This document is intended as a guide for use in forming and organizing membership committees. It is based on a two hundred to four hundred member congregation, but its numbers and functions can be expanded or contracted to meet the needs of your particular congregation. If your congregation is small enough that you only have three to four active committee members, see A Three-Person Membership Committee for Small Congregations.
For an overall view of a Membership Committee's responsibilities see page 95 of the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) Congregational Handbook, a blue 8.5 x 11 inch book which should be available in your congregational office and is also on the UUA website.
The description that follows is of a Membership Committee which is divided into three teams or subcommittees: Greeting, Assimilation/Retention, and Caring.
Overall Responsibilities of the Membership Committee
Greet visitors each Sunday, hold New Unitarian Universalist (UU) classes as well as membership ceremonies at least twice a year, help visitors and members find places to connect within the congregation, provide appropriate publications relating to membership, maintain contact with friends and members who come irregularly, provide caring for those in need.
Specific Responsibilities of the Membership Committee
- Organize greeting/usher teams so that visitors are greeted appropriately.
- Conduct New UU classes monthly, if possible, but at least twice during the year.
- Keep available all congregational publications relating to membership, including a brochure for visitors which introduces them to Unitarian Universalism and the church, a brochure or flyer on how to join, a "Ways to Connect" booklet listing committees, small groups, and church events. The chair is responsible for updating such publications annually, by September 1, or creating new ones. The chair also orders necessary publications from the UUA Bookstore, including the following: David O. Rankin Wallet Card, Principles and Purposes Wallet Card, and enough copies of The UU Pocket Guide to give to all new members. Some congregations also like to provide "100 Questions that NonUUs ask about Unitarian Universalism." Both are available from the UUA Bookstore.
- Provide monthly reports on membership to the Board of Trustees, including numbers of visitors, names of new members, and those being dropped from membership.
- Update Membership Roll by February 1. Determine current number of members for UUA purposes. Delete those who are no longer active, add those who have joined. The number of active voting members determines how many delegates the congregation can send to General Assembly. The congregation also pays a specific minimum amount per each certified member to the UUA for denominational dues.
- Submit budget request to the Finance Committee by Jan. 15 for the coming year (assuming July 1 to June 30 fiscal year).
- Convene Membership Committee meetings as necessary.
Responsibilities of the Greeting Subcommittee
The Greeting Subcommittee chairperson recruits and organizes five greeting teams (one for each Sunday of the month) of six to eight people each: one verger, two to four ushers, three Visitor Table greeters, one coffee maker/cleanup person and two after-service greeters. The Greeting chairperson is responsible for maintaining a welcoming presence from the half-hour before the Sunday service through the half-hour afterward.
- Verger—The verger is responsible for seeing that the meeting room is properly set up on Sunday morning well before the service starts and that the room is at a comfortable temperature. The verger places hymnals on every other chair, sees that the chalice has fuel and matches, replaces too-short candles, picks up any small trash, and generally makes sure the room is inviting.
- Ushers—Two to four ushers will pass out orders of service at the door, direct late-arriving people to chairs, take up the collection, and count the number attending. Place the collection money in an envelope (found in the Visitor's Desk) with the date, amount, and number of those attending the service. Take the money envelope to the church office and put it through the slot in the door after the service. Ushers should arrive and be on duty twenty minutes before the service.
- Before-Service Visitor Table Greeters should also arrive twenty minutes early since visitors may come early. Three are needed for the before-service period and two for the half-hour afterward. More may be needed during peak visitation periods. The Visitor Desk greeters will greet and encourage first-time visitors to sign a New Visitor information sheet. Return visitors will be asked to sign the Return Visitors' log. All visitors should be given temporary name tags. Two greeters will remain at the Visitor's Desk. The third will circulate among those arriving, attempting to steer visitors to the Visitor's Desk and generally helping them feel welcome.
The following information should be on the Visitor's Desk each Sunday for visitors:
- "Welcome to Our Church" brochure
- "Ways to Connect booklet" (description of small groups, committees, etc.)
- Booklet listing Lifespan Religious Education classes
- Childrens' religious education brochure (listing course material and teachers)
- "How to Join" brochure or letter
- Flyer giving dates and descriptions of Newcomer classes
- Sign-up sheet (on a clipboard) for Newcomer classes
- Copy of most recent church newsletter
- Recent copies of World Magazine
- Paper nametags
Much of this material can also be placed into a folder to be handed to a visitor. Ask first. Some visitors may not want that much information on their first visit. If you do choose to make up Visitor Packets they should also include welcoming letters from the Membership Chair and/or minister.
Greeters should look for a note each Sunday from the Membership Chair, alerting them to anything special to do or watch for on that day. Whenever possible names of possible return visitors will be listed on the note so that greeters can welcome them by name.
- Post-Service Greeters—There will be two post-service greeters each Sunday. One will station her/himself in the designated Visitor's Corner in the multipurpose room to greet visitors who stay for coffee hour. The second greeter will circulate, steering visitors to that location. The greeters' primary function is to see that visitors are not standing by themselves, but are talking with others. Greeters should introduce visitors to members, provide brochures, and answer questions. Greeters should also direct specific friends and members to engage visitors in conversation.
