The average guest visiting a congregation decides if they are going to come back within minutes of being on site. How we welcome guests is critical!
This is a problem for our congregations with cringe worthy welcome tables, cobweb covered welcome nooks hidden in dark corners, and in some cases nothing at all.
To help inspire taking our welcoming environments to the next level, I’ve invited members of the UU Growth Lab to join in a little welcome table show and tell. Additional submissions welcome, see the end of this post.
Here is our first installment! ~ Peter
The UU Congregation of Phoenix
Our first welcome area show and tell is from Janine Gelsinger and the UU Congregation of Phoenix, AZ. Janine serves as their Membership and Welcoming Ministries Coordinator.
Pay close attention to how you feel as you review the photos below.
The Welcome Desk
This is their beautiful welcome desk with Janine modeling being a friendly presence. I wish I had an animated GIF of her smiling and waving, but this will have to do.
Don’t you want to walk up, ask her questions, and get involved?
The notebook computers on each side of the welcome desk have sign-up forms including name tag request, pathway to membership enrollment, children’s registration, etc…
Temporary name tags and markers for visitors are available front and center! Look close and you’ll see that they have a golden cup filled with a rainbow of Sharpies.
I love that they offer a rainbow of Sharpies. Why?
- Unitarian Universalists LOVE RAINBOWS
- People enjoy picking their own color
- If you are going to use guest nametags, use bold markers with ink!
- I’ve seen many congregations with dry Crayola markers, BIC ball point pens, and pencils next to their name tags. These are not only bad for visibility, they tell people you don’t care.
Across from the main welcome desk is the brochure rack featuring a wide range of pamphlets. These are available via the UUA Bookstore.
There are two televisions in the lobby. The one next to the desk, facing the sanctuary, scrolls through quotes relating to the monthly theme. The side television displays information including new member photos, upcoming events, and photographs of the staff and board.
This UU Ice Breaker Bingo activity was created by me, Peter Bowden, and the Rev. Amy Freedman. It was designed specifically for a religious education parent community building event.
For best results CUSTOMIZE the boards to better fit the group you are using it with. We used multiple boards just for fun. Note that you can only customize the word docs, not the PDF.
How it was used
The bingo sheets were passed out as people arrived. This helped the 50+ parents attending connect before dinner. Note this evening program was specifically designed to help parents connect, with the children having a separate program. Want to get your families to interact as families? Want to promote intergenerational / multigenerational community? Make sure to do some intentional community building with your parents!
The three boards included in this document have different squares. Boards 1 and 2 include questions referencing children. Board 3 does not. This has been included for those who don’t want to take the time to customize.
Tips on customizing:
As the facilitator of this icebreaker I included “Find someone who has been on the Curious George Show” because I HAVE and that helped me connect with all participants. We also knew that there was some interest in meditation. That helped people connect who shared that interest.
We had prizes for the first five winners to shout out BINGO. Either make sure to have prizes or take out the text saying you have prizes.
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Have fun! And let us know how it goes.
A question I am often asked in the context of my trainings with congregations is “Do special church visitor mugs work?”
My answer? NO!!!
In fact, in most cases I find special visitor mugs do harm. I rarely use the word HATE, but I do hate special visitor mugs.
Why? Because they take visitors with high expectations for how they are going to be welcomed, raise their expectations, and then? Holding the special mug you made them take, they are usually ignored. Their hopes and dreams are crushed! They are disappointed. They get angry.
Want to guarantee a visitor never comes back? Make them take a special mug to flag themselves to be warmly greeted and then ignore them. Works every time.
Does your congregation have a great system for greeting people? Have a challenge, success story, or other learning to share? I’d love to hear from you.
Comment below, or if you’d like to speak with me about your congregation’s membership development efforts, you may contact me here.
This video is an excerpt from my online course “Church Social Media and Membership Growth” which also covers some of the basics of welcoming people when they arrive onsite. What’s the point of doing great work with social media and outreach if we crush our vistors’ hopes and dreams when they show up, right?
