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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Notes from 2015 General Assembly Workshop
Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals
Created by Carey McDonald, UUA Outreach Director, Lori Emison Clair, Consultant, and Marie Luna, Director of Congregational Life and UUAMP Vice President
I like this and think it is a helpful way for people to start opening up what it is to belong or be a Unitarian Universalist. This spectrum resembles the way businesses chart out customer engagement and to that end the discussion of the stages also echoes that model. I like the model and find it helpful in guiding analysis of current practices and helping strategize new approaches. To that end it isn’t worlds apart from the stages of belonging that we use to think about building solid youth programs. As far as the customer engagement approach where in you seek to reach people in various contexts of their normal routine and over time and with these touch points your are using positive and value laden experiences of your company and your product or service which are eventually linked to big life moments, habits and routines. The approach also touches on the important dynamic where by this growing engagement means criticism is not just from the outside but also from the in and some of it from those leader like engaged folk who are long time loyal and connected enough to see more to the story so on one hand bring a valuable insight and on the other hand need less of a rapid responce to accept their complaint so long as you recognize it.
But let me get at why I bring this similarity up here. Several years ago some Harvard folks troubled the nice waters of customer engagement and showed that as nice as that business model may be it isn’t quite how things really work. What it had overlooked where some factors that seemed to have an even bigger impact in driving customer activity. So people may become more engaged as they learn the policies and procedures of your company they would rather have not run into a problem or had to go through various steps to access some service. And the one that I think most salient for our work in churches, a big motivator behind loyalty over time was driven by people’s desire to work with or shop from or promote companies with which they share a common set of values. There may be something about what the product is that is bound up with a cause or movement or the business could have a record of charitable work of a certain kind or they may be known for their treatment of employees or quality craftsmanship. This was a critical factor in weather a customer identified with a brand and recommended it and chose it over other products even when this might mean an increased cost to the customer.
OK so my point. Until we can accommodate and include within our sense of us-ness those who feel ideologically aligned and support our mission, our product, our brand, or our practices and so would be happy to contribute in some ways, use our services when it comes to getting married or being memorialized and seeking episodic support when faced with difficulty or loss but are not wanting to be a part of a 19th century voluntary association then the potential for us to grow on the value of those self described U. U.s brought to our amazed awareness following the national census results will remain out of our reach. This movement to grow and think beyond and so on is always going to feel the pull to focus on keeping us from losing members but we need to keep in focus what that ah ha was about which was recognizing that there is this region beyond who we thought we where that feel a loyalty we have failed to recognize. This has good stuff to help with that but the group I mention is still I think over looked. Another sort that might be thought of as part of that group would be made up of people who either because they have been heavily involved in leadership ways in a UU church and then move or feel pull away and when they now consider involvement in church find that it is not something they need or that is ready and able to integrate them essentially at the level of UU identity that makes sense. I have no interest in a New member class as much as it may be about how your church works — I can figure that out etc. Or you may have someone who is engaged in a buddhist meditation practice and has a strong local family network but very much see themselves as a Unitarian Universalist.
What all might we have to offer if we had a type of member that worked for such folk. Maybe the minister meets with such individuals once a year in some way or they are connected via some talent share page who knows but you could have someone who is a skilled artist interested in showing her work and willing to lead some workshops or have some young people shadow her in her studio for a couple of days. And perhaps this is where this model is designed to help us go — I hope so because just think how such an access point for people to affiliate and claim that UU identity in relation to a congregation would open up chances for a more personal engagement for the individual over time and for so many in our churches weather for the first time or all their lives to access the talents and insights and the touch point in accessing a broader network of support and influence in the wider community.