Asking Friends To Worship, Oh My! Planning a "Friendship Sunday"

Part of Hospitality

By Mark Bernstein

Let’s start with some statistics:

invitation stating "join us"
  • 70 to 90% of people who join a congregation have a friend or relative already in the congregation.
  • 75 to 90% visit because someone invited them.
  • We know that the most frequent way in which people hear about us is through word of mouth.

However, the average Unitarian Universalist only invites a person to church once every 26 years.

So what’s up with that? Why are we so hesitant to invite people to our congregation?

So here’s something that might surprise you:

The short term goal of Friendship Sunday is not to increase the membership. The short term goal is to enable our friends, neighbors and loved ones to experience the place that has brought us such joy and meaning.

The immediate purpose is to spread the good news about Unitarian Universalism.

Let me share a story with you:

A blind beggar boy was once sitting on the pavement. He held up a sign which said: “I am blind, please help.” There were only a few coins in his begging bowl.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.

That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, “Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?”

The man said, “I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way.”

What he had written was: “Today is a beautiful day and I cannot see it.”

When we invite people to Friendship Sunday, the sign we’re displaying should not be, “We need more members. Please help.” It should be, “We have a beautiful congregation and a beautiful building and you haven’t seen it.”

We are inviting people because we want them to meet the people and see the place that has brought us so much joy and meaning. And we want them to see it because they as well have brought so much joy and meaning to our lives.

The Big Pitch

Disclaimer:  A true and authentic “ask” comes from the heart and in one’s own words. Please use this document merely as a guide and a resource of gentle suggestions.

“On Sunday, March 17th, my congregation is having a “Friendship Sunday.” There will be a service featuring a sermon by our minister and an informal reception following the service. As you know, this is a community that is very important to me, a place where I feel at home. As someone who is also important to me, I want you to see this place and to meet the people who mean so much to me.

Will you accept my invitation?”

So what makes this invitation so special?

  • You are only asking the person to experience something that is important to you, not to convert to Unitarian Universalism
  • You are honoring the person by inviting them to meet others who are also important in your life
  • You are being very clear and honest about the agenda and content of the day
  • You are making a straight forward invitation without bargaining, pleading or coercing. The other has the right and opportunity to say “no” without consequences or diminishing of the relationship
If they ask… You say…
What happens during the service? We listen to music and sing hymns. There are opening and closing words read by the Worship Associate. Our Minister also gives about a 20 minute sermon.
Do I have to sing? Only if you want to.
Do people pray? We often have moments of silence and reflection. These are private times when you can be alone with your thoughts.
Will I be asked to introduce myself? You won’t be singled out in any way. Hopefully, people will come over to us to say “hi” because they’ll want to meet you.
I won’t have to sign anything, will I? Just a blank check. I’M KIDDING. You don’t have to sign or do anything you don’t want to.
Can my children come and what will they experience? Yes, and they have the choice of joining you in the service or going to children’s Religious Education classes with a friend of with their own age group.
So why is this Unitarian Universalism faith so important to you?OrWhy is this congregation so important to you? Insert you own answer here and be ready to respond. If you stutter and stammer and have to think about it for too long, your friend will begin to wonder if this is a place worth visiting.

About the Author

Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein is a former member of the Congregational Life Staff of the Central East Region of the UUA and currently serves as an adjunct consultant....

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