Social Media and Membership Growth – Part 1, CUC Edition

Friends,  here’s the first part of my recent webcast on Social Media and Membership Growth presented to Candadian Unitarian congregations, sponored by the CUC.

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!

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?

The Cost of Losing Our Childen – guest post by Rev. Christana Wille McKnight

The following is a guest post on the the cost of losing our children as adults by the Rev. Christana Wille McKnight.  Christana serves primarily as a chaplain, but also consults, guest preaches and teaches around issues of pastoral care, community ministry, and retention in our denomination. Christana will be presenting “How to Grow Unitarian Universalism by Keeping Our Kids” at the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis.

exit-our-faith


THE PROBLEM OF RETENTION IN UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM

By Rev. Christana Wille McKnight

Background

Over the last 40 years, Unitarian Universalism has emerged as a transformative movement in the United States. Our denomination has become a haven for people from a variety of faith backgrounds, well regarded for its acceptance of people regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical or mental ability.  Despite our success in welcoming people from other faiths into the Unitarian Universalist fold, we have not been as successful retaining as adult members people who have been raised from childhood as Unitarian Universalists.

The cost of losing so many of the adult children that are raised in our faith is staggering.

  • Spiritual losses – Raised UUs offer an important faith perspective and depth of experience to our congregations.
  • Emotional losses – The sense of rejection that countless raised UUs have experienced as they attempt to integrate into the adult church is a mark of shame on our welcoming faith.
  • Financial losses – The amount of potential dollars lost each time a raised UU walks out the door is enormous.
  • Numerical losses – Our denomination is struggling against a wide range of factors that prevent us from achieving even a 2% annual growth rate, while a significant source of growth departs from the denomination each year in the form of raised UUs.

Comparative Retention Statistics

There has never been a statistically significant longitudinal study conducted on the retention rates of Unitarian Universalists who have been raised in the denomination.  However, according to cross-sectional studies conducted by the denomination over the last four decades, it has been found that an average of approximately 12.5% of all adult UUs self identify as being raised UU or in one of the pre-merger denominations.[1] A comparison with numbers provided to the author by other denominations show that Unitarian Universalists have a significantly smaller proportion of adults as members who were raised in the faith than other comparable Protestant denominations in the United States:

  • 44% of all adult Presbyterian members were raised Presbyterian.[2]
  • 48% of all adult United Church of Christ members were raised UCC or in one of the pre-merger denominations.[3]
  • 50% of all adult Episcopalian members were raised Episcopalian.[4]
  • 67% of all Evangelical Lutheran members were raised Evangelical Lutheran.[5]

(No figures were available from the Baptist or United Methodist denominations)

These denominations report an average rate of over 52% of their populations raised in their church, as compared to an average of 12.5% for our denomination.  While this significant difference in the proportion of adult members raised in the faith could be attributable to our adult conversion rate and overall growth as a religion, an analysis of growth statistics over the last decade make this conclusion highly unlikely.

UU “Lost Growth Opportunity” Statistics

 

Adult membership statistics from the Office of District Services of the Unitarian Universalist Association for 1998 through 2009 are attached as Table I.  An analysis of these statistics tells us the following:

  • The mean adult membership census for the period in question is 150,474.
  • The average annual adult membership growth during that time frame was 1,174 members, or an approximate average annual growth rate of  0.78%.
  • Since an average of 12.5% of our adult members report have been raised UU, it can be concluded that we are gaining approximately 147 raised UUs in the denomination annually.
  • The Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office of the UUA estimates that over the last decade, approximately 4,000 young people have graduated annually from religious education programs.[6]
  • Assuming 50% of the raised UUs who graduate from religious education every year could be retained as adult members, that would produce an average annual growth rate of 2,000 raised UUs.
  • This represents a lost growth opportunity of 1,853 members per year – significantly more than our average annual adult membership growth during the past decade.

Why Do Raised UUs Leave

Research and reason point to four key reasons for our low retention rates.  These conclusions have been drawn from research [7] conducted from 2004 to 2009 by the author and are supported by the 2005 Commission on Appraisal report Engaging Our Theological Diversity.