Recently my wife, the Rev. Amy Freedman, asked me to make an easel pad sized version of the classic Ralph Waldo Emerson “Transparent Eyeball” illustration by Christopher Pearse Cranch (ca. 1836-1838). She wanted the large version to use in a message for all ages at First Parish in Concord, MA. Read Amy’s post about the message.
After making my large Sharpie version of this illustration, I scanned it using my iPhone’s Evernote App and later turned it into the following black and white coloring page.
Here’s the Cranch “Transparent Eyeball” illustration via Wikipedia:
Here’s the illustration as it appeared in the worship service:
Here are some other versions.
Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball – Social Media Profile Header
Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball – Square
Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball – Full Page
If you use these and enjoy them, drop me a note or comment on this post. I love hearing how people use my art. ~ Peter
An image Amy Freedman and I made years ago for a t-shirt has resurfaced as the basis for Unitarian Universalist Word Art! This post shares the original image and website for making your own.
The following image was originally designed for a New England Leadership School t-shirt. Featuring the hands of the Rev. Amy Freedman and Peter Bowden, this image has become a favorite graphic and basis for making UU word art.
Joy Berry, Director of Lifespan Religious Education, was the first to create amazing word art from this image. Thanks to Joy for so generously sharing her idea and process!
You can generate your own for free at http://wordart.com. Purchase credits to download high resolution files to print larger posters.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful do you think it is to visit a congregation for the first time? What if it is a congregation you have lots of unanswered questions about?
Oh, that’d be about a 17!
It is my heartfelt opinion that people won’t visit a congregation until they can get their stress, anxiety and uncertainty down to a manageable 7 to 8.
The average congregation has a community of potential visitors actively researching them online trying to do this. They are trying to find enough information so they can visit with confidence and certainty.
This is the digital age! People expect to be able to find answers to anything and everything online. The more important the decision, the more information and confidence in the decision they want to have. And when there is a lack of relevant information, people become anxious and uncertain. More on that in my recent post 5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations.
People who are anxious and uncertain are less likely to visit congregations.
You can help them eliminate the anxiety and uncertainty by actively doing one thing — ANSWER ALL THEIR QUESTIONS. And you can do it online.
One of the students in my online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth asked:
“How do you know when you’ve provided enough information for your online visitors? I want to answer their questions so they’ll visit, but I have no idea if I’ve done this.”
This is easy once you understand that social media is designed for two way interaction. You use social media to interact with your community of online visitors to share answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and to ask if they have additional questions.
Doing so, and the relationships developed though this interaction, will help people move from following your congregation online to participating onsite.
Try working through the following process.
1. Answer All Questions
On your website share the information you think people need to know in order to decide your congregation is a match for them. Share everything they need to know in order to decide they are going to join.
That’s the new expectation, answers to ALL THE QUESTIONS people have before they visit.
Ask clergy, staff, dedicated members, longer time friends who aren’t members yet, and newcomers what questions need to be answered.
I recommend placing a summary of the top questions in a Frequently Asked Questions page. First time visitors and newcomers love FAQ pages! They are also easy to experiment with and to add content to without doing major website revisions.
2. Share Your FAQ Page
As you are working to ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS, share via social media that you are working on this. You can post to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels that you are working on this and include a link to your FAQ page.
For people who have questions, this gives them the cue to seek out answers. And most important, use social media to ask your community of online visitors what’s missing. That’s the next step.
3. Ask What’s Missing
As you are sharing your FAQ page and expressing your attempt to continually ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS, ask people what’s missing. Ask if they have questions. Ask people what they would add.
You can even include a simple form on your FAQ page inviting people to submit their remaining questions. You can include an optional name and email field.
If someone submits a question and includes their name and email, make sure to email them with the answer, or thank them and tell them you’ll have the answer for them shortly. Also make sure to keep an eye out for questions via social media comments and replies.