- Coffee Preparer/Clean Up Person—One coffee preparer each week will prepare a large pot of regular coffee and a smaller pot of decaffeinated coffee, to be ready in the multipurpose room fifteen minutes before the close of service. S/he will begin pouring coffee into cups when the service ends so as to minimize waiting in line for coffee. The preparer will also provide a plate of cookies and watch over the coffee pots during coffee hour to minimize spills and for child safety reasons. When most of the people have left the building the coffee preparer will clean up, returning pots and other items to the kitchen.
- Visitor Follow Up—Within three days of visiting for the first time, visitors should be telephoned by one of the greeters or someone else on the Membership Committee. The caller should acknowledge their visit, ask if they have any questions or would like further information, and invite them back. It's been shown that phone calls rather than notes result in a much higher return rate of visitors. Mail them any information they ask for or pass on requests for information to the appropriate person, i.e., minister, Religious Education (RE) director, etc. Such calls should be no more than five minutes in length unless the visitor has questions. Within a day or so, telephone, email, or mail the membership chair with the results of your calls so a record can be kept of each visitor's level of interest.
- When Visitors Come Back a Second or Third Time—Greet them and their children by name, if possible. Set them up with a "buddy" who will answer questions, introduce them to other people, and help them find small groups to connect with. The buddy should call them during the week and invite them to a non-Sunday morning church function—a social event or class or just to lunch or dinner.
- Making Nametags—Make permanent name tags when visitors become regular in attendance.
II. Assimilation & Retention
Responsibilities of the Assimilation & Retention Subcommittee
- Organize, promote and conduct classes to educate prospective new members.
- Organize and execute at least two New-Member Ceremonies each year, one in the fall and one in the spring. The ceremonies will be followed by a New-Member Brunch also organized by Assimilation.
- Help all members find ways to get involved.
- Contact those friends and members who haven't been seen recently, to invite them back and to help resolve any church-related problems that are keeping them away.
- Classes for Prospective Members—A schedule of Newcomer classes for prospective members should be developed by August 1 and publicised. Although September is the start of the church year, many prospective members will visit in August, scouting out religious education programs for their children.
Publicize classes by placing notices on bulletin boards, in the order of service, the newsletter, and with Sunday morning announcements. Keep a sign-up sheet at the Visitors' Table for visitors to indicate if they'd like classes.
The classes should introduce visitors to the church and to Unitarian Universalism. Prospective members should also be invited to take a UU history class (hopefully part of the adult education offerings), and to have a personal visit with the minister and perhaps the membership chair or RE director. Newcomer classes help visitors and new members get connected and hopefully make them more committed to our church and religion. The classes, including discussions of responsible stewardship, can help them understand that joining a church is a serious commitment.
- Possible ways to hold Newcomer Classes:
- Hold a "Welcome to Unitarian Universalism" session one month, focusing on the denomination.
- Hold a "Welcome to Our Congregation" session on alternate months, focusing on information about the congregation. A primary purpose of these is to also help newcomers get to know other newcomers. For a sample outline of such classes see the documents "Welcome to Unitarian Universalism" and "Welcome to Our Congregation" as part of the Membership information package on this website.
Consider showing the video, An Heretical History, as part of visitor/prospective member classes. The 28-minute video on Unitarian and Universalist history is available for about $25 from the Unitarian Universalist Church, Rockford, IL or phone (815) 398-6322.
- Personnel Required for Classes
- Two presenters—Lead 75-min. to two-hour program telling visitors about the church and introducing them to Unitarian Universalism. These sessions also include time for visitors to share their religious odyssey stories. Include the minister and RE director in these sessions. Members of the congregation should also be drawn in occasionally to share their own stories about discovering the church and their involvement in it.
- One Person to do food preparation (bagels, muffins, fruit, juice, coffee), room setup and cleanup.
- Child care providers to watch children during the classes. Check with class participants beforehand to determine if child care is necessary and for what ages, but even if you know of no children coming, have one child care provider on hand for drop-in visitors.
If children are old enough the child care provider can lead them in an exercise such as making chalices out of clay. They can also be given a tour of the facilities so they can show their parents around later.
- New Member Ceremonies and Brunch—Conduct New-Member Ceremonies followed by a brunch twice per year as a minimum. One person is needed to organize the ceremony. Plan the ceremony late enough in the fall, perhaps November, so that visitors will have had enough experience with the congregation to decide to join and will have had time to take the classes for prospective members. For an example of a New Member Ceremony go to Create Memorable Moments To Welcome New Members. After the ceremony hold a brunch for new members, their friends and family, and board members.
- Keeping Friends and Members Interested and Involved—Members of the Assimilation Subcommittee should review the membership list periodically (with the help of the membership chair, minister, Director of Religious Education (DRE) and others) to determine who might appreciate help in finding ways to connect. Watch also for members who are over committed and help them find ways to share their responsibilities.
A key part of assimilation is in the personal touch—calling friends and members who are less active. Use these calls to find out why they're not attending, what they're interested in and what it would take to draw them back into congregational life. Pass this information on to the appropriate people. Members appreciate being contacted occasionally without being asked for money or to serve on a committee. Don't use these calls to attempt to force members into committee work or ask for money. If friends and members are found to be in need of caring, the Caring Committee should be contacted.
