Beyond Contentment: Motivating Members to Do More
General Assembly 2013 Event 2052
Speaker: Mark Bernstein
The commitment of members to be active and contributing partners in congregational life is one of the characteristics of a strong, vital and growing congregation. Yet many congregations find this commitment lacking. This session will draw on various motivational theories to discuss the factors that merely eliminate dissatisfaction (but don’t provide motivation) and to uncover the factors that compel members to get and stay involved.
- Presentation Slides (PPTX, 32 pages) (PDF)
- Full Presentation with Slides as a YouTube Playlist
MARK BERNSTEIN: Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
MARK BERNSTEIN: So what, you didn't have any place else to go? Thank you all for being here. I'm thrilled. To make sure you're in the right place, this is defensive driving for Unitarian Universalists. My name is Mark Bernstein. I'm the growth consultant for CERG, Central East Regional Group. I serve the Joseph Priestley, Ohio-Meadville, St. Lawrence, and Metro New York districts of the UUA. Welcome to this workshop.
I'm hemmed in here. I usually like to walk around, but I feel like I'm trapped, so I may walk back and forth like a caged animal. But don't get worried about that.
I'm really glad that you chose to be here. This is the last workshop of a very long day, and I'll do my best to keep you going until 8 o'clock tonight. In this session, I expect that you will find some ideas that will resonate with you immediately, some that you will find irrelevant or unrealistic, and others that will spark a related idea that you feel you can run with. I, again, appreciate your investment of your time this afternoon, and I hope that you will find the time that was worthwhile.
This presentation will be made available on the UUA website following General Assembly. In the spirit of staying green, I don't have handouts for you. But if you don't want to wait for the UUA to put it up on the website, and it might take some time, because there are a lot of workshops, please take my email address. It's mbernstein, that's M-B-E-R-N-S-T-E-I-N, at uua.org. You can also find my email address on our CERG website, which is cerguua.org.
Which—Hi, my name is Mark Bernstein. Welcome to--
My email address? Oh, OK.
AUDIENCE: Never mind.
MARK BERNSTEIN: That was not a plant. And for more information about CERG and to access many, many other resources on our website, I hope that wherever you're from across the country that you'll log on to cerguua.org and take a look at what we have to offer.
So let me begin with some opening words. The Maasai people are among the best known African ethnic groups who reside primarily in Kenya and northern Tanzania. I began our time together with these opening words, tribal sayings from the Maasai people. "I believe in the spirit of sharing and I believe we are what we are because of those around us." "I am what I am because of other people and they are what they are because of me being around." And "one hand cannot clap on its own, but it needs the other hand to make a clap."
All of these sayings will have relevance to our conversation today. I don't want this to just be a didactic presentation, although I do have information that I want to share and make sure that I get through it by the end of our time together. But I will give you a couple of opportunities to share with each other, and then at the end if you have questions or comments, things that are going on in your congregation related to the topic that you'd like to share, I will welcome you to take advantage of that opportunity.
So let's begin with a truism. People do not join a church or fellowship in the hopes that someday they will be blessed to make coffee for other members of the congregation. People do not join our faith with the idea of chairing a committee for the next five years or working in the memorial garden or helping to build a storage shed behind the sanctuary. Members join our congregations because they are hurting or curious or otherwise in need of a spiritual community. We need to help them to find that first before we ask them to schedule a meeting, go pick up a hammer, or bring cookies for coffee hour.
However, it is true that a congregation cannot sustain itself for long if it is carried only by a dedicated few. If, as the English playwright and poet John Hayward wrote, many hands make light work, then fewer hands make work more difficult for those who extend them. As a consultant, and I've been doing this wonderful work for four years now, I hear so often the refrain from leaders that we cannot continue to carry the load. That getting people to contribute to congregational life is difficult. That we are burning out.
This issue crosses size, geographic boundaries, and for those people—and many of you may be in this room today, there is in fact a church for you. The Burnout Baptist Church in Red Bay—or what is that? Red Bay, Alabama. It really exists. They have a website. Take a moment and go on and check out and I'll wait.
We know that one of the greatest problems in our congregations is the experience of burnout. Anne Jackson, in her book Mad Church Disease, even compared it to the symptoms of mad cow disease. The disease lies dormant for a period of time, and it may be a period of months or even years before it is found. So too, with people in our congregations who get worn down and don't realize it's happening to them until it's too late.
Mad cow disease causes mental and physical deterioration. So does church burnout. This is the happy part of the presentation. An entire herd can be infected if they share the same food source. I'm not talking about people in the congregation, I'm talking about cows. So, too, the entire congregation can be infected with the disease of non-involvement. And finally, mad cow disease can lead to death if untreated. Or in our case, can result in burned out leaders leaving our church and leaving our faith.
So now, I want to give you an opportunity to share with each other. If you are feeling burned out, if you are feeling overwhelmed, this is what I call kvetch time. Some of you know what I'm talking about. This is an opportunity for you to kvetch with one or two or three people sitting around you. And your only opportunity today to complain about the fact that no one in the congregation is stepping up to help you. I'm going to give you some time to do that. I'll say, ready, go. And then when I come back on the microphone, please respect that and end your conversations. OK? Ready, go.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Time's up.