“This is a special invitation for all of our online friends and newcomers! We’re working on updating our visitor FAQ page. We know people like to get oriented online before visiting for the first time. We want to make sure we’re answering all your questions and making it easy to connect with our community. Can you take a look at our FAQ and let us know if you have additional questions? What do you need to know or affirm in order to move from following online to joining us onsite? You can submit your questions via the form on our FAQ page, comment here, or message me through our Facebook page. Thanks for your help! ~ First Name, role in congregation.”
4. Invite to Newcomer Event
After a round of sharing your FAQ page and answering peoples questions, invite online visitors to a specific event for newcomers. Make it clear that this is the perfect time for you to come if you’ve been waiting to visit.
Make it clear you’ll welcome them, there will be snacks, coffee, key staff and leaders will orient them to the congregation, additional questions will be answered, etc…
In your FAQ you might include a question “When is the best time to visit for the first time?” and say that you’re always welcome but your newcomer event on UPCOMING DATE (with link to details) is the ideal time and explain why.
Of course, you need to keep that event information and date updated, but your visitors will appreciate the clarity. Here are answers to all the questions and this is the date I should visit for the first time.
5. Pay Attention at Newcomer Event
At your newcomer event, pay close attention to how comfortable people are and the questions they have. Use your learning to ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS you can online.
As you you work through these steps multiple times — maybe quarterly — you should see more people coming to your newcomer events with greater comfort and confidence.
In fact, if you’re rocking this process, people will be coming with a sense that they already know people. You can use video, photos, and podcasts to clearly communicate who you are, what your congregation is like, and to connect with people before they ever step foot onsite. I share lots of strategies for doing this in my course Church Social Media and Membership Growth.
Over time these events will be increasingly focused on affirming what has already learned online and helping people quickly make connections and form friendships in the congregation.
Proactively answer all questions, share the answers, use social media to actively engage with and support your online visitors, and then invite them to join you.
I’m always looking for great examples of newcomer events and ways to help visitors build friendships. What have you done that’s worked well? Share your success story in a comment.
With approximately seven-in-ten Americans now using at least one social media site (Pew Internet), faith leaders can’t afford to ignore the impacts of digital culture.
Here are five ways social media is changing the process of connecting with and joining congregations.
1. Visitors do extensive research online
People research congregations and their faith traditions extensively online.
In our digitally oriented culture, if you are going to buy or choose something, or make an important life decision, you do your homework.
You do a Google or other search. You watch videos, read reviews, and do everything you can to educate yourself so you can make a well-informed decision. People interested in a congregation default to a similar process.
2. Before visiting, people participate remotely
After their initial research, many people choose to follow the congregation for a time on social media.
Observing and participating remotely through Facebook, Twitter, audio podcasts, and other channels helps to determine if the congregation is a match for them.
Whether it takes weeks, months, or a year, at some point (hopefully) they will learn and experience enough to say, “YES! This is the congregation for me. I belong here.”
3. A higher degree of certainty is required to initiate an onsite visit
This calls us to use social media for more than an outreach. We need to use it to meet people where they are — online — and to proactively help them with their process.
If we want people to visit, they need access to information, have questions answered, and receive some affirmation that they are going to fit in.
Once someone is confident that the congregation is likely to be a great match, then they’ll visit.
4. High-stakes visits verify the match
After weeks, months, or a year of interacting with a congregation online, it is a big deal to visit onsite and see if people like them. Will they? Won’t they?
This isn’t a regular “let me check this place out” visit. This is the moment of transition from ONLINE participation to ONSITE participation with very high hopes and expectations.
This sort of visitor needs affirmation and to connect with others almost immediately.
5. Visitors need immediate affirmation and connection
How long do you think a visitor will hang around waiting to be affirmed and connect with the community before they give up and leave?
In my trainings, I tell congregational leaders to assume they need to offer this affirmation during the first visit. Because if you don’t, it may very well be the only visit.
Now everyone’s different and you may have more time, but not much more. It is essential to affirm visitors quickly and offer clear next steps for connecting with your community.
There are many ways we can use social media and online communications to offer this affirmation and start the connecting process before the visit. We can start the process online.
