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1000 UUU - Closing the Revolving Door
Governance for Congregations, Leadership Development

Prepared for by Mike McNaughton, Reporter; Jone Johnson Lewis, editor

Speakers: Dea Brayden and Rev. Peter Morales

As part of UU University, two hundred vibrant and committed leaders from throughout the denomination gathered to hear leaders of Jefferson Unitarian Church  (JUC, pronounced "juicy") describe how to close the revolving door. Like most Unitarian Universalist (UU) churches, JUC welcomes many visitors, but only some visitors stay; others leave through the revolving door to another Sunday-morning option.

JUC has seen a membership growth of 140 in two years. Participants were invited to get in touch with their inner evangelists and to do the same.

The key to growth is to intentionally invite new members to contribute in meaningful ways that match their personal gifts. Members stay when they develop personal connections and feel valued.

As volunteer coordinator, Dea Brayden described her role as facilitating shared ministry by nudging volunteers and hooking them up with the right people. New members do not need to be protected from volunteerism! Make sure the opportunities are known, hook new members up with the right people, and nudge them along. Start with doable, basic tasks to build personal connections and end with contributions matched to the personal strengths and interests of the new member.

At JUC, when new members sign the book, it is made clear that they are expected to volunteer. "We need you!" is the message. Make sure the opportunities are available and are well known. Make sure it is easy to sign up. And follow up! If I sign up and nobody calls me, I am left wondering: "What's wrong with me?"

Specifically and personally invite newcomers, and know their interests. Twice a year, JUC hosts a 90-minute class. Ten leaders each give a 2-minute informational presentation—fun and fast paced—followed by a time to get connected.

Know the interests and needs of new members. To this end, the volunteer coordinator schedules a one-on-one meeting to get to know them. What brought them to the congregation? What keeps them coming back? What are their interests? What is their working style?

All-church surveys are usually too long and too complicated, and then the results sit in a pile without action. The most important action is forgotten: follow up!

Party! Have fun! And protect social events from announcements! UUs can read, Bea assured us. Print the announcements in the order of service. Stealth announcements can sneak into the Candles of Concern time, together with politics, and long-winded stories from a few people who dominate the time. If this is how it is at your congregation, consider the JUC approach. Members write their joys and concerns into a book from which the minister prepares a "Pastoral Prayer" to be delivered from the pulpit.

The church should be a caring family. Members should thank members, especially with personal notes. Bea provides stamped postcards and encourages committee leaders to use them often. As volunteer coordinator, her goal is not just to thank people, rather it is to encourage other people to thank other people.

Take time for fellowship. As a church family, we need a time just to get together—with no announcements!

Take risks and try new things. Don't be afraid to fail. Listen, and try again.

For example, at JUC the Chalice Lighting is accompanied by a 3-minute (300 word) personal story, a time for people to open their hearts to the congregation and provide a window into their lives. But as in every part of a quality worship service, strict guidelines are essential. The draft story is sent to the minister by Friday, and when it is too long, Rev. Peter Morales replies: would you like me to edit it or do you want to do it?

If you want your congregation to stay as it is, keep doing what you are doing. But if you want to grow, accept this blessing from Rev. Peter Morales: "Go not in peace, but with a stubborn determination."

Rev. Peter Morales is senior minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO. He was the UUA's director of district services for two years. Dea Braden is volunteer coordinator at Jefferson Unitarian Church.