MARK BERNSTEIN: This really wasn't meant to be a funny presentation. So no more complaining. If you want to share some concerns when you have a shot at the microphone, that's fine. But let's talk about what we can do about it.
So why are some people reluctant to volunteer? It's puzzling. All of you are leaders, and you're involved, and you're here. And why isn't everybody as committed? Well, I think there are a number of reasons.
I think, first of all, there are too many other properties in people's lives. We lead busy lives. There's a lot going on. I have to prioritize.
There's a fear of getting stuck in something from which they cannot escape. If I become immersed in a committee or a project, I may be there for life. I won't be able to dig my way out. Best not to get involved in the first place.
It may be that there's a fear of making a deeper commitment to the congregation. It's safer if I hedge my bets and stay on the outside of the circle.
It might be feelings of inadequacy. What if I take on a role in this congregation and I fail?
It might be a lack of ownership in the congregation. And we're going to talk more about this a little later. It's not really my responsibility to make sure that things get done. Let those who have been here longer or who are in positions of leadership or who are birthright UUs take the lead in taking on the work of the congregation.
And finally, and you may have other reasons or things that you've discovered, but it might be a sense of not feeling connected to other members of the congregation. I don't feel a personal commitment to the other members of the congregation. I like them, I just don't feel committed to them. I don't know them, and they don't know me.
So one of the things we need to do for those members of our congregations that are not getting involved is have conversations and to explore with them why. What are they afraid of? What do they think might happen? And the answers might be very revealing.
So we know that one of the keys to being a strong, vital, and growing congregation is getting more people involved in congregational life. And we know that there are a number of barriers to overcome. So how do we do it? How do we motivate people to get involved in the life of the congregation?
Well, I think, we turn first to management theory. Please don't leave. Management theory is defined as a collection of ideas which set forth general rules on how to manage a business or organization. Management theory addresses how managers and supervisors—that's all of you, read leaders—relate to their organizations in the knowledge of its goals, the implementation of effective means to reach the goals, and how to motivate employees to perform to the highest standard. So if any of you are as puzzled as this lady hanging there, I'll try to make this clear. So actually, I'm going to fall back on management theory and I'm going to share with you two or three theories, and then relate it to life in our congregations.
So first of all, what do people want and need? In management theory, these are the things that people say over and over again they want and need. Leadership, validation, pride in their work, trusting relationships, team work, a commitment to quality, involvement, and personal and professional recognition. So you can already begin to see how this starts to relate to life in our congregations.
Can you folks see the slide?
MARK BERNSTEIN: I can act them out. I'm sorry that you can't, but again, you'll be able to access them either on UUA website or by emailing me. Do you need my email address again?
So before in my life with CERG and the UUA, I had my own business doing consulting with health care organizations. And one of the things that I did in my business was I administered an employee satisfaction survey. And I've administered this many times to many congregations, generally in the Philadelphia area, where I'm from.
The survey actually asks people to rate on six categories, but it also provides me with an opportunity to relate the importance of each of the statements with overall satisfaction. So stay with me here. The first question on the survey asks, overall, how satisfied are you in this organization, on a scale of one to seven. So if somebody circles one, it means they hate it in that organization. If they circle seven, it's Nirvana. All of the other statements on the survey are on a scale of one to five, one being I don't agree, five being I agree absolutely. I'm able to take each of those statements and correlate it with the first question, overall satisfaction, so that I can get an indication of which factors are related to overall satisfaction.
So for example, if someone says, I really love it here. I'm really satisfied. And they also give a five to I trust the leadership, then that's a positive correlation. Which means that if they trust the leadership, they're more likely to be satisfied. If they don't trust the leadership, they're more likely to be dissatisfied. You with me?
So this was the largest study that I ever did. So that's why it's back to 2007. These were about 50 agencies and about 1,000 employees that were surveyed. And here's the results that I got. And they are not dissimilar to every other time that I've done this survey. These are the top five—I'm sorry, it was 800 employees.
And the five greatest predictors of staff satisfaction were number one, I have confidence in the leadership of the agency. Again, it wasn't the highest ranked, but people who tended to have confidence in the leadership tended to be very satisfied. People who didn't have confidence in the leadership tended to be dissatisfied.
Number two, I'm proud to work for the agency. Number three, I feel like I can trust what the agency tells me. Number four, I feel I am valued at the agency. And number five, the agency treats me like a person, not a number.
Every survey that I've done, these are among the top seven or eight. Money is never up at the top. Even though money is important, money is not a motivator. It's these ideas of being heard, being valued, trusting, these are the things that are important to people and what motivates them and what helps them to be satisfied.
The case that I'm going to make today is that these are the very factors that we need to be sure that we're instilling in our congregations if we're going to get people to get motivated to participate in congregational life. And I'll elaborate on that in a few moments. Is that clear? Good, because I'm totally confused at this point.
In their book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden add their voice to what they think employees want and need. And you'll begin to see some patterns here. One is meaningful work. People want to be proud of what they do.
A second is high standards. They want an organization that is committed to quality. Third is a clear sense of purpose and direction. This includes timely, relevant, and truthful information. Every one of these things applies to us as leaders in our congregations.