These changes create a wide range of challenges and opportunities for congregations.
One of the first things we can do to respond to this cultural shift is to bring more of our core educational content online instead of waiting to educate people after they visit onsite.
Read more in my post Don’t let ANXIETY and UNCERTAINTY keep people from visiting your congregation.
Interested in using social media more effectively to grow your congregation? Enroll in new my online course Church Social Media and Membership Growth. This is based on my day-long Unitarian Universalist training of the same name.
For those of us going to this year’s General Assembly conference, the UUA has compiled a fabulous list of tools to help us prepare. It includes readings, videos, books and activities.
Below are six videos featured in their list of preparatory tools. I’m using them to jump start my preparation. I invite you to do the same. Videos vary from the full length documentary 13th to a 3 minute clip of comedian Aamer Rahman.
Have a team going to General Assembly? Check in on your preparatory education and reflection plans. Besides making sure everyone knows about these tools to prepare for GA, you might want to plan an opportunity to watch one or more of these videos as a group.
I think I’m going to have a GA prep movie night… What about you? ~ Peter
1. Watch 10 Years after Katrina
Watch 10 Years after Katrina: Resilience, Recovery, and Reality (30 Minutes)
August 29, 2015 marks the tenth year since Hurricane Katrina became a platform for a conservative recovery agenda pushed by then President George W. Bush. This agenda spearheaded the privatization of public places and public services in New Orleans and the storm-damaged communities of the Gulf Coast Region. The inequities and unjust outcomes of this agenda are laid bare in the short film Ten Years after Katrina: “Recovery,” “Resilience” & REALITY produced by the Greater New Orleans Organizers Roundtable.
2. Watch the Rev. Dr. William Barber at GA 2016
Watch GA 2016 Event 214 – Rev. Dr. William Barber on The Third Reconstruction (1 Hour, 9 Minutes)
Rev. William Barber, II, leader of Moral Mondays, Forward Together and NAACP NC, speaks on his new book The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement (Beacon Press). He calls for a nation-wide moral revival and offers a blueprint for state-wide grassroots organizing.
3. Watch 13th on Netflix
Watch the documentary 13th on Netflix. Free month trial available. Directed by Ava DuVernay. (1 Hour, 40 Minutes)
In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.
4. Watch Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed at 50th anniversary of the Selma Crossing
Watch the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed speaking at conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma Crossing. (50 Minutes)
5. Watch TEDx Talk by Jay Smooth
Watch TEDx Talk by Jay Smooth How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race. (12 Minutes)
Jay Smooth is host of New York’s longest running hip-hop radio show, the Underground Railroad on WBAI 99.5 FM in NY, and is an acclaimed commentator on politics and culture.
6. Watch Hot Chicken Video with Devita Davison
Watch Hot Chicken Video with Devita Davison at the Social Capital Markets Conference 2016. (9 Minutes)
Nashville’s most famous chicken dish began as an act of vengeance by a spurned girlfriend of entrepreneur Thornton Prince in the 1930s. Instead of feeling burned, Prince was inspired and turned Hot Chicken into a thriving business. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is still in business but never grew outside of Nashville–even though his recipe is making money for others all over the world. At SOCAP16, Devita Davison of FoodLab Detroit told the full story of Hot Chicken, to illustrate cultural appropriation in action and the barriers to success that minority entrepreneurs often face.
6. Watch comic Aamer Rahman on Reverse Racism
Is this your first General Assembly? If so, this collaborative unofficial UUA General Assembly Survival Guide is for you!
This collaborative post and “survival guide” features tips and reminders for attending the annual General Assembly conference of the Unitarian Universalist Association! Note this edition has information specific to the UUA’s June 21-25, 2017 General Assembly in New Orleans, Louisiana.
This post was first made by a UU Growth Lab brainstorm in 2011 with my updating annually. Have a tip or resource to add? Share it in a comment at the end of this post.
Share your tips, share this post with fellow UU’s attending for the first time, and I’ll see you at GA!
