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Welcoming Newcomers

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We want to welcome everyone who comes to our congregation, though many times it is easier to greet those we already know than brand new people. There are many things congregations can do right now to get ready for newcomers walking in our doors. From training greeters to looking at membership expectations, this workshop will discuss ten good ideas for congregations to be welcoming of the newcomers who are searching for a spiritual home, which will help them along the path to membership.

Leader: Marie Luna, Membership Director at Fox Valley UU Fellowship, Appleton, WI since 2005. The Appleton congregation grew from 200 to over 600 members in 10 years.

This online workshop was recorded August 12, 2010 and runs approximately 45 minutes.

Getting Ready for Newcomers

We want to welcome everyone who comes to our congregation, though many times it is easier to greet those we already know than brand new people. There are many things congregations can do right now to get ready for newcomers walking in our doors.  From training greeters to looking at membership expectations, this workshop will discuss ten good ideas for congregations to be welcoming of the newcomers who are searching for a spiritual home, which will help them along the path to membership.

  1. Look at and update every page of your website and every brochure your congregation creates.
    • Evaluate the message you are sending through your materials.
    • How do these materials read from a newcomer perspective?
    • Information gets outdated often; check for accuracy.
    • Insider language: using acronyms, using first names only, saying “as you know”
  2. After the updates, have a brand new person look through your website, brochures, and other materials you give to newcomers to offer their feedback.
    • As much as we try, over time it is hard to evaluate information from a newcomer’s perspective.
    • They can tell you what needs to be changed as well as what information you are missing.
  3. Train Welcomers/Greeters.
    • Visitors are looking for friendliness and warmth above all else.
    • Training Welcomers includes:
      • Recognizing newcomers
      • Knowing what to say, what to ask and what to do with newcomers
      • Helping them know what to do if someone doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
      • How to welcome children
    •  Have a lead Welcomer if you don’t have a staff member
  4. Create a welcoming culture.
    • Start with your leadership.
    • Have regular newsletter articles.
    • Ideas for the service:
      • Have a special message for them at the beginning of the service.
      • Ensure the minister and lay leaders who lead the service have the newcomer in mind when they are writing the sermon.
      • During the offering, tell first time visitors to allow the basket to pass as they are our guests.
  5. Train Religious Education teachers and nursery care providers to know how to welcome new children and their parents.
    • Families often come because the parents are motivated to look for a place for their children. We want them to know their children are as welcome as they are, but often adults overlook kids.
    • Welcomers can bring the family to the appropriate classroom and introduce them to the teacher and Director of Religious Education, if possible.
    • Training teachers and care providers can include:
    1. What information to tell new parents.
    2. How to engage new children, especially shy children.
    3. Helping connect new children with other kids.
    4. Giving a quick report to the parents when they pick up the child at the end of service.
    5. If the child/parent chooses to stay together in the service, have activity packets available.
  6. Relook at expectations and process of membership.
    • Relook at your current procedures. Ask for feedback from some of the last new members who joined.
    • Many congregations have learned that having higher expectations for membership increases the likelihood that those members engage within the community.
    • There are many ways congregations have people join. Some feel that having a formal process helps the experience give it the importance it deserves.
  7. Update or add an orientation class.
    • Having this class is important for new members. They can learn about UU history, information about your congregation and it also allows them to get to know other newcomers.
    • Evaluating your class on a regular basis allows it to stay fresh. There are many great examples of orientation classes available
  8. Have some “mystery” visitors.
    • Asking people who have never been to your congregation to come to a service to evaluate their experience can give you valuable information.
  9. Look for ways that newcomers can easily become involved and promote them!
    • There are usually many opportunities for newcomers to get involved. Find short term or one time activities they can try out: adult classes, congregation dinners, small groups.
    • Make sure newcomers know about these possibilities through newsletters, orders of service and even through personal invitations. Clarify to newcomers that they do not have to be members to participate and they don’t have to feel committed to anything they aren’t interested in.
  10. Use resources that are available to you.
    • Check out the following resources, UU blogs, get on the membership email lists
    • Go to other churches, UU and non-UU, to see what they are doing well that your congregation can emulate.
    • Contact other UU congregations. Staff member and lay leaders are often very willing to share ideas and resources.
    • Utilize the district staff.