They want what they call balanced worth-its. That is, they must see a commensurate level of interest and investment in them, and the freedom to pursue things that are important to them. They want a level playing field, which includes reciprocal caring, a sense of justice, and an assurance that they won't be taken advantage of. And they want to be and feel competent.
So there's a lot of commonalities in these slides that I just showed you. That these are the things that people want. And if they get it, they'll be more motivated to get involved in congregational life.
So you all remember Abraham Maslow from psychology 101? He's actually here today. Abe? I don't know where he is. Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. He said that humans pursue specific needs in order of importance until they're satisfied. We start at the basic and lowest need levels, and once they are secured, we move up to different needs.
So we start with physical needs, food, clothing, shelter to survive. Once we've met those needs, then we satisfy our safety and security needs, financial, emotional. And then we move up to higher levels of needs, social, self-esteem, personal growth. Eventually ending in what we call self-actualization, we become the person that we were meant to be.
What I want to do is take the work that—well, I'm not doing it, Frederick Herzberg did—the work that Abraham Maslow talked about in hierarchy of needs and he applied it to the workplace. Now, stay with me, OK? I know it's warm in here, it's getting late, and this is like, what is he talking about? This is really going to make sense. Trust me.
So Frederick Herzberg took Maslow's ideas and applied it to the workplace and came up with what he called the Motivation-Hygiene theory. Which is hard to dance to, but—He found that certain characteristics of a job are consistently related to job satisfaction, while other factors are associated with job dissatisfaction. Here are the factors that Herzberg said result in dissatisfaction, company policies, supervision, relationships, work conditions, salary, and security. These are what he called the hygiene factors.
Then there are the factors that achieve satisfaction. They include achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and personal growth. And these are what he called the motivators. Herzberg concluded that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are not opposites. The opposite of job dissatisfaction, the list on the left, is the elimination of dissatisfaction. The opposite of dissatisfaction is the elimination of dissatisfaction. That's all it does. It eliminates dissatisfaction, but it doesn't motivate someone to become an excellent, a great, a quality laden employee.
So for example, and again, my work in the field of disabilities I encountered this many times. A lot of leaders that work in that field think, if I could just give my staff more money, they'd be great, super employees. While money is really important, especially in the field of disabilities where people don't get paid very much, all getting more money is going to do is eliminate the dissatisfaction of not making enough money. It's not necessarily going to turn that person into a super employee unless the factors on the right are in place.
So what we need to do, or what Herzberg says we need to do, is both eliminate the factors causing dissatisfaction and create conditions for job satisfaction. Thank you very much. So how do we relate this to our congregations? This is really the key to the first part of this presentation.
First of all, and you're welcome to argue with me about this, just wait until Monday night when I'm safely home in Philadelphia. Here's what I think the hygiene factors are in our congregation. Relationships, covenants, music, worship, pastoral care, programming—and that includes adult, children programming, other speakers that we bring in—and of course, coffee. Coffee always gets applause. I don't know what it is.
These are not factors that motivate us to get involved in congregational life. These are factors that, if not satisfied, will cause us to be dissatisfied. But if we satisfy them, all we're doing is eliminating the dissatisfaction with them. So I think that many of us think, you know, if we had better music, if we had more spiritual or more secular—take your choice—worship services, if we made better coffee, if we did all of that, then people would get involved in congregational life. But if Herzberg is right, and I think he is, that's not the case.
Now, I'm not saying these aren't important. Because if you don't eliminate dissatisfaction, but you just focus on motivating people, it's not going to work. You have to first eliminate dissatisfaction with these factors.
And that includes relationships, even though they're really important. If I have satisfying relationships in the congregation, I've eliminated the dissatisfaction with not having satisfying relationships. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to get involved in congregational life.
So what are the motivators? What are the things that we need to instill in our congregation in order to get people more involved in congregational life? Well, it's the things we've been talking about.
A sense of achievement, affiliation—which means being connected with others in meaningful ways, power—which is not always a bad word—or authority. Our life saving faith. Instead of the work itself, which Herzberg talked about, it's our life saving faith. We get involved in congregational life, we roll up our sleeves, we make a commitment, we take a risk, because we know that it's going to further Unitarian Universalism. A sense of responsibility, meaning, affirmation or recognition for the work that we do, and an opportunity to grow personally. All the things that I covered in the slides earlier. I think they have perfect applicability to our congregations.
So I'm going to pause for a moment. I am going to really ask you to turn to someone next you or a couple of people. I'm not going to cut you off in five seconds. But I just want to give you an opportunity to talk to each other about what I presented so far. Does it surprise you? Does it puzzle you? Do you not agree? Are you thinking, this is the greatest thing I've ever heard so far since I've been here?
But also to talk about, in your congregation, what are the hygiene factors, that's these, that you need to work on in order to eliminate dissatisfaction? Don't let anyone know what congregation you're with, so you can speak freely. And then also, if you would take a moment just to share what are you doing to create motivation? What are you doing already that's helping people to become nourished and motivated through the application of these factors?
You guys can't see them. Oh, but I read them and you wrote them down. If you didn't, you can just sit there and envy everyone else. I'm sorry. So I'm really only going to give you no more than five minutes. So if you would turn to someone and just talk about the relevance this has for you.
Thanks for doing that. So, some of you, I think, had really good conversations and the rest of you probably had time to make dinner plans. We have 45 minutes left, so we have some time. I'm going to ask a member of each of the groups to step up to the microphone.