  • A lack of religious identity and commitment.  The Commission report states:  “We have a common desire not to indoctrinate our children, to leave them free to determine their own truth.  This is a noble aspiration, but have we taken it too far?  Perhaps children don’t get anything to hold onto now and they ultimately find themselves adrift in a confusing and frightening world.   As a participant in one of our youth focus groups said  ‘Adults are concerned about influencing what kids believe, but being influenced by other people is how we figure out what we believe; it’s the only way it can happen.’”[8]
  • A significant difference between the religious education program and the adult church. The Commission report found that “The way UUs raise our children seems to prepare them for something completely different than what Unitarian Universalism actually offers.  This suggests that UUs should change one or the other (or both).”[9]
  • An historical culture of focusing the adult church experience around meeting the needs of people who have not been raised in our faith. From the Commission again:  “Born-inners, it seems, have some different religious needs than come-inners.”[10]
  • Congregational challenges with accepting and encouraging raised UUs to be in positions of power and authority within the church. The Commission summarized its conversations with youth in our denomination as follows: “Once people are fourteen or fifteen years old, these youth told us, they need to be incorporated into the larger community; ‘If you want to ‘mind the gap,’ you need to meld it more; bring the generations together, get you and adults interacting more.  Current structures create too much separation of the generations.’”[11]

Some progress is being made in addressing these issues on local, district and national levels.  For example, the Tapestry of Faith resources made available by the UUA Lifespan Faith Development Department have several sections that focus on religious identity.  Additionally, the young adult movement around the country has been working tirelessly to integrate young adults (many of whom are raised UUs) into the fabric of church life.  However, if we are going to fully support as adults, the children and youth who were raised in our congregations, grow as a denomination, and encourage spiritual depth at a new level, further action is necessary.

What Actions Can Be Taken To Retain Raised UUs

There are several steps that we can take to strengthen our ability to retain Unitarian Universalists who have been raised in the church.  These can include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Creating and disseminating rituals for families and congregations that are distinctively Unitarian Universalist.
  • Creating and disseminating resources for both youth and congregations to guide them through the process of bringing a raised UU into the adult church, specifically addressing differences between religious education and adult church.
  • Educating ministers and laity about how the experiences and needs of adult members who are raised UU may differ from congregants who were previously unchurched or raised in other faiths.
  • Educating ministers and laity around the gifts that raised UUs offer to congregations, and how those gifts could positively impact the church.

It is important to acknowledge that actively working towards retaining raised UUs as adults does not necessarily require a drastic shift in our current structure.  In fact, if we hope to keep raised UUs consistently as a growing demographic in our denomination, we must incorporate their needs and wants into our existing establishments rather than creating parallel realities for them to exist in.  Dialogue and education will be an essential component of this process, as well as heightened awareness on the part of our leaders to the imperative nature of this call.

Market research indicates that it is significantly easier and more cost-effective to retain a person who is a member of any given group – whether client, constituent, or congregant – than to recruit new members. It is time for us to acknowledge that the loss of so many raised UUs negatively impacts our movement in many ways, to acknowledge the systemic issues that contribute to our low retention rate, and to take steps to address this solvable problem.   By devoting a proportionally small amount of resources to retaining raised UUs as adult members, we have tremendous potential to grow as a transformative faith in the world.


[1] Commission on Appraisal Studies: 1967 – 12%; 1979 – 16%; 1987 – 14%; Needs and Aspirations Survey: 1997 – 9.9%; UU World Readership Survey: 2004 – 12%.

[2] Smith-Williams, Ida.  Associate for Research and Information, Presbyterian Church, USA.  “Raised Presbyterian.” Email to the author.  9 Feb 2009.

[3] Shellhammer, Destiny.  Minister for Research Information and Services, United Church of Christ. “Raised UCC.”  Email to the author.  9 March 2009.

[4] Alexis-Earvin, Donna.  Research Assistant, Episcopal Church Center.  “Raised in the Church.” Email to the author.  10 Feb 2009.

[5] Taylor, Dann.  Research Analyst, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  “Those that were raised in the church and remain in the church as adults.”  Email to the author.  11 Feb 2009.

[6] Kesting, Erik.  Acting Co-Director for the Young Adult Ministry, Unitarian Universalist Association.  Email to the author via Scott Robbins, Assistant Director, Annual Program Fund, Unitarian Universalist Association.  13 Feb 2009.

[7] This research has primarily taken the form of primary source conversations with raised UUs, denominational ministers, District staff, as well as readings and sermons from denominational leaders and theologians.

