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Hospitality and Belonging: Q & A

On October 4, 2007, Rev. Bill Sinkford (President) and Gini Courter (Moderator) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) held a telephone conference call with 155 congregational leaders from forty states on hospitality and belonging practices in congregations. This call was held in conjunction with the launch of the UUA's national marketing campaign on October 5, 2007.

We hope you find it useful to listen to the conference call recording on "Hospitality and Belonging." You'll hear Sinkford and Courter make opening remarks and then answer questions from callers.

Some participants were not able to have their questions addressed during the call. Those questions, and responses to them, are captured here for your consideration.

What banners are available? How do I locate them on the website?
Graphic files are available
for making marketing and advertising materials for your congregation.

There is a national marketing campaign banner which says "Nurture Your Spirit. Help Heal Our World." (PDF). To order, send a check for $175 (includes shipping), payable to UUA, specifying how many you would like and where they should be shipped, to:

Congregational Life
Unitarian Universalist Association
25 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 948-4270
(fax) (617) 742-0321

If you have further questions, email marketing_outreach @ uua.org.

The UUA also makes attractive electronic banners available to congregations for use on their website, with messages changing weekly, focusing on UUA information. Currently the electronic banners point to information on the national marketing campaign.

How can we coordinate local with national advertising, especially where we don't have a Unitarian Universalist (UU) presence?
The national campaign is intended to give us a breadth of reach, including reaching into communities where there is currently no UU congregation. Local advertising is intended to extend an invitation to folks to visit a nearby congregation, so local congregations will need to know what communities they draw from and what communities they can reach out to. It will mean making an intentional effort to show up in places, and in ways, that we might not have tried before.

The UUA has marketing outreach resources including full page print ads, the "Nurture Your Spirit. Help Heal Our World." (PDF) outdoor banner for congregational use, and the DVD "Voices of a Liberal Faith" to share with guests.

How can our ministers help members be able to talk about Unitarian Universalist (UUism)?
Ministers and members can view the DVD "Voices of a Liberal Faith" together. Afterwards, have time for dialogue about what our faith means to each of you. Take time together to practice your "What is UUism" elevator speeches. Try role-playing coffee hour conversations with guests. For additional resources go to "Welcoming Our Guests."

How would we communicate/report the number of visitors we receive so you can know how well the campaign is doing?
Ask your guests how they heard about UUism and heard about your congregation. Use attendance tracking forms. You can report via email to marketing_outreach @ uua.org using our attendance tracking sheets. For a more comprehensive approach to tracking, planning, and using this data please see "Congregations Count."

When will the ads be running in Time Magazine?
Please refer to the "Schedule for Phase 1" of our outreach campaign as well as additional helpful information.

What can congregations do to make sure that middle-aged males can be more welcomed? Has anyone checked attendance after "Prairie Home Companion"?
We want to welcome people for who they are, as they are. Be mindful of assumptions. For example, when talking with new people at church remember that not everyone who attends is married, or has a family just because they are of an age which might make that an option. Ask open-ended questions to find out about the person, the way they might like to describe themselves. A good place to look for ideas on welcoming is Gary L. McIntosh's book Beyond the First Visit: the Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church. This gives an important look at your church through the eyes of a first-time guest.

Another good resource is Widening the Welcome of Your Church: Biblical Hospitality & the Vital Congregation by Fred Bernhard and Steve Clapp which discusses compelling welcoming issues from being a caring host, to welcoming children, youth, and young adults, to considering physical facilities and worship, while offering useful checklists to aid us in widening our welcome to all. See "Welcoming Our Guests."

To our knowledge no one has yet checked attendance after "Prairie Home Companion"!

How do individuals introduce visitors at Gini's church so quickly? How can we follow up on involving new members?
In the live Q&A on the call, the UUA Moderator, Gini Courter, said that in her congregation it is members who introduce guests to the congregation during the service. Another option is making use of nametags that clearly indicate someone is a guest. When you greet those folks simply say, "Hello, I don't think we've met!" and introduce yourself. Let them take the lead in the conversation some of the time, and ensure that you introduce them to at least two other people who will talk with them.

In answer to the second question, see our "Hospitality and Belonging" pages on the web, especially "Path to Membership" and "Focusing on Member Talents and Gifts." Also you may want to refer to The Membership Journey (PDF, 53 pages; see page 31 onward).

What about the "blue mug" system doesn't work well?
Guests in our congregations may already feel as if they "stand out." Sometimes that can be an uncomfortable feeling, made more so by having done what you were asked to do (take a blue mug so we can greet you more warmly at our coffee hour) only to stand alone and be ignored as members greet one another and conduct church business.

How can we be most welcoming to youth and young adults?
A good resource for this is Widening the Welcome of Your Church: Biblical Hospitality & the Vital Congregation by Fred Bernhard and Steve Clapp, which discusses compelling welcoming issues: from being a caring host, to welcoming children, youth, and young adults, to considering physical facilities and worship, while offering useful checklists to aid us in widening our welcome to all. You can find additional information in The Membership Journey (PDF, 53 pages; see pages 25-26).

How can neighboring congregations work together to improve one another's welcoming and hospitality practices and culture?
Membership Committees can gather and share strengths and ideas, and visit one another's congregations as mystery visitors to see how they are welcomed. They can meet and share findings thoughtfully and in ways that keep them open to hearing both difficult and positive things. You may find more ideas to improve on your congregation's membership practices in The Membership Journey (PDF, 53 pages). You can also obtain further hard data on your congregation by using "Congregations Count."

How will we evaluate the success of this campaign in terms of the positioning of Unitarian Universalism in the public arena?
The campaign's objective, to generate name recognition for Unitarian Universalism, is difficult to quantify in terms of results. The Unitarian Universalist Association will monitor website clicks, both at UUA.org and Time.com; track membership and visitor statistics when available; and encourage feedback from key constituent groups.

What are some of the best way(s) to stop shooting ourselves in the foot in terms of being un-welcoming of spiritual seekers with different beliefs than ourselves?
Make opportunities to explore theological diversity. Take time to practice dialogue that is respectful of theological pluralism. Find ways to call us back to our best selves—respecting each person and honoring diverse sources of truth. Find ways to create and nurture a culture of consideration for the stranger.

Use the books listed on the "Welcoming Our Guests" web page, which deal with true and deep hospitality. Explore the pluralism within our movement. Help people to realize that those whose beliefs differ from our own are welcome to be with us and take time to decide if UUism can be their home too.

Use various means—adult religious education, sermons, songs in the service, and an upbeat and enlightened newsletter series—to try and reach those who most need to hear it.

For more information contact growthresources @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Tuesday, September 23, 2014.

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Gini Courter, UUA Moderator


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Rev. Bill Sinkford, UUA President


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Ad running in the October 15, 2007, issue of Time Magazine

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