Actually, I am really curious to get a sense from two or three or maybe four at most. Is there anybody that heard something really brilliant or interesting or valuable that they would like share with the group? Ryan?
RYAN NOVOSIELSKI: Hi, Ryan Novosieleski, fourth Universalist Society of Manhattan. The fact that there are two lists was a revelation, because you think you improve the things that are bad and it will just happen naturally, because you're stopping driving people away. But the comment that I would have on the second list is that these are little more abstract. I don't know how you provide somebody with achievement, other than give them something that's achievable, for example.
MARK BERNSTEIN: That's a good point. A lot of these are internal, but if we can create—and I do have some ideas I'll share with you. If we can make that part of the culture—we all know, we all benefit from a sense of achievement, but it's personal, it's internal. So you said it, we need to provide the opportunity for people to achieve and then acknowledge that achievement, so that people get that internal gratification. Most of these are really related. They're intermingled.
Now, Ryan, you can go back to the cheap seats. Did you guys pay full price for that?
RYAN NOVOSIELSKI: Yeah.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Talk about your obstructed views. Hi.
GLORIA DEROUEN: Hi, I'm Gloria DeRouen from Solana Long Beach, California. And I'm not particularly motivated myself, right now, but I think--
MARK BERNSTEIN: I'm glad I'm helping you.
GLORIA DEROUEN: I think what would be most interesting here is to hear about successful events or groups or whatever that people have achieved and share them with all of us. The personal touch, rather than the theoretical, psychological stuff.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Gloria. No one ever accused me of being psychological. Thank you. Hi.
LIZ ROPER: Hi, I'm Liz Roper, and I'm currently at Knoxville, Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Something that we talked about which links back to the idea of things being achievable is something that we ran into with one of our secret committees, not naming any names. Was that we had this feeling of when they came to the committee meeting, they didn't know how much homework they were going to be going home with. And so I think that one of the things with achievement is not only so that you give them something achievable, but also that you actually very explicitly tell people what they are expected, so that they know and they can make that commitment, rather than this fear of not knowing exactly what they're being asked to do.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. Great idea. Thank you. And I've never been to Tennessee, but I love your accent. Our last contributor. Thank you.
DANIEL DANIELSON: Daniel Danielson, UUCLR at Little Rock. What I found interesting was the hygiene looks an awful lot like what goes on the search committee list for a new minister. And we keep hoping that new ministers will bring in that new motivation, but that doesn't seem to be exactly what's going to do it. So we're putting too much hope into the minister.
MARK BERNSTEIN: That's a great point. Thank you. Thank you for those who shared. So let me start to get more concrete. Creating highly motivated participants in congregational life, there were three sections that I want to talk to you about.
The first is ownership. In order to be motivated, a member must feel free to take risks, to explore their own interests, to find their role in the congregation. But in order to feel autonomous, one must feel a sense of ownership. And I'll come back to that.
The second one is making a contribution or having a transcendent purpose. Kenneth Hildebrand said, "strong lives are motivated by dynamic purposes."
And the third is recognition or sharing of gifts. The opportunity to share my gifts with the congregation, to be acknowledged for sharing those gifts, and to acknowledge the gifts of others. And I'm just going to spend a few minutes on each of these.
The piece on ownership is really owned by a guy named Peter Block, who wrote a book called Community, the Structure of Belonging. That's B-L-O-C-K. Peter Block. Community, the Structure of Belonging. It is one of the most useful and inspirational books I've ever read.
And Block talks first about the need to ask powerful questions. The primary way in which we create a sense of ownership, he says, is through asking powerful questions. Powerful questions are those that evoke a choice for accountability and commitment. Powerful questions are the ones that cause you to become an actor as soon as you answer them. You no longer have the luxury of being a spectator of whatever it is you're concerned about. And questions that have the power to make a difference are ones that engage people in an intimate way, confront them with their freedom, and invite them to co-create a future possibility.
Block says that a great question has three qualities. One, it is ambiguous. There is no attempt to try to precisely define what is meant by the question. Each person, in answering it, brings their own personal meaning into the room. Two, it is personal. And three, it evokes anxiety. Block says that all that matters makes us anxious. If there is no edge to the question, there is no power.
Let me give you some examples. I work alone. Here's an example of a question with little power. We ask, well, how do we get people to serve on the board? A powerful question related to this is, what gifts do you hold that you are willing to bring to this congregation? Out of the answer may come serving on the board, but that's not the intent of the question.
A question with little power, how do we get people to accept the move to two services? A powerful question to ask would be, what are you willing to give up in order to move forward? In the very act of answering the question, you begin to act on it.
How do we get people to pledge more money? I'm sure that's not an issue for any of you. The powerful question would be, what is the commitment that you bring to this congregation?
And then finally, how do we get more people to attend congregational meetings? A powerful question could be, how valuable do you want this congregational experience to be? Out of that comes conversation, which might include attending congregational meetings.
For questions with little power, the hidden agenda is to maintain dominance and to be right. They have no power, only force, and they apply that the one asking knows, and that the people are a problem to be solved. How do we get more people to serve on the board? We know how important it is. We know how valuable it can be. They don't.
