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Growth, Front Doors and Foyers in the Digital Age

In this post, a call to action for congregations wanting to grow but not fully realizing that their front door and first greeting space has moved online.

Plus information on related UU Labs on Facebook. And yes, I know this is a hard transition.  But it is necessary.  If you’re stuck, ask for help and get movin’ before you lose another potential member and they suffer as a result.  😉

It is November 2011, almost 2012!  Do you know where the front door to your congregation is?   Many don’t…

For years your front door was the street-side door to your physical sanctuary with small groups and other connecting experiences serving as side doors.  Today the  front door is your congregation’s website.  Nearly 100% of people visiting a church visit the website first, conduct research, engage with your social media, and “pre-qualify” themselves for membership before they attend. People arrive having had multiple virtual visits to your congregation.

Think of it this way…

You have a virtual front door, your website, connecting to an online foyer, your social media and our larger Unitarian Universalist online space.  People enter your front door and from there connect to information, social media and other related Unitarian Universalist resources and online communities.  After a time in this environment,  if people like what they see and if you engage with them, they will move to through to your physical entry way. Again, nearly everyone travels through your online front door first, that makes it your primary front door.

We need to care for our virtual front door and foyer with as much care as the rest of our congregations.  How does it look? How does it feel?  Do you have greeters in the foyer?  Remember, nearly 100% of visitors start there.

Websites and PR are not PR for your ministry, they are the front line of your ministry and education with newcomers.  Much of the process of educating people and their preparing to join is now happening in these virtual spaces.  All that work you’ve been doing with greeting and hospitality?  It has to start online.  Yes, thanks to technology, the first half of your welcoming and membership process has moved online.

Where does that leave us?  Your website is your most important publication, communication tool and, with associated social media, a critical part of your ministry if you want to grow.  Don’t undermine your ministry with an outdated website and reluctance to use the communication and relational  tools of our time.

Finding Help

I’m now guest preaching on “Friendship in the Digital Age”, a service designed to help people see this shift, and offer related trainings, coaching and consultations.  Contact me to discuss where you are and how I may be of assistance.

I also highly recommend that the people responsible for various aspects of your online ministry (website, social media, minister’s blog, etc…) connect with related UU labs on Facebook. See below.

UU Website and Social Media Labs

For those of you working with congregational websites and/or social media, two related labs on Facebook have spun-off from the UU Growth Lab, the brand new UU Website Lab and the UU Social Media Lab.  Both offer community, resources and inspiration  —  I highly recommend them.  More information below.

UU Website Lab
http://www.facebook.com/groups/uuwebsitelab/
UU community lab for web administrators, designers and developers, communications enthusiasts and anyone else working specifically on congregation or UU community sites (note that there’s a separate lab for those who doing social media stuff online). Join us for site reviews, tips and tools, and (the ever compelling) much, much, more!  (As of 11/8/11)

UU Social Media Lab
http://www.facebook.com/groups/uusocialmedialab/
UU Social Media Lab is a place to post social/new media projects, share ideas, and collaborate on ways Unitarian Universalists can develop and use social/new media in justice, service, education, and other practices of our institutional and individual religious lives. (As of 11/8/11)

Surveys and thoughts on Freerange UUs

A new survey for freerange UUs has just been created by the UUA’s Office of Growth Strategies.  I hope you’ll share this with your friends, colleagues and congregation at large.

Here’s the survey announcement:

Seeking Free-Range Unitarian Universalists…
by Tandi Rogers
If you’re a “Free-Range Unitarian Universalist,” please take this survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FreeRangeUUs. The UUA Office of Growth Strategies is seeking to better understand Unitarian Universalism outside our congregations. Help me transform the way we live into our faith. If you’re active in a congregation, but know people who aren’t, but identify as Unitarian Universalist, please pass this on to them. Thank you!!  In faith, Tandi

From a growth perspective,  I think figuring out how to cultivate (not control) a larger Unitarian Universalist movement is critical.   Often I hear people using the words movement and religion interchangeably.  They are very different. A few thoughts on that in older post Is Unitarian Universalism a Religion or a Movement?

For more on the difference between a movement and a campaign, read the book Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movements.  For some inspiration on starting a movement, watch the Ted Talk video Seth Godin on the tribes we lead.

FREERANGE-UU-SEALI’m very happy to see the UUA taking what I call “Freerange UUs” and, if they had a sports team, “the UU Freerangers” seriously.   Since I started tweeting approximately three years ago (via account @uuplanet) I’ve come into contact with freerange UUs who feel that they aren’t allowed to be Unitarian Universalists because they aren’t connected to a congregation.  Some have expressed that they don’t feel like they have permission to be UU in any way other than the building bound form.  My response has been “With all the authority NOT invested in me, I hereby give you permission to be a Unitarian Universalist!”  

Some of my colleagues have challenged me on it being valid to be UU outside of a congregation.  I gotta tell you, if Unitarian Universalism is small enough to be contained in our existing congregations, it is too small of a thing for me.   The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations — this organization is rightly bound to congregations.  But I don’t think our larger faith should be.

Some of you may be wonder, why aren’t these people connected to existing congregations?  There are so many reasons.  Here are some highlights.

  • There is no local congregation
  • The local congregation is Sunday morning centric and they work then
  • They identify with our faith, but not our present demographics
  • They are in transition
  • The spouse they are divorced from is occupying the local congregation
  • They were asked to pledge their third time at the congregation and feel the church is all about money
  • The congregational leadership is constantly begging for volunteers giving a sense that it is a sinking ship
  • The congregation is filled with unhealthy politics
  • The congregation is old and they are young
  • They have accessibility issues
  • They “married out”
  • The local congregation stinks — it happens.
  • And on and on…

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes from the UUA’s Free-range UU survey.  Even more, I’m hoping that the UU Freerangers will start organizing themselves, that a movement will ignite.  There are far more of them in the United States than there are members of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Again, I hope you’ll share the survey.

In faith,
Peter

UU Libary tops “Spirituality and Belief” destination guide in Second Life

Library of World Religionshttp://secondlife.com/destination/library-of-world-religions

Friends, an exciting accomplishment for the developers of the Unitarian Universalist region in Second Life known as UUTopia.  This last week the Library of World Religions in UUTopia was added to the top of the Second Life Spirituality & Belief destination guide!   In addition to the library, the UUTopia region also features a sanctuary where the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Second Life holds regular services.  See www.fuucsl.org.

I’ve attended a number of services this month as I prepared to lead a workshop on social media, technology and the future of UU faith formation.  I was excited to discover that these services are attended by people from across the world, including those using language translation tools.  There are also regular participants who attend services in Second Life due to accessibility issues.  In terms of Unitarian Universalist outreach and digital ministry, Unitarian Universalism isn’t just on the map, we’re at the top of the destination guide.  Well done to my new UU friends and colleagues in Second Life!

Second Life is free to join and explore.  Money is only needed to buy land and purchase virtual goods. Learn more at secondlife.com.  Search for more Unitarian Universalist destinations in Second Life.

Library of World Religions in UUTOPIA