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The Membership Journey: Will They Come Back?
General Assembly, Membership Growth & Outreach
General Assembly 2007 Event 5019
Presenters: Dori Davenport, Valerie Horton

Does your congregation want to grow? If so, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has a wealth of valuable resources at the Leaders' Library. At General Assembly (GA), about 200 people gathered for a workshop to hear about these resources, about growth, and about the responsibilities of the membership committee.

The membership committee is one of the most important committees in a congregation. All committee members, old and new, can learn a lot from a relatively new publication, "The Membership Journey" (PDF). This is a detailed handbook that examines every aspect of the journey from outreach and welcoming to membership and beyond.

Growing a congregation requires more than writing down a target number and saying: "We want to grow." Growth does not happen by itself, but happens for a reason.

People looking for a church usually have a particular need that might be spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or social. It is the responsibility of the membership committee to guide guests and new members toward fulfilling that need. And the only way to discover these needs is to ask: "What can we do for you?"

Before people join a church, they often want to know the answers to five questions.

  1. Do I fit here?
  2. Does anybody want to know me?
  3. Am I needed?
  4. What is the advantage of joining?
  5. What is required of members?

These five questions are directed toward filling the following basic human needs:

  1. acceptance
  2. friendship
  3. to give
  4. to receive
  5. to know what to expect

It is helpful to know the demographics of your location, in order to better understand the particular concerns of the local community. In this regard, UUA Congregational Services demographics can help. Such demographics can help you understand why your church may not be meeting the needs of most of the people in your neighborhood.

Surveys help you understand where you are succeeding and where you need to make adjustments. Online surveys such as Survey Monkey are easy to use, and the anonymity they provide can be an advantage.

Good data can also tell you where you are succeeding and where to adjust. For example, do you know how many guests visit your church each year? A vigorously growing church typically has about as many guests (not including out-of-town relatives and friends) as there are members in the church.

How many of these guests return for a second or third visit? Typical numbers range from 20% to 40%.

How many eventually become members? Typically, the number is 10% to 20%. These new members offset those who leave, typically 10% each year, so to grow, the number of new members must be greater than those leaving.

UUA staff members are ready to help share the abundant good news and to welcome people who yearn for a liberal religious community.