So what can we say? How can we motivate them to serve on the board? We can start by asking the powerful question. Because powerful questions enable us to move forward. And by answering these kinds of questions, we become more accountable, more committed, more vulnerable, and more intimate and connected.
Let me talk a little bit more about ownership. And again, a lot of this is the work of Peter Block, and I'm so passionate about this concept. James Larkin wrote, "I am, of course, aware that the ultimate solution is the ownership and control of the means of life by the whole of the people, but we are not at that stage of development as yet." It's almost as if he was talking about our congregations.
And Peter Block wrote, "we have to realize that each time people enter a room, they walk in with ambivalence, wondering whether this is the right place to be. This is because they believe that someone else owns the room." Members of your congregation will not become involved in congregational life if they don't feel that they own the room.
So as a member of my home congregation, the UU Church of Delaware County in Media, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. Yay. Who's here from Delaware County? Oh, hi, Jody. Now I'm nervous.
I've been a member for nearly 20 years. I've held virtually every position imaginable, including two tours on the board of trustees. The second time serving as first vice president to Jody, and then president of the board. I've also headed the fund drive, taught religious education, served as auctioneer, participated in adult faith development program, been a worship associate, performed in Gilbert and Sullivan's Christmas Carol, and finally, grudgingly, made and served coffee.
Let's face it, I am a [INAUDIBLE] in my congregation. That's my affectionate term. But even today, when I approach the door of my congregation on a Sunday morning—and this is true—I sometimes hesitate for a moment as I wonder whether this is still the place where I belong. Am I still needed? Is this still my congregation to create? And if I go through this, I'll bet many of the people in our congregations who are more on the fringe are wondering that every time they enter the building.
So Block says that "the ownership conversation asks us to act as if we are creating what exists in the world." I love that. This requires that we believe in the possibility that our congregation is mine or ours to create. And it stems from the belief that each of us is cause, not effect. If people believed this, we wouldn't need to be here. Now you're all going to run out and buy Peter Block's book, and you're going to forget about me.
Here are the powerful questions related to ownership, and we actually—in my home congregation, we have a course called UU 101 for people who want to become members. They have to take the course. And these are the questions that we ask in the fourth class.
So the ones related to ownership. Again, how valuable an experience do you plan for this to be? And what do you risk by becoming a member of this congregation? Block says that anything of value comes with a cost, so what's it going to cost you? What a rich, wonderful conversation to have.
The second aspect of motivating people to get more involved in congregational life is helping them to realize their contribution or transcendent purpose, and W. Clement Stone said, "when you discover your mission, you will feel its demand. It will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on it." So I think we need to help people to develop personal mission statements. Of course, if your congregation has a crummy mission, work on that first. And then, get people to develop a personal mission statement that will live into the mission of the congregation.
Here are the powerful questions related to contribution and purpose. How do you want to live out your Unitarian Universalist beliefs? These are the powerful questions. And what are you called to do as a member of this congregation? There's no preconceived answers here. Each answer is personal, and you never know when you ask the question what's going to come out of it.
And then the third aspect of helping people to get more motivated in congregational life is acknowledging our gifts. We are not defined by deficiencies or what is missing, we are defined by our gifts and what is present. We embrace our own destiny when we have the courage to acknowledge our own gifts and choose to bring them into the world. So authentic acknowledgement of our gifts is what it means to be inclusive or to value diversity. And the powerful questions for acknowledging our gifts, what is the gift or gifts that you wish to share with other members of this congregation? And how will you acknowledge the gifts that other members bring forth into this congregation.
There are two things that I think it's really easy for us to do that we're not doing. One is to be more welcoming, but that's the topic of another session. And the second is to constantly acknowledge and appreciate the work that each of us does in our congregations. And the smaller the acknowledgement, the more valuable it is.
So we have a Focus newsletter in our congregation online, or copies for people that don't want to get it online. And what I'll do is—I get it online, and I'll make a cup of tea and settle into my easy chair to read my Focus. I don't live a very exciting life. And I'll have a pen and paper. And as I go through the Focus, I'll write down the names of those people in the congregation who are being acknowledged in the Focus.
And then I will either email them, or if I'm going to be there the following Sunday, I'll seek them out and acknowledge them for what they did. And the smaller the acknowledgement, the more powerful it is. So it means noticing what members of the congregation are doing and going up to them and saying, I saw what you did and I appreciate it. That and being welcoming are the two easiest things we can do that, I think, can help to transform our congregations.
So let me get even more concrete. Here are some suggested strategies for recruiting and retaining volunteers. And again, you may have done some of these things, and you may have some ideas of your own. And time permitting, I invite you to share them.
So here's one idea. Test the waters with a one-time commitment, otherwise known as first serve. A first serve is where prospective volunteers are allowed to test drive a service opportunity with no strings attached. Too many times, we are so hungry for volunteers that we latch on to anyone who shows interest and never let them out, which makes people more hesitant to express interest. By the way, I need help cleaning up today, if anybody would like to volunteer.
Because a first serve has no strings attached, it encourages people to try out different ministries and find one that fits them. The first rule of a first serve is that there can be no pressure to join the team. And you need to tell your members that this rule is in place. A first serve is just a taste. If they like it, they can come back. If not, they can try something else. It's no big deal.