Follow the UU World’s Coverage:
The staff of the UU World does an amazing job covering General Assembly. Their GA blog and social media channels are the go to source for in-depth and breaking General Assembly news.
To get the most out of this General Assembly, schedule time to dive into these recommended tools to prepare for GA. These include readings, videos, books and activities. Don’t wait until the week before. You’ll want to pace yourself to make the most of these resources.
I’m jump starting my preparation by watching the 6 videos featured in this list. GA prep movie night?
Note there are these additional opportunities, but they require advance registration.
Before You Go:
- Plan your life at General Assembly assuming you will not be able to access wi-fi in the convention center. Internet access is always and issue. Bring critical information and contact numbers with you. If access is good, enjoy! But be prepared.
- Order a Standing on the Side of Love yellow shirt if you want to join fellow UUs wearing them while participating in the 2017 GA service projects (advance registration required) and at the #LoveResists Rejoicing for Sanctuary & Solidarity public witness on Friday, June 23, 2017 at 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
- Convention centers, especially the main halls, are usually freezing! Bring a layer you can easily take on and off so you’re okay going from outside to hallways to the general session/plenary ice box.
- Hydrate! Bring a water bottle. If you’re flying, bring an empty one to fill at a water fountain after you go through security. You can usually buy a reusable bottle in the Exhibit Hall.
- If you are a delegate, READ related business materials before you come. You are deciding our future. Everything delegates need to review is available here.
- GA is amazing for network and learning. Bring business or personal cards so that you can give your information to others.
- Be sure that someone from your congregation is bringing the banner for the banner parade.
- Download & review the Program Guide ahead of time.
- The UUA GA Mobile App is fantastic. If you have a smartphone, make sure to install it. It will significantly improve your GA experience. Plan on exploring and testing the app before you arrive. There are a lot of features. You can choose to follow posts by other attendees, share your own posts tagging which event you’re at, and much more. The week leading up to GA, try opening the app each day. People will already be posting.
- Plan out what workshops you want to go to. Have a tentative choice made for all time slots in advance. You’ll need time between schedule blocks to take care of biological needs, talk to people, and change rooms. You won’t have time to pick as you go.
- Pick a 2nd workshop for each time slot. You may find that when you arrive at your first choice it’s not what you expected and it will be good to know exactly where to go to get to your 2nd choice.
- Pack comfy shoes.
- Bring a bag you can carry comfortably with you at all times, like a shoulder bag or light backpack.
- If you’re asked to carry your congregations banner during the banner parade, figure out how the poles/carrying PVC pipes go together before hand. Here are banner specs from the UUA (pdf).
- “Last year I had a binder where on the back cover I had a map of the area in the plastic cover thing, the front with my delegate card and other really important info, and inside my travel info, the program book, the business resolutions, etc. It really helped me stay organized throughout. Put in paper to take notes on, bring pens, etc. I had that with me in my laptop bag and it was great.”
- Talk to people in your congregation to find out about resources you can scout out and bring home and questions they might have, especially if your congregation has a very limited budget and will be under-represented by delegates. It is even nicer when you reach out to area congregations if your cluster is composed of smaller, less financially able congregations, and see how you can help.
- If you can’t walk more than a mile easily, you will want to rent a scooter through GA Accessibility Services. If you often use hearing assistive devices in crowded settings, you will want to use GA Accessibility Services. Better to reserve equipment you turn out not to need than arrive & be blocked from participating because no extra equipment is available.
GA Accessibility Services.
- If you have special dietary requirements, scout out the food vendors before departure and plan well ahead. Make reservations at places that will accept them. Pack extra food if you have really specific needs. It isn’t uncommon to have to wait at GA area restaurants for a long time, or to have relatively few places that can accommodate vegans, folk who need to eat gluten-free, or even offer acceptable fast alternatives for diabetics.