- Interest Finders—Give Interest Finder forms to new members/friends to fill out when they join or become involved in the congregation. These forms permit new members to indicate which areas of congregational life they'd like to be involved in and what special skills they have. For an example see Interest Finder. They may also list hobbies, sports and other recreational and social activities. The information on these forms should be compiled in a database which can be used to identify prospective committee members and to organize social groups, such as those who like to bicycle or play bridge.
- Culling the Membership List—The Assimilation Subcommittee is responsible for annually updating the membership list, to remove names of members who have moved or no longer meet the requirements of membership. Consult the bylaws as to the proper procedure for removing and adding members.
Responsibilities of the Caring Subcommittee
The Caring Subcommittee is a subgroup of the Membership Committee, although in most public settings, including newsletter announcements, it refers to itself as the Caring Committee.
The Caring Committee provides deliberate care in a timely manner to members and friends who need help in coping with an illness, injury, death, or other personal or family crisis. It also acknowledges selected celebratory occasions such as births, high school graduations, and other significant events in the lives of friends and members.
The committee will respond to any indications that friends and members need caring, including any mention of such need during Sunday morning joys and concerns, reports from other members, etc. The chair will organize any such events, calling upon others as necessary.
There is no formal list of subcommittee members. All members of the congregation are considered to be members of the Caring Committee and may be called upon as needed to provide care.
Types of Care
- Calling, Writing and Visiting—Individuals and teams will be recruited from the congregation to telephone or visit members and friends as necessary at home, in hospitals, and convalescent and retirement centers, etc. Members may also be asked to write and send notes of support and encouragement to people in need.
A person from the committee should take note on Sunday morning of personal issues raised during candles of joy and concern. If an issue is voiced that might warrant a follow up phone call or card please do so or notify the chair or assistant chair. In cases where help might seem warranted, a phone call is suggested. In other cases, where we simply should acknowledge someone's pain (or joy) a card is appropriate. Consider the merits of each case.
Cards (or a personal note from someone on the committee) should be sent, for example, to acknowledge the death of a non immediate family member and for the following joys (for example): significant career achievement, announced wedding anniversary, significant personal achievement, graduation from high school, college, or a professional course, passage into significant ranks of Boy or Girl Scouts.
"Thinking of You" cards should also be sent on the first anniversary of a death of a close relative. A calendar should be kept for that purpose by the chair or other designated member and the minister notified as pertinent dates approach. Other members of the congregation who are close friends of the survivors should also be notified.
- Food Preparation—Friends and members will be called upon to occasionally prepare and deliver a meal or part of a meal for other members and friends who are experiencing a personal or family crisis. This service will usually last two to three days. In unusual circumstances, where the person lives alone but will be back on his/her feet in a matter of weeks, we will consider providing food for longer periods. The committee and minister should discuss these cases since it would seriously tax our resources and our volunteers to engage in other than short-term projects.
Most people are willing to prepare food occasionally. Whenever possible solicit those members who live reasonably close to the person in crisis or who are known to be close friends. Try not to use the same people repeatedly.
- Transportation—Some members have indicated a willingness to transport food to members who are in need and, if appropriate, to spend a few minutes visiting or sharing a meal with them. Members may also be asked on occasion to transport someone to a medical appointment or to run errands for those who cannot do that for themselves.
- Child Care—The Caring Committee will occasionally organize child care in situations where one or more of the primary care givers is ill, injured, hospitalized, or in recovery.
- Births—Births to friends and members should be noted and celebrated with a delivered meal or small gift.
- If in Doubt—If a request for caring seems questionable or beyond the capacity of the congregation it is the responsibility of the Caring Committee chair (with ministerial advice) to investigate and determine if the congregation should properly be involved.
- Dissemination of Information—When appropriate, the membership can be notified (and help solicited) through the congregational email list or the telephone tree for a specific caring need which requires substantial help from others. Please be mindful of personal situations which should be kept confidential. The Membership Chair should approve all such email and telephone tree notices.
- A Caveat—Having started a program of conscious recognition of joys and concerns we must be consistent. That is, we must not overlook any new babies, any deaths of family members, any serious incapacitations. At the same time, we can only know of those things that we observe or that people tell us about. The congregation has an obligation to notify us, including those persons who need care.
- Publicity—A standard, brief notice will be placed in each issue of the newsletter, noting the availability of the committee and who to call. Occasional notices will also be placed in the Sunday orders of service.
- When the Minister is Out of Town—Consult the chair of the Committee on Ministry if you have questions about the appropriate care to provide.
- If the Need is Obvious—The Caring Committee chair should be notified of all requests for care that come to other committee members, to prevent duplication. But if a call for care comes to a committee member and the need is obvious and immediate and the chair is not available, just do it.
- Sharing the Load—The coordinator of a caring event should keep track of the names of members who respond and pass that information to the chair of the Caring Committee so those people don't get called on for the next event. People who receive caring also often like to have a list of those who responded so they can personally thank them.