Ellen Quaadgras, Ann Kadlecek & Halcyon Westall
  • INNOVATION AND INSPIRATION FOR UU STEWARDSHIP
    #358 Friday 4:45pm – 6:00pm HR Delaware CD
    This workshop will equip lay and ordained leadership for effective stewardship in our congregations and our Association. This will be a “flash” presentation of the most innovative and successful fundraising ideas. We will close with an inspiring word from Peter Morales.
    Mary Katherine Morn
  • ANNUAL GIVING: THE BACKBONE OF CONGREGATIONAL STEWARDSHIP
    #420 Saturday 3:00pm – 4:15pm HR Delaware CD
    This workshop will equip lay and ordained leadership for effective stewardship in our congregations and our Association. This panel of on-the-ground congregational staff and volunteers will discuss their greatest successes in annual fundraising.
    Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, Rev. Trisha Hart & Rev. Peter Friedrichs

 

ReneeRev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) has served as a Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region since September of 2010. As program manager for Leadership Development, she is responsible for providing consultation, programming and training material (including webinars and videos) on various aspects of congregational growth, leadership and congregational dynamics. She writes for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Blog Growing Vital Leaders and tweets at @Vitalleaders.

By The Numbers: but are we growing?

it’s Friday!  Time to snack on data. I’ve been deluged with the question — But are we growing?!

 

Now, dear ones, you know that there are many indicators to growth. Impact is really the growth I’m most interested in.  We’re working at fine tuning some data collection at the UUA to better measure impact. Until then, we classically measure by membership.

 

Most other traditions count Average Sunday Attendance, but for us that’s still soft data. Why? Because we’re still getting the hang of it. About ten years ago Religious Education Enrollment was also soft.  Today, it’s much more reliable.  In a couple years I think the majority of our congregations will be sending a solid count of everyone in the building on Sunday (or your other main day of all-gathered worship–whatever worship means to your community.)

 

So, are we growing?

15 year trend

Don’t get distracted with the squiggly line – On a larger scale it looks like a flat line growing by 1% over 15 years.

 

Interesting fact — Currently we have 1043 active congregations world-wide. 2% of our member congregation and 2% of our adult membership are abroad.

member RE ASA

 

This represents active congregations for the year indicated belonging to US regions and CLF.

 

Religious Education is dropping significantly. And this is a ministry we are known to do well. Your Congregational Life staff and the Liberal Religious Educators Association are alarmed, too and trying to figure out what this means for us. When I was with my research counterparts in August we were all wringing our hands about the decline in children and youth.  It’s everywhere.

compared to other religions

The yearbook with the above data only comes out every-so-often. This is the most current data we have available.

 

I see opportunity.  Many folks are leaving main-line Protestant traditions because of their behind-the-times stance on gay marriage and other liberal issues.  We’ve got that. In spades.  My question is how welcoming will we be to folks coming from other religions who don’t want to leave all their religious language and practices at the door? Will we make room? Will we be open to be transformed ourselves by expanded community and increased diversity in beliefs?  May we make it so!

 

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red glassesRev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

What if membership was a spectrum?

Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President
Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President

 

As Unitarian Universalists, we have a traditionally operated under a model of church that doesn’t acknowledge the changing social norms about religion. Historically, we’ve only kept track of one aspect of involvement in church life, “membership”, which typically means signing a congregation’s membership book and making an annual pledge. But in reality, people interact with faith communities in dozens of different ways beyond the traditional notion of membership, often deepening and stepping back over the course of their lives. If we truly believe that everyone in our faith movement matters, whether they are official members or not, it is clear we need to re-conceive what it means to be connected to Unitarian Universalism.

We created a spectrum to help congregations see that there are distinct levels of belonging to our faith communities. Together, as leaders in the UU Association of Membership Professionals and as UUA staff working on outreach, we offered a workshop at 2015 General Assembly about how to engage the whole spectrum.

 

Curious Individual

These are the people who know us and are in sync with our values, but not involved in our programs or ministries. Some examples would include those who participate in community activities related to a UU group, follow UUs on social media, share UU content, read UU books, see and/or support UU social justice actions.

Welcomed Visitor

Those who are involved with UU programs or ministries at a basic or fluid level, and may or may not identify as UU, are at this stage. They may attend events hosted by UU congregations, go to Sunday services occasionally or participate in UU community-oriented ministries and programs (e.g. day care, lecture series). Sometimes they have a friend or family member who serves as a tie to the congregation.

Succeeding in the first two stages (outreach)
  • Pay attention to how you show up virtually (website, social media, Yelp/Google/search functions, news media), so you look as beautiful from the outside as you do from the inside.
  • Create multiple entry points that don’t revolve around Sunday morning (get creative! Get passionate!) AND pay attention to visitor experience at all of these entry points.
  • One transition between welcomed visitor and connected friend is the traditional “pathway to membership,” but support is needed for all transitions.
Connected Friend

After attending services several times, those who attend a one time or low commitment activity outside of services have become a connected individual. This gives them better opportunities to meet people and start building relationships. Having several easy opportunities, like a Circle Dinner, one time small group, helping set up at an event or serving coffee give new folks a way to meet others without making a big commitment.

Engaged Individual

When a person gets involved in a regular activity, such as an affinity group, small group ministry, religious education teacher or serving on a committee, they have engaged with the community. All of these programs require ownership in one way or another, an expectations of regular participation and, in many cases, opportunities to share spiritual journeys with each other.