This low pressure environment encourages people to explore any ministry that interests them, and I use the word ministry intentionally, even making coffee. The more ministries they try out, the more likely they'll find the perfect place to serve. This makes them happier in their work, and more willing to continue to volunteering.
Secondly, make sure that the congregation knows that volunteers are needed. This might seem silly, but sometimes we take it for granted that the congregation knows that we need help. Letting members know what you would do if you had more volunteers and more leaders, so that they contrast the present situation with a future dream, rather than assuming that everything is working and that if they're not being asked for help everything must be OK.
Advertise areas that need more volunteers. You can do this verbally, you can have a volunteer fair, you can send emails, you can post these on your website, you can try sky writing. It worked in a couple of congregations.
And then start a connection desk. This is a central place where people can get information on small groups, learn about serving opportunities, and basically do anything else related to connecting to the body of the church. At the end of every service, they invite anyone who's new and interested in getting connected to stop by. Because they mention the connection desk in every service, people hear about it the first time they come.
And it is important at least to reach out to first time or second time or third time guests, because—and this is interesting—there's a small window when people are willing to work at getting connected. If people don't know other people in the church, they may volunteer in order to make those connections. But if they get Connected enough before they volunteer, then they don't have the motivation to volunteer in order to get connected. So there's that window in between where we need to reach them.
Here's some more strategies. Empower members to do their own recruitment. Have a small corps of volunteers extend out a bit into their networks, they ask their friends and the people who sit near them during church to participate. Your friend may need help to develop a rap and an ask, but we found that the personal ask from a fellow person in the pew can work really well.
In many congregations, we have nominating committees. And the nominating committees are also responsible for finding members of committees. Let the committee find their own members. A nominating committee has enough to do finding board members and other elected officials.
Recruit mini-recruiters. I don't mean little people. I mean recruit, get your friendliest, most involved people involved in bringing in new folks. Recruit one of the ushers to find other ushers. A choir member to recruit other choir members. They'll be better about spotting those who are interested.
Ask people to write and share job descriptions. If I don't know what I'm being asked to do, then don't expect me to say yes. And I know that's a major task in many of our congregations, putting together job descriptions for our committees. It's an arduous task.
And speaking of which, ask people to take a tasks, not to serve on committees. Committees, as is a word, is starting to go on the way out. We talk about task forces, we talk about teams, we ask people to take on tasks. The only committees you should have are standing committees that have to meet on a regular basis or research committees that research an area and then make a recommendation to the congregation, who then find people to take on the task.
If you must have committees, impose term limits. I know a lot of congregations where someone's been the worship committee for the last 34 years. Nobody can get rid of that person. And consider having committee heads selected by the congregation. It gives greater weight to the committee, and it meets many of the motivating needs that we discussed earlier, like a sense of responsibility, authority, recognition, achievement.
If you request that someone takes on a leadership role, offer a system of support that is already in place. Don't ask someone to take on a leadership role and then have them invent a new wheel. And acknowledge the efforts of your volunteers with mentions at worship, in the newsletter, order of service, celebratory events. Again, acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge.
I want to give a shout out to one of the congregations in our region, the UU Fellowship of Centre County. Anybody here from that congregation? In that case, I'm not going to.
I really strongly urge you to check out what they're doing. They've come up with a tremendously innovative program they call hospitality teams, where the majority of the members of the congregation serve on one of several hospitality teams that work for a period of, I think, six weeks doing all the Sunday morning tasks. And they work together as a team. And then they're off for a while, while the other teams take their place. And it's been hugely successful.
You guys can't see this, but again, if you email me, I'll send you the PowerPoint. And it's got the web address, where you can go right to it on their website. It's an innovative idea, and more and more congregations are hearing about it and picking up on it.
So I want to take a moment, I have about 20 minutes left. And I want to give you a chance to share again. This time I'm only going to give you a couple of minutes. And here is what I'd like you to debate with one or two other members of the congregation—and you don't have to share this at the microphone. So comparing these two events, I'd like you to share which has been more meaningful for you—my presentation or President Morales' address? I just wanted to get you talking, and you are.
So I want to turn again to Peter Block, because one of the reasons that we have trouble getting people involved in congregational life is because we don't know how to invite them. And Peter Block has some brilliant ideas, and this really does work.
SPEAKER 1: What's Peter's email address?
MARK BERNSTEIN: I should have said this earlier, but I do the jokes. So Block says it begins with the invitation. He says that the anxiety of invitation is that if we give people a choice, they might not show up. It's difficult to face the reality of their absence, reservations, passivity, or indifference. We don't want to face the prospect that we or a few of us may be alone in the future we want to pursue.
I've taken my turn in heading up the annual fund drive in my congregation, and there's nothing more demoralizing than when you can't get anybody to work with you. You begin to wonder whether or not the future that you're imagining is somehow out of sync with the rest of the congregation. So Block says an invitation is the means through which hospitality and community are created. It is an act of generosity to invite someone, a call to create an alternative future, to join in the possibility that we have created. In an authentic community, members decide anew every single time whether to show up. If they do not choose to show up, there are no consequences. They are always welcome.
