7 Ways we make it hard to join UU congregations

Friends, this is the recording of my Facebook Live session from Thursday, September 13th. I discuss ways we often MAKE IT HARD TO JOIN OUR CONGREGATIONS. Many UU congregation are hard to join not from a policy perspective, but due to a range of barriers we create. I cover 8 barriers in this video, 7 plus a whopper of a +1 bonus barrier.

IN ORDER DISCUSSED

7. Not sufficiently communicating who you are and answering peoples questions online. Online instant access is the preference of digitally oriented people. Instead many congregations expect people to visit and bumble around and figure things out over time.

6. Related to number 7, not using the tools of our time, especially video, to eliminate the mystery around who your minister, staff, and key leaders are. You should be showing members, staff, and your minister(s) in videos. This can be simple smartphone videos or videos filmed in Facebook Live sessions.

5. Waiting for potential new members to appear before scheduling or announcing orientations, new Unitarian Universalist, and related gathering.

4. Expecting newcomers to go to and survive coffee hour.

3. Not enough physical space. People don’t feel like there is room for them once the worship service is 70% – 80% full.

2. Not having enough relational space. If all your groups are full and there aren’t people with the relational capacity to connect and form relationships with newcomers, peopel coming into your community can fail to make meaningful connections. This can happen even if you are a warm and friendly congregation. We can use growth oriented small groups to address this, a special kind of group led slightly differently than the average groups in your small group ministry program.  I’m working on a new online training related to this. More on that to come shortly!

1. Making joining feel like insignificant, instead of celebrating and making it a special milestone.

⭐ And the BONUS BARRIER — not encouraging (or allowing) youth raised in our congregations to become members!  For the love of coffee, how can we keep doing this?!  Well, perhaps it just comes down to the finances of it. Fortunately the way the UUA calculates fair share is shifting. See the NEW APF page.  Reminder, I don’t work for the UUA. I did once upon a time, but I’ve been 100% independent since 2002. Though our association is periodic client of mine.

Engaging people in congregational life using social media – climate justice example

How can you use social media to engage people in congregational life?  It isn’t by bombarding them with boring cut and pasted invitations to attend!

In this excerpt from my weekly live Q&A / office hours in our UU PLANET Community group, I share an example of using social media to engage people with a specific worship service and upcoming area of focus for the congregation. Because it is dangerously HOT, HOT, HOT in Boston I use a climate justice focused service and launch of a new climate justice ministry as an example.

Organizations I used in this example:

Note that YES, we do need to work on addressing the root causes of climate change, but I think a special focus for our congregations should be helping to re-connect humanity,  cultivating and articulating a vision for how we do “climate disruption” together, and working to address associated injustices.

 

UU Facebook Advertising Outreach Strategy

In this week’s live chat I discuss Facebook advertising and outreach strategy for Unitarian Universalist congregations.   

 

In this session we explore the outreach potential of Facebook ads, how you might use them for targeted outreach this September / Fall.  We also cover questions submitted by members of our UU Planet Community group in advance. 

Some of the outreach examples include:

  • interfaith families
  • parents of young children
  • young adults
  • people new to Unitarian Universalism
  • people interested in immigration justice.  

We talk budget, the need to have a clear goal, and importance of connecting outreach campaigns with specific events.  

Go to video on Facebook to see comments, questions, and my responses.

UU religious professionals, staff members, and volunteer leaders, you’re invited to join my new UU PLANET community group for Unitarian Universalists leading and growing amazing congregations. Check it out. We’re sharing resources, ideas, and continuing the conversation following each week’s live chat.

Join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/uuplanet

Live Session: Lifespan Small Group Ministry Approach to UU Religious Exploration

Live session exploring using a lifepan small group ministry model as the engine for our Unitarian Universalist religious exploration, leadership development, and justice work with children, youth, young adults, and adults. Video was recorded in our UU PLANET Community Group on August 14, 2018.

 

LIVE SESSION: Using SMALL GROUP MINISTRY

QUESTIONS FOR YOU:

• What kind of group experiences do you have for adults in your congregation? Where is group life jamming in your congregation?

• What about groups with children, youth, and young adults? How do these compare to your offerings for adults?

• What do you think the benefit would be of integrating our vision and approach for groups across ages?

