(Updated) 13 Steps to Start Your Church Year Strong

It’s that time of year, folks! Fall is in full buzz of possibilities. Are you ready? Here’s a check list to help you back into the swing of things.

  1. Bathroom sniff test. Yes, I’m serious. What’s the first room you clean in your own home when company is coming? I rest my case. Is your church bathroom up to “company standards?” I especially love those congregations that put out a basket of goodies like fragrance-free lotion, band-aids, feminine products, safety pins, diapers and diaper wipes. (If you separate by gender, provide baby needs in each bathroom.) It’s delightfully welcoming.
  1. Sound System. The only thing worse than a musty-dusty bathroom is a sound system that doesn’t work. Please respect your assembled community and the folks who lovingly put together the worship enough to make sure the sound system supports the service seamlessly. Make sure that a cadre of people know how to work technical magic and can step in when needed. Make sure the worship associates are comfortable using the equipment. Practice.
  1. Greeters as Ministry. Wouldn’t it be great to be greeted at the door by someone who knows you by name and says, “How are? I’m so glad to see you!” I’m convinced this is an under appreciated ministry. We all crave to be seen and known, and wanted. Blessed are the greeters who take special care with visitors. Remember your first day? Unless you were born into Unitarian Universalism, you were probably nervous your first day. Filled with questions. Am I in the right place? Will I be accepted? What if I have trouble following the liturgy? Who will be my Sunday School teacher? There are a couple of congregations who employ the talents of youth and child greeters to help all ages feel welcome and at home. Yes!
  1. Membership Tracking. As our U.U.A. President the Rev. Peter Morales says, “If you can’t count them, you can’t serve them.” I believe that. When I grew up, my church had us all sign in the Membership Book housed in each pew. If my family missed a couple of Sundays I knew I could count on someone from the church calling to make sure we were alright. How loving!  Updated materials on membership tracking, hospitality and belonging are here: http://www.uua.org/growth/newcomers/20011.shtml
  1. Name Tags. They’re a matter of hospitality and good manners. Even in a family-sized congregation, newer members are not going to know everyone’s name. And here’s another purpose: tracking. Have a basket out by the name tags. After church ask/train people to put their name tags in the basket. Voila! Your membership counter knows who attended (see #4.) And you just might have a little helper learning their ABC’s whose job it could be to put them back in order for the next Sunday.
  1. Real Cream. We are so into our free-trade organic coffee and usually fumble on the nasty powdered milk substitute. It’s up there with stinky bathrooms and screeching microphones. Spring an array of real cream, skim milk, and some soy milk. It makes a difference.
  1. Projected Announcements. More and more congregations are using a computer and projector to post their announcements before the service. The community is often treated to pictures of church events that happened that previous week. Add captions with names and it is a powerful community builder. If you start running this ten minutes before the worship service starts, I bet people will start coming on time.
  1. Newsletters with Purpose. One of my current favorite newsletters is from the Cedars UUC on Bainbridge Island of Washington state. What sets it apart is how user-friendly it is. The contributors don’t assume I know acronyms or common phrases. Contact information is sprinkled throughout the articles and announcements so people can call or email right then. Their newsletter became my guide to getting involved with their congregation and wider community. Reread your newsletter with fresh eyes (pretend you’re a new member.) What does your newsletter tell you or not tell you?  Or better yet, reach out to another congregation and do a swap audit of materials.  Also, please send your newsletter out electronically as a link, not an attachment.  And use the full name of your congregation in the subject line.  This is especially useful for religious leaders who receive the newsletters of area congregations to keep connected (hint-hint.)
  1. Websites with Purpose & Ease. Most people seeking Unitarian Universalism will search the Internet to find their nearest church. Knowing that, does the front page of your site give clear directions? Offer a picture of your building so I know it when I see it? What time you worship? Does it tell people what kind of religious community you are and what you value? Is it inviting? Does it provide easy to find contact information for staff and church leaders? This last one is a sore spot for me.  If I have to search deep into your site for a staff/key volunteer contact information if tells me you’ve got a secret club on your hands or don’t want to be bothered.  If you use one of those email e-forms that I have to fill out to have a message sent to someone on staff that tells me your system is paranoid. Not attractive.
  1. Voice Message with Soul. Make me want to come to church! Tell me who you are and where you are with an upbeat, clear voice. And please, if you’re going to answer the church phone, make sure you will represent the congregation with a welcoming spirit and accurate information.  One of my favorite messages sported the clear voice of a teenager inviting the caller to their joyful, multigenerational congregation. Wow! Yes!
  1. Community with Soul. Fall is a great time to reaffirm your Covenant and what it means to be a member of your religious community. Lift up your vision and celebrate how you plan to build that vision. Need some help? There are great tools out there from the UUA: Vision, Mission, Covenant and the Membership Journey are two I recommend. Contact your District Staff for names of consultants who may be able to coach you in your process or offer a cluster workshop.
  1. Search Team of Possibilities. Skip a couple of Sundays this fall and go check out another church. What do you like? What good ideas could you bring back? What do you especially appreciate about your home congregation? I always thought it would be fun to have an organized team who went out and systematically went searching for possibilities to share with their own leadership.  (I promise I will flesh this out in future postings…)
  1. Have Fun. We’re in this for the long haul. If it’s making you anxious, angry, or resentful why not let someone else do <insert distasteful duty here> for a while. Or maybe it doesn’t get done for a while. Lead with love and creativity and fun. Abundance will follow.

Have a great year!

**This post is an edited reprint from an article that appeared on the front page of the UUA Pacific NW website a long time ago.  Still applicable, don’t you think?

 

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