He says that invitation is not only a step in bringing people together, it is also a fundamental way of being in community. And genuine invitation changes our relationship with others, for we come to them as equals. I must be willing to take no for an answer without resorting to various forms of persuasion. For all the agony of a volunteer effort, you are ultimately rewarded by being in the room with people who are up to something larger than their intermediate self interest. You are constantly in the room with people who want to be there.
So here are some suggestions on how to make the invitation. And I know we don't follow scripts, but consider these guidelines. Number one is to name the possibility. The invitation is activated by the possibility that we are committed to, and the possibility is the future that the convener of this group is committed to. So in general, I invite you into the possibility of a congregation that is vital, healthy, and thriving. If I ask you to join the choir, I invite you into the possibility of creating beautiful music that will transform the lives of the people who hear us. And you can use those phrases for any volunteer effort in your congregation. You're inviting them into a future possibility.
Number two, frame the choice. Again, the invitation must allow room for a no. I'm pretty shy when it comes—I'm really bad at cold calls, but I really took this to heart, and I can do it now. Because I approach people, whether it's on the phone or in person, I approach them with the understanding that they have the opportunity to say no, and that's OK. We need to be clear that we will not initiate consequences for not attending, and that we respect someone's decision not to attend. We also need to let them know that even if they say no now, they will always be welcome in the future.
Three, name the hurdle. The invitation is not only an invitation to show up, but to engage. We need to tell people explicitly what is expected of them, should they choose to attend. And what is expected of them is not to take on a specific task at first, but to make a commitment to the process and the outcome. To give their ideas, to accept the ideas of others, and to make the time for this to work. Paradoxically, even though there is no cost for refusal, there is a price for coming. Everything that has value comes with a cost.
Number four, reinforce the request. End the invitation by telling people that you want them to come, and that if they choose not to attend, they will be missed but they won't be forgotten.
And then finally, make it personal. A visit is more personal than a phone call. A phone call is more personal than a letter, and a letter is more personal than an email.
One of the things that I tell congregations who come to me and say we're really, really overwhelmed, the first thing I ask them is to consider, is the congregation doing too much? And one of the principles that I ask them to follow is something called GINE, G-I-N-E, Good Idea No Energy.
We have trouble saying no. And our policy should be if someone comes and says, I've got a great idea. Here's what you guys should do. You don't move forward unless two or three or four or fill in the blank people are willing to invest time in it. If not, that's a really good idea, but there's no energy. We're not going to do it.
So in my home congregation, and Jody is one of the people who led this effort, we're currently working on a program that we call growth through service. And we're still putting the final touches on it, so it's not anything that I can share yet. But it's a large effort to get people to talk about their spiritual journey, and then to fold that into what they want to do in order to continue their spiritual journey through ministry to the church.
And we've got online stuff, and people can go online. And we have interview. We have hour-long conversations with people before we ask them to go online and consider what they might want to do. It's a whole megillah.
I don't have time to go into it, but I do want to share our statement of theological grounding, because I'm really proud of it. And I think that it is the underpinning for whatever you may do to motivate people to get more involved in congregational life. So this is our statement of theological grounding at the UU church of Delaware County. "As Unitarian Universalists, we live out our faith through our service to others. True spiritual growth, in ourselves and in our congregation, arises, in part, through our connectedness with others and to serving a higher purpose that is greater than our own individual needs. In this context, service to our church community becomes a sacred experience, one in which our relationships are defined by a sense of caring, respect, commitment, and responsibility." This underlies everything that we do in our growth through service program, and it really should be the foundation for everything that you do.
So I only have one more slide, which I'm going to save until the end, so that none of you are tempted to leave early. But we do have a few minutes. I really want to invite anyone would like to share any responses to this or things that you're doing in your congregation that are going well. And again, just step up to the microphone. Hi.
MARGUERITE HOLMES: Hi. My name is Marguerite Holmes. I'm the incoming president of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, Georgia.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Congratulations.
MARGUERITE HOLMES: Thank you. We've been going through a lot of growth lately, and there's a whole lot of reasons for that. But what I want to get to is what we tried in February, which we called Face Time February. And we got together about 35 people to interview all members of our congregation that we could hog tie.
MARK BERNSTEIN: I didn't mention hog tying. I was going to include that, as well.
MARGUERITE HOLMES: Considering we only had one month, we got 130 out of about 200 members, which we felt was really good. We had a nine page questionnaire that was developed by somebody whose profession was these kinds of things to get data on how people—there was nine pages. I said, if you had the opportunity to bake a cake for something, what would your interests be? Nine pages of that, plus some open-ended questions. Because we wanted a data bank, because the core group is old and tired. And we're getting new blood into our community now, and so we wanted to use that.
And even before the results were in, we had a request for, I need somebody who's willing to bake a cake. Can you give me the data? And we've already used it a dozen times, and we haven't even completed the use of it. So it's been really revitalizing. And it's really pulling in new members.
MARK BERNSTEIN: That's great. Thank you very much for sharing that.
DEBRA FAULK: I'm Debra Faulk. I'm the minister in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Is that the one in Canada?
DEBRA FAULK: Yeah, that's the one in Canada, where the stampede is. Two things I wanted to comment on. One was around the invitation piece. And I always honor somebody when they say no to an invitation, but I do also let them know that that will not be the only time I invite them to something. That that doesn't cut off invitations.