QUESTION FOR PETER
Have questions for me on these themes? Share them in our group or contact me here! I’m working on turning my core small group ministry trainings for program leaders and group facilitators into online trainings. Would love to include more on groups for all ages. Your questions are a big help. Thank you.

Live Session: On Welcoming and Hospitality

Live session talking GUEST SERVICES recorded in our UU PLANET Community Group on August 8, 2018.

I discuss greeting and hospitality and kicks off our group’s conversation on what we can do to make sure guests have a great first visit. It also includes some common pitfalls to avoid.

We’ll be exploring this and related topics as we approach September.   If your congregation has a practice or insight related to welcoming, greeting, and hospitality, share it in our group or as a comment on this page.

Need to train your greeters?
I’m working on a new online greeter training for Unitarian Universalists (and friends).  I’ll email you when that new training is open for registration.  Not sure if you’re on my mailing list? Subscribe here.

 

New UUA Congregations Reaching Out Toolkit

Friends, I’m excited to share the new UUA Congregations Reaching Out Toolkit with you!

I’m always sharing great UUA resources, but this one is special as worked with the UUA Outreach Team on its development. It represents a fantastic collaboration and synthesis of many best practices and recommended outreach strategies.  More on my contributions and link to the toolkit below.

I highly recommend sharing this resource with your leadership. Use it to help you realize your congregations growth and outreach potential.

About the Congregations Reaching Out Toolkit

The Congregations Reaching Out Toolkit is designed to help Unitarian Universalists congregations and groups accomplish the following:

  • Discern who you are and compellingly communicate a cohesive identity online and in person.
  • Use social media to identify, reach, and engage with specific target audiences.
  • Create and promote outreach events and opportunities based on the needs of these audiences.

UUA Congregations Reaching Out Cycle

The toolkit is presented in three guides:

  • Finding Your Target Audience
  • Social Media Strategy for Outreach
  • Planning and Promoting Great Outreach Events

“Together these present an outreach process of continually refining your public identity, sharing this through your online presence, identifying new audiences you want to reach, engaging with them via social media, and intentionally designing and promoting outreach-focused events. As the need for UU values has never been greater, we must turn up our efforts to turn our ministries outward to our communities, helping those values reach new groups of people inside and outside our congregations.”

My Role and Contributions

As for my contributions to the toolkit, first, I offered content feedback and strategy recommendations on an early version of the toolkit. Later, after the two principal authors on the resource changed staff positions — Carey McDonald moved from UUA Outreach Director to UUA Acting Chief Operating Officer and the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh joined the congregational life staff of the Pacific Western Region of the UUA — I accepted the task of doing a major edit and re-write of the toolkit.

Because of these various roles:

  • I am directly quotedin the toolkit
  • Offered additional tips and strategies for inclusion
  • And re-wrote / edited large portions of the toolkit

If you recognize language from my training in parts of the resource that are not directly attributed to me, that’s because I wrote or edited that section. As I said, this resource represents a great collaboration.

I’m grateful to Carey McDonald, now Executive Vice President of the UUA, for the opportunity to work with the UUA Outreach Team on the development of this resource, and to the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh for giving it a home with the Pacific Western Region of the UUA.  Thank you.

Get the Toolkit

That’s it! I hope you find this resource valuable.  You can download the strategy guides that make up the toolkit here:

Make the most of this great resources:  Share it.  Print it.  Discuss it.

Going to the UUA’s General Assembly conference?  Bring it with you.  It will make for great reading and conversation.  Once you check it out, I’d love to hear what you think.  Comment on this post, where I share this via Facebook and Twitter.

Tips for attending UUA General Assembly 2018

The UUA’s General Assembly conference is this month, June 20-24, in Kansas City, MO.

It is time to prepare, and if this is your first time, make sure to checkout our tips for having a great conference at  If you aren’t attending the conference on-site, checkout the many ways to participate off-site.

This collaborative post and “survival guide” features tips and reminders for attending the annual General Assembly conference of the Unitarian Universalist Association!  We started this post our UU Growth Lab Facebook Group in 2011 and I have been updating annually ever since.

Have a tip or resource to add?  Share it in a comment at the end of this post or share via Twitter and tag your tweet with #UUAGA and my username @UUPLANET.

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.

The Official Hashtag

The official hashtag for the UUA’s General Assembly conference is #UUAGA.  There is NO year in the tag. Every year a handful of UUs get stuck following the wrong hashtag because someone tweeted the hashtag and inserted the year.  There is no year. The hashtag is #UUAGA.