[8] The Commission on Appraisal of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Engaging Our Theological Diversity. (Boston: The Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005), 125.

[9] The Commission on Appraisal of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Engaging Our Theological Diversity, 124.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Commission on Appraisal of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Engaging Our Theological Diversity, 125.

Retaining Born UUs Through Lifespan Group-Based Ministry Model

This post was originally published on the UU Small Group Ministry Network website.  I launched the UU Small Group Ministry Network as a resource website in 2001 and later re-launched it with others in 2004 as an organization .  While we had UUA Affiliate Organizations, it was an affiliate. Today it is a thriving volunteer driven nonprofit supporting group ministry acorss our association.  ~ Peter

Toward a True UU Lifespan Ministry Model:  Retaining Born UUs Through Group-Based Ministry
by Peter Bowden

In our Unitarian Universalist congregations, we retain only 10% of the children we raise as UU’s. Why do we lose 90% of our born UU’s? I believe it is because they are not integrated into our community early enough and that ministry to children and youth is perceived as being significantly different from our adult offerings. Though our culture is starting to change, historically we have maintained a system that is designed to encourage them to leave.

Ministry with children has a tradition of strong small groups (classes) and worship (chapel). After coming of age, ministry for our youth has focused on a single strong group (the youth group) lead by adult advisors, with little worship outside of the group and minimal connection to the larger church. Our adult ministry has been centered on Sunday worship.

In the context of small group ministry the problem of retaining born UU’s makes sense. We start children off with strong small groups and dynamic participatory worship, move them to a nearly 100% small group experience, and then ask them to move to attending adult church services.
For the majority of born UU’s, pew-based church isn’t going to cut it. Once you give them intimate and meaningful small groups you can never take that away. If you do, you lose them. It doesn’t matter how old they are. As an adult who has participated in a small group ministry would you attend a church without a small group ministry?

Where does this leave us today?
To retain them we have to create small groups for adults of all ages – youth, young adults, and adults. In doing so we can create continuity in the ministry we offer and move youth into our adult community efficiently, preferably before they have the chance to graduate from high school.

How to keep them
It is my opinion that we need to focus our attention and resources on cultivating an explicit culture of small group ministry in our congregations for people of all ages. Just as we talk about integrating small group ministry into the life of the church (the adult church), so too must we integrate it into our children and youth ministries. This involves using similar meeting formats and language with people of all ages and starting formal small group ministry at an earlier age.
Small Groups: Instead of talking about classes, talk about small groups. This alone will create a connection with “small group” ministry and further serve to distinguish church groups from school classes.

Common Format
Right now a huge percentage of all groups in our congregations have adopted a basic format for their gatherings. This includes an opening ritual, check-in, core topic or activity, likes/wishes (a group process check) and closing ritual. Regardless of what core content is covered, this basic format can be used with children of all ages.

Empowerment with a Purpose – Group Leadership!
When our children “come of age” we start to shift from teaching to empowering and advising. In many congregations the meaning of empowerment is not clear. Leadership development is very clear in the small group ministry model. We empower individuals to lead small groups of 8-10 people, ask them to mentor less experienced group members helping them step into leadership roles, and expect new leaders to share our faith with others by leading new groups. Can we do this with youth? Absolutely! Go ahead and ask them…

Creating Continuity
In our youth small group ministries we can share a Lifespan vision of small groups, give all youth experience both participating in and leading small groups, show them how to mentor their peers as leaders and equip all outgoing youth with the resources they need to start small groups wherever they go.

Closing the Gap
The best place to create leaders for our young adult and campus groups is in our youth small group ministries. When our youth leave youth group as seasoned small group leaders they will start ministries wherever they go. We need to equip them to do this important work.
Adult Ministry: An important step in creating a continuous lifespan shared ministry model is to see that our youth and young adult ministries are adult ministries. Instead of being the end of our children’s ministry, these should be intentional starts to participation in adult ministry. When we use a more intentional small group ministry model with youth leaders and advisors, they may be included in the support structure of the adult small group ministry system.

Age Affinity Groups
There is no question that many youth and young adults desire to be in groups with their peers. When we support these age affinity groups but include them in a larger adult small group ministry system, youth will no longer be looking to get away from children. Instead, they will feel valued and respected as participants and leaders within the adult community. They will know they belong with us.

Have thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from.