Question: How do newcomers know if they really belong here? Do they identify with Ethical Culture/Humanism?
Answer: If Societies/Fellowships provide opportunities for building friendships and learning more about Ethical Culture/Humanism and this Society, if newcomers discover that they are compatible with the philosophy, way of life, people, organization, and values, they will feel comfortable affiliating with this Society.
The most important process for newcomers at this stage is forming relationships with the people and Leaders in this Society and exploring the philosophy and ideals of Ethical Culture/Humanism. Therefore in every group that wants new people to affiliate with it. there must be adequate opportunities for those relationships to be formed and exploring to be done. The quantity and quality of such opportunities are determined by the resources, commitment, and interest of the members. They will vary in Societies of differing size.
There should be also be opportunities up-front, before someone joins, to understand what is expected of one who becomes a member of an Ethical Society–a commitment to study, learn and practice ethical living; a promise to support the Society financially to the best of one’s ability with a “personally significant pledge” each year; and the intention of becoming a participating member of the community contributing skills, energy and time to the activities and programs of the Society.
1. Family/fellowship — To become part of the family, newcomers need to be encouraged and befriended by Matriarchs and Patriarchs, the core lay leadership, as well to be included by peers. (Liking and being liked is very important) Is your fellowship able to befriend people of diverse origin? Are there limits to who is accepted? The answers to these questions will determine what kind of fellowship yours will grow into. (Some fellowships are like hard and crusty loaves on the outside but are soft, warm and nourishing on the inside. Others are soft and easy to get into but have no real long-lasting nourishment. What kind of loaf do you want your fellowship to be?)
In Family size fellowships, newcomers are usually oriented informally by Matriarchs and Patriarchs and their peers. They will be welcomed or not depending on how comfortable the current members are with them; sometimes the messages are very subtle in this size Society. Newcomers are expected to adopt the style of the group and to follow the often unspoken rules that govern members’ behavior and interactions. If you want to know what kinds of subtle messages you are giving out, ask a newcomer or new member for feedback. You might also ask someone who attended briefly but did not return. They may have some important insights to share with you about how your group presents itself to newcomers.
2. Pastoral – A relationship to the leader is important in someone’s becoming affiliated to the pastoral-size Society. They will be asking: “Do I see the leader as a leader, mentor, pastor, spiritual/ethical guide or partner?” If the newcomer does not like the Leader, s/he may not stay or may stay believing that they can help get rid of this leader in favor of another or perhaps no leader. This can be a real problem. It is the Leader who will provide orientation programs and classes for newcomers, as well as a personal hand in introducing them to others, inviting them to activities and programs, offering classes and helping them to get involved.
3. Program – Relationships to groups and individuals involved in activities and programs are the beginnings of affiliation for the prospective member of a program-size Society. There are usually several small groups — “families,” “fellowships” or “circles” (average of one small group for every 15-20 members) — in a program-size Society and people are beginning to move toward longer term commitments in the context of the small group(s) to which they feel closest. It is important for a program-size Society to develop ongoing structures that can develop and sustain new groups as the Society grows (what the Alban Institute calls “building a bakery that can turn out different kinds of loaves for different needs and tastes”). This is important as some traditional groups can be very hard to break into (like those old, crusty loaves).
Program-size Societies need a very planned, organized, in-depth series of orientation programs led by both Leader and lay leaders. Usually 3 levels are needed – Introductory, orientation, immersion (in-depth opportunities for examining basic ideas, examining any resistance to the ideas, understanding the implications of Ethical Culture for one’s life, and moving toward commitment). It would be better for newcomers to process much of this before they become a member. It would mean that more of our members would have a clearer sense of what it means to be an Ethical Culturist/Humanist.
4. Corporate – People entering a corporate-size congregation need, first of all, to be challenged and inspired by the platform experience. They also need opportunities to relate to the congregation within the congregation in which they will be spending most of their time, in addition to an in-depth orientation series. Such large congregations often have several whole “ministries” or separate missions that sub-congregations serve such as a religious education wing, a social service board, a many-faceted youth group that provides services for young people in the community, or a full singles program with classes, projects and social functions for singles. Newcomers must have opportunities to become acquainted with the professional and lay staff of these “ministries” as well as their core lay leaders, and to make friends with others involved in their activities and programs.
Formal structures need to be in place which help newcomers find the right sub-congregation for them as well as fellowship activities and classes that meet their needs and interests.
One of the primary indicators for probable membership is the number of friends a newcomer has made. According to congregational research, it is important that newcomers make friends with five or six people within the first six months if they are going to become real members. Those people may be a professional leader, lay leaders, long-term or newer members, or other newcomers. If you want your Society/Fellowship to grow, you need to provide opportunities for people to make friends and build significant relationships.
More resources on the Affiliating stage:
- Affiliating – Additional Reading
- Helping New Members Feel They Belong
- Program Samples
- Starting New Activities