Preparation for General Assembly

To get the most out of General Assembly, schedule time to work through the UUA’s 2018 preparation guide:

Don’t think about the volume of content, you’ll go into shock.  SCHEDULE a time within the next day to review the list and schedule the time you’ll need to do your preparation.  You need to get it into your calendar.  Plan a time to plan your prep.

Prep includes content to watch, listen to, and read. The following video is an expample:

Learn about the racial and socioeconomic segregation that splits Kansas City geographically and explore current concerns around urban gentrification. First, watch this informative, locally produced 13-minute video, “Building the Troost Wall: Structural Racism in Kansas City.”

Delegate “What to Expect” Webinars

The UUA board is offering webinars to orient delegations.  You can join these live Zoom webinars on June 5, 7, 9, or 10.  Full details and registration:
“What General Assembly Delegates Can Expect at GA 2018”

Get the Offical General Assembly App!

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. It has all the program information and serves as a self contained GA social network.  Get it now!

 

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.
  • 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. Visit the UUA’s page with information for delegates.
  • GA is amazing for network and learning.  Bring business or personal cards so that you can give your information to others.
  • 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 still apply, just know that the GA specific examples are now from that past GA.  Just make sure you go to GA in the right city. Update to this video coming soon.
  • Consider leaving a copy of critical email, social media, and other passwords / pins with a family member or trusted friend. If you lost your smartphone and had to login to email via a public computer, would you be able to?

Again, this is an older video. Make sure to go to General Assembly in the right city — Kansas City, MO!

  • Be sure that someone from your congregation is bringing the banner for the banner parade.
  • 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. There is an amazing collection of resources available in the exhibit hall, including books from the UUA Bookstore.
  • Use General Assembly as an opportunity to connect with leaders in congregation near you. You can use the GA App to network. You might even reach out to your neighboring UU congregations in advance.
  • 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 don’t know anyone 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 spend time with someone you haven’t seen in ten years, email them now and ask to get together.  You don’t need to finalize plans now, but many people plan how they are using meals in advance. When you ask 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.”
  • Prepare your Unitarian Universalism elevator speech. Local folks ask questions; be prepared to answer.  What’s a Unitarian Universalist?  What’s your conference about?

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).
  • 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 Ware Lecture and the Sunday morning service. See program highlights.
  • Don’t miss the Synergy Bridging Service! We’re the only denomination that honors the transition from youth to young adulthood at our annual assembly.
  • Having a meal with other UUs from across the country can sometimes be more valuable than going to a workshop. Prioritize relationships.
  • 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.

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

Have a tip or related resources to share?  Comment on this post or comment wherever I’ve shared this post on Twitter or Facebook.  Thanks! Peter

Facebook Changes: What Your UU Congregation Needs to Know

Facebook’s recently announced changes are going to have a huge impact on congregational pages. Here’s a briefing on the changes and why you may want to consider incorporating a congregation-wide Facebook group into your strategy. This is food for thought.
 
You should talk how to respond with your ministry communications team. Don’t have a team working on integrating ministry and media? Oh, we should talk… Let me know you need support. That’s what I do.

Welcome Show and Tell: UU Congregation of Phoenix, AZ

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.

Brochure Rack
Across from the main welcome desk is the brochure rack featuring a wide range of pamphlets. These are available via the UUA Bookstore.

Television Monitors
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.
Children’s Ministry Welcome Table
Outside of the front doors, there is a Children’s Ministry welcome table. This is where parents are greeted by family greeters, sign in their kids, learn what rooms they go to, and get info about children’s ministry events.
What do you think? 
How do these photos make you feel? 
Does it give you any ideas for your congregation?
 
Comment on this post or wherever it appears online, especially in the UU Growth Lab.  Submissions for this series are welcome, as are other Unitarian Universalist growht, outreach, and media focused guest posts.  Before you submit a post, take a look at my UU PLANET guest post suggestions.
Thanks again to Janine!

UU Ice Breaker Bingo

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.

Download UU Ice Breaker Bingo:
Icebreaker Bingo (updated 10/20/17) DOC
 Icebreaker Bingo (updated 10/20/17) PDF

Example Board

UUIcebreakerbingo

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.

Want more resources like this? Signup to receive email updates.

Have fun! And let us know how it goes.