And we are going to be rolling out the hospitality teams next year. We're calling it SWEET, it's Sunday Welcome Engage and Enhance Teams. And what's happened is the congregation is starting to get on board with this. That they're starting to say, oh, we could use that for communication. We could use that for deepening our pastoral care. We could—so I just really thank you for lifting up that resource. It's fabulous. And all the job descriptions and everything are online.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Great. There's a great testimonial. Thank you, Debra.
TOM CAPO: Hello, I'm Tom Capo, the pastor of Peoples Church Unitarian Universalists in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And we are moving away from committees. Younger people are not willing to be on committees. So this fall, and again, like you, we're just beginning to roll this new thing out. I went to meet with Peter Block and we've had some—it was fabulous, by the way.
I don't have his email address, sorry. But he suggested that we have these small groups to begin with. And we asked four questions, what's your passion, what's your gift, what talents were you born with, and what can you teach one other person were the questions that he told us to begin asking. And we're going to begin using those questions to begin forming short-term task-oriented groups this fall. And we'll let you know how that turns out.
MARK BERNSTEIN: That sounds great. Please do.
TOM CAPO: The other piece is, we did hospitality groups, and we had everybody in the congregation except those who opted out to be in a hospitality group. The first year it went fabulously. And part of that, I think, was that those groups got together before they did it and got to know each other and then did it. The second year that didn't happen where they got together. And it's like there was a piece missing. We didn't have the face to face, and so commitment dropped off. So there is a piece of needing that consistent reinforced face to face to keep those going, as well.
MARK BERNSTEIN: That's great. Good advice. Thank you very much.
LAURA NEWMAN: I'm Laura Newman, and I'm from Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Oh, gee, I know your former minister.
LAURA NEWMAN: Yeah. He's pretty big. I've been volunteering throughout my high school and college experience, and the thing that really motivates me is that I feel like I'm part of the in crowd. I've never been popular in my life, but the minister knows me. And the people that I consider to be big wigs of a 750 member congregation, know my name and know what I do and what I'm good at. And so I think that, especially to youth and young adults, is really powerful. When I can say my adults—my adults know me.
MARK BERNSTEIN: That's perfect. Thank you so much.
BILL FOGARTY: Hi, my name is Bill Fogarty. I'm with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia. And we happen to be in search, so that's why I'm wearing this t-shirt here, in search. But I just want to share some things that resonated, because our search committee is reading the Peter Block book. So that really resonated.
And that concept of the powerful question. And what we've also done during this year of transition this past year and I would recommend is the appreciative inquiry process. And we're working with Laura Park of Unity Consulting. And that was a very powerful experience. We had over 300 members come and talk about their experience of the holy and other questions. And from that, the board has a mission statement which is just three words, connect, grow, and serve. And so your growth through service, and when you read that, the word connectedness, those three words were there. So that, just wanted to let you know, really resonated.
MARK BERNSTEIN: That's great. Thank you.
SPEAKER 2: Let's see the back of the shirt.
MARK BERNSTEIN: What does it say? Read it.
LAURA: Minister wanted, UU Church, Arlington, Virginia 2014.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Thanks, Laura.
LAURA: So I'm Laura, from north of Columbus, Ohio. And last year one of the things that we realized was that relationship piece was causing some challenges. And so we did getting to know you sessions that was intentionally social, getting folks together in neighborhood groups. And using the appreciative inquiry questions to get, what brought you here? What keeps you coming back? And that gave us a lot of good data.
One of the strategies I learned from stewardship was to not ask people to be on the committee, but ask people to consider being on the committee. That allowed them to say yes. It allowed them to ask questions. What does that mean? And when they said no, I could say thank you for considering it. Thank you.
MARK BERNSTEIN: And it gives you space to come back. This is like spoken joys and concerns, they go on forever. I'm going to ask —you two will be our final presenters.
DERRICK MUSTELIER: I'm Derrick Mustelier from UU congregation in Miami. I just wanted to piggy back a little bit about the appreciative inquiry. I almost sat down when I heard him bring it up, because that was what I was going to come up here to say, but I just wanted to lift up a little bit the fact that when people are asked to think back to times when we were at our best, when we were our best selves, that's just so incredibly inspiring and motivational, I just wanted to add that to what the gentleman said.
SPEAKER 2: So which of Peter Block's books are you referring to?
MARK BERNSTEIN: [INAUDIBLE] It's called Community, the Structure of Belonging.
SPEAKER 2: Oh, OK. He lives in Cincinnati now.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Oh, that's right. He does. Are you from Cincinnati?
SPEAKER 2: I'm from Cincinnati.
MARK BERNSTEIN: You could go visit him. I hear he's a nice guy.
SPEAKER 2: He is. He's a fabulous guy.
MARK BERNSTEIN: Oh, that's great.
SPEAKER 2: Well, hi, George. Did you know Peter Block lives in Cincinnati?
SPEAKER 2: He does.
MARK BERNSTEIN: So thank you, thank you for sharing all of that. Let me just with a quote. And I've been practicing this for the last week, because I don't speak French. I was going to ask my friend from Tennessee, because evidently she's French. Do you? So Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote The Little Prince, I can pronounce The Little Prince, said, "if you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood, and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." Thank you all very much.