Ever wonder why friends and members leave your church? The Membership Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (UUCB) in Kensington, CA (526 members), did and went to the trouble of conducting exit interviews. It’s a process that can tell you a lot about whether people feel welcome and whether your programs help people become connected.
UUCB conducted its interviews in 2003 by sending email or letters to members who had been removed from membership in the previous 18 months. That first communication also included a list of questions about their experience at UUCB.
If recipients didn’t return the survey, someone followed up with a phone call. Of 36 households, five responded by e-mail and five responded to follow-up phone calls.
About half of the missing people had either moved or died. Of those who were contacted, they said variously that they found it hard to make friends, there was too much emphasis on money, or it was simply inconvenient to get to church because of mobility problems or distance. Other comments: “A visiting minister said uncalled-for things about the Bible,” “Husband is not a UU,” “Too many activities happen at night at church.”
Said Linda Laskowski, membership committee chair who conducted most of the phone interviews: “Of the ones we were able to reach who had not moved out of the area, they said they either did not connect with people in the critical first year, or UUCB had served a purpose in a time of crisis and it was no longer needed. The majority who were asked said they would recommend us to their friends and neighbors.”
As a result of the interviews, the church has become more explicit about its expectations of membership and works more closely with new members to get them connected. “Our objective is that 65 percent get involved in at least one ongoing activity other than Sunday worship,” said Laskowski, “and we track that on a spreadsheet.
"What we found,” said Laskowski, “is that we had been focusing time and talent on making visitors feel welcome, and we were doing a fairly good job at that, but we were lacking in getting people connected once they joined.
"New members are now asked to commit to six expectations: that they attend Sunday services regularly, commit to a daily spiritual practice, join a small group, class, or workshop, serve the church as a greeter, usher, small group leader, etc., serve the larger community (a list of outside groups is provided), and give generously.
These expectations are reinforced in visitor orientations, in new member packets, at the time of joining the church, in sermons and the church newsletter, and in follow-up visits with new members.
The Membership Committee established the volunteer position of new member coordinator to better keep track of new folks. There is a new member coordinator for each month. At the beginning of a month, the coordinator meets with Laskowski and the minister to identify visitors who may be ready to join. Generally there are three to five. The coordinator calls these folks to ask about their experience at UUCB, and, if appropriate, invites them to join.
The coordinator also looks for the new folks at services, invites them to get involved in activities, introduces them to other people who might have similar interests, and does an “official check-in” with them at six and 12 months.
A generic copy of the exit interview letter and questionnaire that the UU Church of Berkeley sends to folks who have departed is online at All the Documents Needed by a Membership Committee.