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General Assembly, Membership Growth & Outreach
General Assembly 2007 Event 3012
Speaker: Linda Laskowski, Membership Chair, Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley

An appreciative audience of about 300 people gathered to hear an exceptionally valuable workshop on how to count what really counts. The subtitle is: "How a Membership Chair stopped trying to do everything."

The speaker, Linda Laskowski, brings 30-years of corporate experience to her present work as Membership Chair of a large church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. As a result, she knows how to develop the processes and procedures necessary to grow a business or a church. She knows what to measure and how to use the data in a helpful and meaningful way to guide the process.

Numbers by themselves mean little without a basis for comparison, so a key step is to calculate ratios. For example: how many cups of flour are needed for a cake? It depends on the size of the cake so take the ratio of the amount of flour to the amount of cake. Similarly, how many first-time guests should you expect per year? It depends on the size of the church so take a ratio to the number of members. For growing churches, this ratio is close to 1:1.

Linda has compiled a lot of data and with your help she hopes to obtain more. However, for data to be meaningful, we need to know precisely what we are measuring, we need standards. Linda knows how to interpret her church's data for the last four years because her committee compiled them and she knows the standards that were used. Earlier data were collected with different standards and need to be interpreted appropriately.

You may have data for the number of first-time guests at your church, but to compare with another church it is important to know what is being counted. For example, when you count guests, do you include out-of-town relatives, or only local visitors? Do you only count adults or do you include children? Do you only count the Sunday-worship attendance, or do you include adult religious education? And are some people being double counted? With common standards, you could compare your church's data with data from Jefferson-Unitarian Church, which has achieved phenomenal growth. If you understand the data, perhaps you can follow their lead.

Comparisons are valuable because they can help us improve. How many guests return for a second visit? How many eventually become members? How many remain as members for a year, or ten years? Are guests turned off during their first visit, or do they come a few times and then drift away? Of course, the answer to all these questions is: some do and some don't. These numbers by themselves are not helpful.

They become more helpful when we compare with an average. If we can identify where we are better or worse than average, we can proceed to investigate the reasons and focus on specific steps to improve.

It is essential to understand the reasons behind the numbers. For example, if at your church 20% of the guests eventually become members, while at my church only 5% even return for a second visit, perhaps I can identify a reason. For example, perhaps nobody at my church talks to first-time guests.

There is much we can learn from each other; Linda claims all her best ideas were stolen from others. In her presentation (PDF, 41 pages) she describes the data and the reasons behind the data. She suggests ways to welcome first-time guests, encourage those who return for a subsequent visit, and guide them on a path to membership. It is important to greet first-time guests, make them feel welcome and comfortable, recognize them when they return, guide them toward becoming involved, and help them to integrate into the congregation.

To this end, Linda's handouts are provided to make the analysis easy and answer such questions as:

  • Does my congregation get enough visitors to grow?
  • Is our path to membership effective? and
  • How many visitors do we need to meet our growth target?

Reported by Mike McNaughton; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.

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