Integrated Leader

At the final stage in the spectrum, individuals emerge as leaders. We have found that as someone steps into the role of a leader they are more than simply engaged with a community, but they are also integrated. And by being integrated they are changing the community. They put their own personal twist on the programs they lead and that is a deeper level in involvement then just showing up, even on a regular basis. You become an integrated leader when you are willing to put your efforts into making the community better. Some examples would be a committee chair, small group leader or religious professional.

Succeeding along the spectrum (welcoming and membership development)
  • Make sure facilitators and leaders of groups know how to welcome newcomers at each stage as people enter the spectrum at different points.
  • Have training in place for leaders to ensure they have healthy boundaries and motives consistent with the mission of your congregation.
  • Have a tracking system in place to know where people fall on the spectrum. This will be an invaluable resource for recruiting for programs and volunteer opportunities, discovering emerging leaders, as well as those who need assistance in connecting.
  • We need to understand that there will be people who move both directions on the spectrum, and even leave our path. We want to support them in their journey and leave room for them to comfortably return should their path bring them back.

 

Looking at these stages calls us to pay attention to how we help people move from one stage to another. Again, most of us will move up and down the spectrum over time, but transitions between stages will always be important for religious leaders to support (the transition of “bridging” from youth to young adulthood is a great example). We hope this model will inspire UUs to think differently about their faith, from outreach to curious individuals all the way to spiritual enrichment for our integrated leaders. It can even include non-congregational groups, conferences or ministries. Embrace the full spectrum!

Additional Resources

Notes from 2015 General Assembly Workshop

Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals

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Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Blohowiak, Congregational Life Coordinator and UUAMP Vice President

By the Numbers: another serving of pie

Last week I introduced some numbers from a high balcony.  Let’s break down those numbers into regions.

2015 UUA cong by region

And now membership by regions…

2015 UUA membership by region

 

Is this what you expected? Anything surprise you?

 

Next week I’ll show you some growth trends…

 

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Tandi Feb 2012Rev. Tandi Rogers spends about an eighth of her job researching and analyzing data on behalf of the UUA Board, Leadership Council, and Congregational Life staff.  She also serves on the Faith Communities Today interfaith consortium of religious data geeks.

Improving your User Experience (UX), online and in person (Part 2)

UU faces taken during registration and other times
UU faces taken during registration and other times, Photo credit © Nancy Pierce/UUA

In part 1 I began to explore how the principles of User Experience (UX) Design can improve people’s experience of our congregations. Attention to the emotional and informational transactions of the “user” has become deeply important to me: not just because I’m a minister, not just because I’m in the UUA’s Outreach staff, but also because I’ve recently been new in a congregation.

 

I spent months last year exploring websites and visiting congregations with my toddler before I settled on the one I attend now. The incredible friendliness of that congregation made a difference. It wasn’t accidental: the congregation had put work in to their welcome.

 

The first time I visited, no one knew I was a minister, just a mom with a two year old. People greeted me warmly even before we’d crossed the street, and someone offered to carry the stroller that my child was refusing to ride in. At the door, a trained greeter met us, helped us create nametags, gave us a mini-tour, and helped my child find and feel comfortable in the nursery. The nursery was staffed by a paid professional, someone who exuded warmth and confidence. The worship was excellent too – but I was already deciding this was a good place to be before I even set foot in the sanctuary. I had a good user experience.

 

“User Experience design… is about giving people a delightful and meaningful experience. A good design is pleasurable, thoughtfully crafted, makes you happy, and gets you immersed.” (From UXMyths.com)

Let’s get new people immersed in Unitarian Universalism! But how do we know what will delight them? What they’ll find meaningful?

 

When we’re trying to attract new “users,” we can try to get there by thinking about what we like, but we are often not good judges of what a new user is looking for. Especially since many of the things that members like are things that come with time (like community, or ministry through life changes.) In order to design for new users, we need to talk with some of our relatively new users. While we get curious about who they are and we get to know them, we can also get curious about their experience, asking questions like:

  • How did you learn about our congregation? Why did you decide to interact with/visit us?
  • What were your goals when you started interacting with us (online or in person)? Did our congregation meet your expectations related to these goals?
  • What are the most frequent tasks you do on our website? (For example, finding out what’s happening this week.) Is it easy or difficult to accomplish those tasks?
  • What are the most frequent tasks you do when you attend? (For example, get a cup of coffee after the service.) Are there frequent tasks that don’t feel easy to accomplish? If so, why? (For example, having to wait in line for a long time for coffee.)
  • When you are interacting with us online, do you find anything frustrating that you wish was easier/different?
  • When you are interacting with us in person, do you find anything frustrating that you wish was easier/different?
  • What else would you like to tell us about your experience getting involved?
    (The first six bullets are from stackexchange.com, adapted for congregational use.)

 

What we learn from their answers can help us improve the experience of people who interact with us in the future.

 

We can also do some of this work without talking with new users: we can just try to see things with new eyes, as my old congregation did with the parking lot entrance in Improving Your User Experience (Part I). And we can do through the use of personas – another powerful methodology from web development that helps us design for particular audiences. I’ll discuss those in the third part of this series.

 

Even though we can’t control every element of a new user’s experience with a congregation, there is much we can learn, and much we can change, when we make the effort to understand the emotions we’re evoking in the people we’re hoping to serve. A “delightful and meaningful experience” at the front end can lead users to a faith that changes their lives profoundly. Let’s not let a clunky website or confusing signage get in the way. Unitarian Universalism saves lives: may a positive user experience make it so, all the more.

 

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SarahRev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.