Xmas CTA: Engaging visitors during the holidays

This post (and its customizable social media graphics!) is offered through the monthly Outreach Updates. Sign up here to get your outreach virtual care package each month. 

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!

Use this and other UUA-branded backgrounds for your messaging and event announcements. Click the picture to download from Google Drive.

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.

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.



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.

Improving your User Experience (UX), online and in person (Part 1)

Photo by Curtis Cronn, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the spring, I blogged here about our websites being our front doors. Our websites, our social media presence, and our events that involve the broad community are all important entry-points for prospective Unitarian Universalists. This season, as many congregations return to full all-ages programs and worship, we would do well to think about our actual front doors, as part of our consideration of the overall user experience (UX) of the congregation.

User Experience is a new way of looking at online development: one that has incredible relevance to congregations, online and in person. It’s a holistic way of examining and evaluating the process of getting to know a congregation. The user – in this case, the person who’s exploring your congregation – is going to make decisions about participation based on their experience. That may seem obvious – of course they would. But UX offers tools for analyzing that experience, and becoming more intentional about “curating” that experience.

A user experience occurs in touch points. Every time a user interacts with (or touches) your organization, an emotional or information-based transaction is taking place that can positively or negatively impact the user (the person you’re trying to reach). (Josh Neuroth from “Curating Your User’s Experience.”)

What are the touch points the typical user has when they experience your congregation? They may not be obvious to you. Regular participants get used to the way the congregation is and stop noticing what they noticed the first time they walked in the door.

In my first year as a congregation’s minister, we hired a Membership Consultant. She evaluated the experience of a newcomer outside the hundred-year-old building – a building that had an awkward relationship to its parking lot, which was behind the church. She took notes and pictures, and presented these interesting observations to the Newcomers Committee:

  • Someone arrives in the parking lot. They see four doors to the church.
  • One, up a steep cement staircase with only one handrail, looks official but unused. Probably an emergency exit. That must not be the way in.
  • Another, at the end of a long wing of classrooms, is friendly and attractive—but its sign says it’s a preschool. That must not be the way in, either.
  • When you get close to another door, you see it leads to the trash area. Definitely not the way in.
  • Another door, the one that actually works to go in to the building, is a plain gray painted door, hidden in a corner, with no sign.
  • Someone finally makes it through that plain gray painted door, and the first thing they see upon entering are two refrigerators, one with a sign on it saying it’s out of order.
  • Then they find themselves in a rather dark hallway, which is actually just below the sanctuary where worship is about to happen, but that may not be obvious.

What kind of emotional and informational transactions were taking place there? All sorts of frustrating, confusing experiences – before they ever got in the door or heard a single word.

Let that sink in: before even meeting anyone, or hearing the welcome and announcements when we proclaimed “whoever you are, wherever you come from, we welcome you,” people were having a frustrating and confusing time with us. Our newcomers didn’t know how to get where they wanted to be!

The congregation was a great place for people of all ages, with meaningful worship and vibrant programs. But everyone who participated regularly had figured out the ins and outs of that hundred-year-old building. Their user experience was no longer the same as a newcomer’s – they couldn’t see what a newcomer saw.

In response, members and staff set about creating better signage, moving those old refrigerators, developing a small welcoming area where the refrigerators had been, brightening up the dark hallway, and stationing friendly greeters there every Sunday morning. The newcomers’ user experience immediately improved.

We often focus so much on the messages we deliver from the pulpit, the values we embody in the youth group lesson, the stories we tell in the children’s workshop. But those intentional messages are only one part of the user’s experience of our congregations.

The early parts of the user experience are formative. The old adages about first impressions are true: they really stick, and you never get a second chance to make one.

How can you become more intentional about your new users’ experience? We’ll explore this question as our series continues in coming weeks.



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.