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.

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.

Why I hate special church visitor mugs and you probably should too

 

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?

Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball Coloring Page

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.

Download:

Ralph Waldo Emerson – Transparent Eyeball Coloring Page (PDF)

Download 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 Transparent Eyeball Facebook Header

Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball – Square

Emerson 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

 

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UU Chalice with Hands Image for Word Art

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.

Alice the Chalice

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.

UU Chalice with Hands “UU Chalice with Hands” by Peter Bowden and Amy Freedman

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.

UU Chalice Word Art by Joy Berry UU Chalice Word Art by Joy Berry

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Don’t let ANXIETY and UNCERTAINTY keep people from visiting your congregation

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.

Example:

“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.

That’s it!

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.

5 Ways Social Media is Changing How People Join Congregations

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. 

6 Videos to Help You Prepare for UUA General Assembly 2017

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.

Order The Third Reconstruction from the UUA Bookstore
Get The Third Reconstruction for Amazon Kindle
UUA Common Read Discussion Guide

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

Learn more about comedian Aamer Rahman (Fear of a Brown Planet) at aamerrahman.tumblr.com and on Twitter at @aamer_rahman.  (3 Minutes)


Is this your first General Assembly?  If so, this collaborative unofficial  UUA General Assembly Survival Guide is for you!

https://twitter.com/uuplanet/status/861712732369846272