When the congregation came together during the 2014-2015 congregational year to dream about who we wanted to be by the year 2020, we agreed on four strategic goals to carry us closer to our vision for ourselves and our wider community. We hoped to make social and environmental justice more central to our identity; solidify our financial foundation; grow our multigenerational programming and connections; and, grow our congregational membership.
We are now going into our third year of a major innovation designed to create more seating in the sanctuary and a welcoming alternative service environment: the Worship Café. Not only does the Worship Café have regular attendees who prefer experiencing the service in the Parish Hall, but the technology required to livestream our Sunday service has also allowed us to share the service with members who live out of town or who are homebound. All of this helps us “make room” for more members and keep our current members and friends connected to First Parish. In the future, we may be able to clip the livestream to create videos of sermons, Times for All Ages, and music for our social media on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
But, now that we’ve made room, we need to put in more effort to invite and welcome newcomers to First Parish. As many of you heard about in June, the Membership Committee has been handing out lawn signs and car bumper magnets that highlight our First Parish values — and our website! Our Racial Justice Task Force and Property Committees are pursuing a large church banner for our program building. And, in early September, the staff team, in coordination with lay leaders, will be rolling out social media posts that show the warmth and joy of our faith community. We hope to see many visitors in September because of these visibility initiatives.
I’ve also spent much of my summer researching how congregations (both Unitarian Universalist and otherwise) have successfully grown their membership, by participating in relevant workshops at the UUA General Assembly and reading a number of recent books on the topic.
Congregations that are growing have a strong sense of mission and purpose (for us, stated in our congregational covenant of love, diversity, and service); they bring joy and deep friendship into the lives of their parishioners, in contrast to the isolating and individualistic dominant culture of our nation; they are willing to try new initiatives and practices, but aren’t enticed by just any new innovation; they act out their professed values in the wider world; and, they create an exciting “buzz” in their surrounding communities through the loving attitude of their members and their positive actions as a church body.
Above all, growing congregations are invitational and welcoming. People are much more likely to visit a congregation if a friend or family member has invited them to attend, either by sharing an upcoming service or event on social media or by personal invitation: “I really love my congregation and the values we share, and I think you would too.” And, a visitor’s first visit to the congregation is crucial: if you see someone you don’t know as people are coming into the service or are entering social hour (especially if that person is holding a red mug!), approach them and ask, “Have we met before?” Perhaps you have bumped into each other at a Needham community event, or months ago at their first visit to First Parish — “have we met before?” gives you the opportunity to introduce or reintroduce yourselves to each other. Be sure to catch the attention of one of our Membership team (chair Tony Cicala, Kay Taylor, Eliot Jekowsky, Laurel Davis, Will Innis, Grace Rising, Ginger Shapiro, and Nancy Winbury); we want to get every newcomer’s contact information so we can send them a Welcome message and the Bell Notes right away!
If you’ve met someone with teens or younger children, be sure to introduce them to Roberta or Sally (who is serving both as intern minister and acting RE program assistant this year).
We want First Parish to thrive as a loving, welcoming, thoughtful, diverse, and justice-oriented change-maker in MetroWest for at least another 300 years. Help the congregation do this by proudly displaying your First Parish signs, sharing our social media content, and inviting your friends to our services and programs!