“We are in the process of determining some goals for us as we grow. Can you share with me what the UUA, on average, expects or sees with new members as a percentage of visitors? I found some data from 2009 that suggests 12-20% of registered visitors go on to become new members. Would you say that percentage goal is accurate today? What do evangelicals aim for?”
Stefan Jonasson responds…
This is not a question for which we have reliable hard data. When I’ve seen statistics offered, they’ve generally been derived from one of three broad categories: 1. small samples, 2. anecdotal figures, and 3. extrapolations from evangelical sources. Even if we did have more reliable numbers, several variables would impact their usefulness in helping specific congregations establish reasonable goals: congregation size, counting methods, visitors’ motivations, membership standards, staff size and configuration, idiosyncratic local factors, and the external environment — among others.
I think it’s more helpful for individual congregations to measure themselves against their own past performance. They can gather their own data for as far back as they can (though probably no longer than a decade), look for patterns, identify the influences (both internal and external) that might have led to fluctuations, and then establish goals that stretch themselves to do better moving forward. This is how athletes improve their game: they focus on their own personal best and how to improve it rather than obsessing about averages in the larger field.
If you have questions for our growth experts, please post them in the comments.
The question raised about how many visitors become members brings up a somewhat related issue that has been a source of some concern to me over time – the absence of quantifiable data in so many areas within the UUA. While every situation and congregation is different, having some reliable benchmarks help congregations gage their efforts and there progress.
I hope that as we work on growing Unitarian Universalism and moving Beyond Congregations, the UUA would take on a mandate to gather a great deal more data to help us discern where we are and where we are going at what pace.