  • UUAMP.org
    Marie Luna
    Congregational Life Coordinator
    Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
    • When you wear your name tag, you are saying something about yourself. You say…
      • I am an open person who wants to get to know others.
      • I am an aware person who knows it is becoming harder in our congregation for me to know everyone, and for everyone to know me.
      • I am a courteous person, who relieves others of the struggle of trying to remember everyone’s names.
      • I am a realistic person, who knows that there are always visitors to our congregation, and that to get to know us they need the help of our name tags.
      • From Wendy Masters, First Unitarian Church in Hobart, Indiana
      • From Marie:
        • If you need a new nametag, sign up on the clipboard by the name tag rack.
        • If you have never had a nametag and would like one, fill out a visitor’s card on the visitor’s table.
    …Smile at me when I walk in the door. You are my first impression of the Fellowship during the first few moments I am in your building, and this first impression will probably last a long time.
    …Help me find my place in the service. I will not find your help an intrusion; in fact, I will remember your kindness.
    …Speak to me after the service or during coffee hour. I know you want to see your friends and settle that piece of committee business, but I may find it hard to believe that you truly care for one another unless I first see evidence that you care for the “stranger in your midst.”
    …Tell me the good things about your congregation and your leaders. I want to believe I have come to a place where people love each other and where they believe they are doing something for the cause of truth.
    …Notice me even if I am not a “family.” I don’t want to feel I am invisible just because I am unmarried, a single parent, a teenager or an older person.
    …Talk to me again the second week when I come back, and the third and fourth. I am still not a part of the congregation family.
    …Invite me to become part of some group or organization. I need more than weekend worship. I need to know that I am accepted and affirmed by a group of people within the fellowship who know me by my first name and who care about me as an individual.
    ...If you find it in your heart to do these things for me, I will keep coming back. I will join your choir, work at your suppers, and become a highly involved member of your congregation and in doing so, I will find my own life immeasurably enriched as a result of having become a member of your congregation. Thank you!
    From UU Church of Halifax, Nova Scotia
    We actually don’t have any guest parking! If you have been around a while and are able to, please consider parking in the lot next to our parking lot. Allowing newcomers to park closer to the building helps them feel welcome and comfortable. This also helps our older members who need to park closer to the building. Thank you!
    As we all want our Fellowship to be inviting to visitors, here are some Frequently Asked Questions that will help us all accomplish that.

    What is my first opportunity to be welcoming before a service? Choose to park away from the building, leaving room in our lot for visitors and members who will benefit more from being closer to the building.

    As I enter the Fellowship, what should I do every week? Put on your nametag! Also, please wear your nametag at all events and committee meetings at the Fellowship. Visitors (and members) will appreciate your making it easier for them to learn your name.

    We have many visitors every week. How can I help visitors feel comfortable entering the Main Hall? Stop by the Visitors Table and offer to go in and sit with a visitor. If asked, quietly answer questions. Sit in the center seats so that aisle seats are available for latecomers.

    What should I do before and after the service? Do not do Fellowship business! Talk about the service. Talk to people who were brought up during joys and concerns. Look for and talk to visitors. Offer to introduce them to other members.

    How can I encourage visitors to learn more about the Fellowship? Introduce them to a Welcomer. Encourage them to fill out a visitor registry card on the Visitors Table. Give them a tour of the building.

    What can I do to be ready for questions from visitors about being a UU? Work on your UU elevator speech. This is a short description of what UU and the Fellowship means to you. This is also helpful when you are in the community talking about the Fellowship.

    Thank you for helping us welcome visitors! Creating and maintaining this culture is part of the joy and responsibility of being a member of our beloved community. Please consider joining the Membership Committee. It is a fun and rewarding way to help our Fellowship welcome visitors into our community and to support members become more active in our community.

    Adapted from The Uniter of the UU Church of Urbana-Champaign

About the Author

Marie Luna

Marie Luna serves as the full time Director of Congregational Life at the Fox Valley UU Fellowship in Appleton, WI, and has been in this position since 2005. She comes from a background working with many nonprofit organizations, predominately Big Brothers Big Sisters. She also helped start up the...

For more information contact midamerica@uua.org.