1007 UUU - From Visitor to Member
Prepared for UUA.org by Pat Emery; edited by Margy Levine Young
Sponsor: Ballou Channing District
Speakers: Rev. Peter Morales, Annie Hedberg, and Dea Brayden of Jefferson Unitarian Church, Golden, CO Membership Coordinator Annie Hedberg presented "From Visitor to Member," the second of three workshops in the Membership Leadership Track Overview Series of UU University. She described the highly successful membership programs of the Jefferson Unitarian Church (JUC) in Golden, CO, one of the fastest growing congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association. A video presentation showing the program in action complimented Hedberg's talk.
At JUC, visitors are greeted warmly and are asked to fill out a guest registry. In addition to asking for their address and phone number, the registry also asks permission to make a newcomer's nametag and send a three month complimentary subscription to the church newsletter. The registry is used to record subsequent visits as the newcomer uses his or her nametag. A welcoming letter is sent to the newcomer with a free ticket to the next fellowship dinner, and specifically mentions that they are welcome to attend any of the functions of the church, not only the Sunday services. A follow-up call is made about two weeks after the first visit, by a person who is particularly good at listening. During the call, the newcomer is invited to attend "Getting to Know UU." Held after the last service on two Sunday's per month, this informal session lasts fifteen to thirty minutes and gives visitors a chance to meet with and ask questions of the minister.
Hedberg stressed that the process of becoming a member of JUC is clear and well advertised. Membership packets are available at the Welcome Center. Newsletter articles, boxes drawn around Order of Service announcements of the upcoming "Path to Membership" class, and verbal announcements from the pulpit put the process front and center.
The "Path to Membership" class is offered five times a year at JUC. A four-hour session held on Saturdays, it includes lunch and childcare and is required for membership, with few exceptions for long time Unitarian Universalists (UUs). The class starts with a chalice lighting to emphasize that this is a sacred time, and asks participants to share briefly about the spiritual journey that led them to the church. Hedberg described the "Four Corners" exercise, in which participants share in small groups after sorting themselves according to their religious upbringing, their present religious perspective, and the paths they would like to explore. A brief description of UU history and a discussion of the UU Principles are included in the session. After lunch, the many programs of JUC are described and the meaning and responsibilities of membership are discussed. A tour of the facilities ends the session, and the opportunity to sign the membership book and turn in the membership paperwork follows. Most participants are ready to take this step, and have their photo taken for the new member bulletin board.
New members are welcomed into the congregation twice per year during a Sunday service. Each new member tells the congregation their name and the names of their children, lights a candle from the chalice, and places it in a sand bowl. A brief covenant of acceptance and support is spoken by the congregation, and each new member receives the gifts of the congregation, including the Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide and a flower. All new members and their families are invited to three New Member Potlucks during their first year of membership to help them continue to make connections. They gather in a circle for a greeting and introductions and hold hands for a pre dinner blessing. They use ice breaker nametags which say "Ask me about ______," to help stimulate conversation. Hedberg emphasized that it is important to make this a sacred experience, not just another supper club event, and to remember that people are coming for human connections, not just the sermon.