- Plan a check-in breakfast/lunch/dinner with some people you know at some point. Even if you’re the independent or introverted type, GA is really overwhelming in the sheer mass of people and having a drink with some familiar faces can be really nice
- If you are the only one you know going to GA, start making connecting with people via the GA app and on Twitter. For example, on Twitter you might tweet “Looking forward to _____ at this year’s #UUAGA conference.” Fill in the blank with what you’re excited about. By including the #UUAGA hashtag we can find your tweet on Twitter. On the GA App you can share posts with photos. You might share a photo of yourself and share what you’re looking forward to and what leadership role(s) you have in your congregation.
- If you really want to hang out with your former minister that you haven’t seen in ten years, email them now and ask them to breakfast. They will either say “yes” or “I’d love to talk to you for a minute at some point, but my schedule is totally booked.” If you wait until GA to ask, the answer will almost certainly be the second one. Ministers are really busy during GA. I’ve found that breakfast is the meal they are most likely to be free.
- Prepare your elevator speech about what Unitarian Universalism is and why you are one. Local folks ask questions; be prepared to answer.
While you’re there:
- Now that you’ve arrived, remember to HYDRATE! And take time to eat and pace yourself. GA is a marathon.
- You don’t have to go to everything. And that’s ok. I ended up skipping things last year, including the Ware Lecture, because I needed a breather. And dinner. Besides it will be online.
- You need to eat. You’ll need to schedule that in.
- Attend the orientations, from GA for First Timers to your regional/district ones. They help.
- Avoid picking up paper – use digital notes whenever possible (they’re tending toward less paper now any way)
- Say “Hi” to people & don’t be shy to tell them that you’re a first timer.
- A great way to meet people is to introduce yourself to people when you sit down in a workshop. You already know you have a common interest. Say hello and strike up conversation.
- Whatever you do, go to the Service of the Living Tradition & the Sunday morning service. See program highlights.
- Having a meal with other UUs from across the country can sometimes be more valuable than going to a workshop.
- I was told this by my congregation and it really made a difference for me. During a general session (previously called plenary) , if you aren’t sure what you’re about to vote on, don’t hesitate to ask for a point of clarification from the procedure microphone. Because if you don’t know what you’re voting on, at least 100 other people there don’t know either.
- There’s this GA tradition that I don’t fully get – getting as many possible ribbons from booths to hang from the bottom of your nametags. When you check in, at least last year, you even got some “coupons” to take to certain booths to get certain ribbons. I just followed the crowd on that one.
- Wear comfy shoes.
- GA volunteers are often wearing specific shirts or pinnies that identify them easily. They’re there to help you. GA is really possible because of the kindness and support our volunteers give.
- If you are in need of emotional or spiritual assistance, if you experience any kind of harassment, talk to any shirted GA volunteer and ask them to help you be connected with either the Right Relations Team or the chaplains.
- You are an ambassador of Unitarian Universalism!
Many people in and around the convention center will be meeting their first Unitarian Universalists. While at General Assembly, bring your best self and make living our values an intentional practice. Sore feet because you forgot your comfy shoes is not an excuse. Be kind. Be generous. Smile. Pick up trash. You are not a tourist. You are not a business conventioneer. You are an ambassador of our faith.
Joining the GA Choir
- If you love to sing, GA Choir is your cup of tea. Rarely do we belong to congregations that can boast so many great voices or musicians.
- Pre-registration for the 2017 Choir is required. Onsite choir sign-up only occurs if space is available.
Get on Twitter!
- GA is a great time to get on Twitter. You’ll be surrounded by people to give you advice and amazing content to tweet about. The following video was made before the 2014 GA in Providence. The process and tips all still apply, just know that the GA specific examples are now from that past GA. It will get you up and running in 20 minutes. Just make sure you go to GA in the right city – New Orleans!
Play with Video!
- Going to film video at GA with your smartphone? Checkout my video tips page. Whether you are tweeting or sharing on Facebook or another platform, GA can be a great place to record videos. If you are at GA with a team, you might take turns filming video updates from GA.
Tourism / Local Information
- The UUA’s tools to prep for GA page includes information on historical and other tours.