09 Searching

Introduction by Joy McConnell and Stephanie Dohner

Question: Why should people find us?

Answer: We let them know we are here. Then we welcome them when they come.

Many people in our communities are unchurched today. Many of those people see themselves as humanists, agnostics, atheists or free-thinkers. Many of those people are looking for a community where they can get support for living more ethical and meaningful lives. Many people are looking for a community where they can find friendships, interesting and challenging activities, opportunities to grow and explore life at deeper levels, and opportunities to serve the wider community in a common effort with others.

We hear so many people say, when they find us, “Why don’t you let people know you are here? I have been looking for something like this my whole life.” We need to do more to let people know that we exist and that we welcome new people into our community. We need to let people in our wider communities know what our values are, what we stand for and what we won’t stand for by being active in our larger community. We need to let our communities know that we are a group that welcomes all people committed to living ethically regardless of race, culture, previous religious affiliation, socio-economic status, age or ability.

Sometimes our Societies have the feeling of a private club. Newcomers are sometimes not even noticed. They don’t feel welcome. Other Societies are warm, bustling, exciting and busy places where people are so busy they hardly have time to notice newcomers. Sometimes, the research shows, people want to belong to these kinds of congregations so they can be part of such a dynamic community; they will stick around and try to get involved even if no one welcomes them in an obvious way. Even others of our Societies have very well-planned programs for inviting and welcoming newcomers. You will see some of the evidence of their programs and see how they are structured and run as you read through this notebook.

We let people know we are here.

The first step is getting people through your doors. How do you do that? You invite them. Here are some of the ways that have been shown to work:

Members invite their friends and acquaintances

Members tell others about their Ethical Society experiences. Often newcomers have heard about the Society from someone who knows and respects a Society member.

List Society activities, programs, lectures, classes, and Sunday School in the free community calendar that many local magazines or newspapers have.

Get your programs or leader noticed by the media — newspaper, radio, television, local magazines — by judiciously sending out news releases when special events or well-known speakers are at the Society.

Members involved in local organizations and coalitions can be there as a representative of the Ethical Society. If they do well, they will win respect not only for themselves but for the Society to which they belong.

Create and distribute posters and flyers in public places when there is a special event or well-known speaker.

The Society sponsors events, classes, service projects, activities to which the public is invited.

Leaders and Assistant Leaders for Adjunct Services do an inspiring job with weddings, memorials, and other celebrations as representatives of Ethical Culture in a way that draws people to us.

Have a visible and attractive sign outside of your meeting place; you can provide a temporary one even if you are renting space on Sundays.

If you are renting space or moving to a new location, choose one that is in a well-traveled location where curious passers-by may see your sign.

Encourage outside groups of like mind to use your building for their meetings and events.

Place Society brochures and flyers in literature racks or tables at the public library, community bulletin boards, etc.

Design a striking advertisement and pay to have it placed in local newspapers. (This is an expensive alternative and does not bring in as many people some other methods; but excellent P.R. has paid off for some of our Societies.)

We welcome newcomers and help them feel comfortable at all Society events.

Our goal here is to make people comfortable as they are searching for a religious/ philosophical home or community even if they choose another. We make an impression by how we treat people that will spread beyond our walls.

We plan dynamic, interesting, and appropriate platform experiences to the best of our ability and resources. The larger the Society, the more excellence is expected.

We notice and welcome people when they attend platforms, classes, and other Society activities.

We have a greeter or greeters available near the entrance to welcome people. In some Societies greeters or membership committee members wear a flower or special nametag to signify their interest in talking with newcomers This fact should be shared with newcomers if they are looking for someone to talk with.

We give newcomers name tags if they don’t object. (It also helps if all members wear nametags, especially in larger Societies. It helps people remember us or get to know us.)

We try not to leave them standing alone by themselves. We must be sensitive, though, to the body language and other signals newcomers give. Some people would rather be somewhat anonymous their first time and mignt be put off by too much attention.

Some Societies provide a special name tag or colored coffee mug for newcomers so that people will notice them and talk with them.

Membership committee members and greeters have a special responsibility for noticing and welcoming newcomers, but if they are the only ones, people may get the impression that this is not a very friendly place.

We introduce them to our Leader(s) and lay leaders. We introduce them to people with whom they have something in common.

We have newcomers sign a guest book with their name, address, including zip code, and telephone number.

* Have a member of the Society send a note or make a telephone call to the newcomer within a week of their first attendance. The research in congregational growth shows that this act has the highest correlation with someone’s choosing to become a member.

We hold newcomers open-houses, gatherings, evenings, or potlucks to let them get to know members and other newcomers (This is important because most people form friendships with those who came into the Society about the same time they did. They are going through the process together and have a lot of the same experiences.) We use this as an opportunity to share information and materials about the Society. A question and answer format as well as giving people time to talk about their own religious experiences or what drew them here or what they are looking for in a religious community.

We help people discover whether this is the right religious community for them. If we honestly have what they are looking for, we can confidently offer it to them and welcome them wholeheartedly.

If they are looking for elements we don’t offer, you will do them and the Society a service by helping them in their considerations and perhaps suggesting other groups you know of that might be more to their liking. Leaders can be a real help with this one.

We let people know that we are open to new people and new ideas when we talk to them. We convey this by being good listeners and reflecting back to them our understanding and interest.

If you have a Sunday luncheon, invite newcomers to sit at a special table where they can get to know each other and a lay leader of the Society.

We show an interest in their search and let them know that they are welcome for as long as they are comfortable and that, if this is the right place for them, we would welcome them into membership.

We accept people where they are on their ethical/religious/life journey (if it does not contradict our basic values), providing appropriate opportunities for self-expression and questioning.

We invite people to return for the next platform or to come to a special activity or event.

We inform newcomers about the Society, Ethical Culture and basic ideas.

Our goal is to give people all the information they need to make a good decision aboutjoining our group. It is therefore important to encourage newcomers to attend several platforms, a newcomers meeting, an orientation class, adult education classes, meetings, Inside the Society we have a clearly visible and attractive sign or signs with our Ethical Culture Statement of Purpose or Mission Statement or other writings to let people know who we are and what we stand for. A good example is “The place where people meet to seek the highest is holy ground” which is found in several Societies. One Society has a poster in every Sunday School classroom listing our Core Ethical Values (available from the AEU Religious Education Office at cost).

We have a literature rack filled with brochures and newsletters that are free for newcomers to take. Examples are enclosed in this notebook.

We have a book stand or book table with books about Ethical Culture, ethics, Humanism, and other relevant topics as well as copies of platform talks or articles for sale.

We hold newcomers open houses to acquaint very newcomers with our Society and Ethical Culture/Humanism.

We hold more in-depth orientation classes for newcomers and members to learn more about the Society and Ethical Culture ideas and history.

We have book groups, discussion groups, or classes focused on some of the major ideas and themes in Ethical Culture/Humanism.

We provide opportunities for newcomers to process their own religious/life Journey in the context of what they are learning about Ethical Culture.

When they ask us questions, we answer honestly to the best of our knowledge or refer them to someone who can provide an answer.

 Which of these things is it most important to do?

Not all Societies have the resources, volunteers, staff or leadership to do all of the above. Each Society must make choices about what has worked or not worked well in the past and what elements of a program for bringing in and welcoming newcomers are most important and likely to bring success. Below is an idea of the minimum of what Societies of each size should offer to newcomers.

1. Family (fellowship or circle) — Newcomers must be welcomed by matriarch(s) and patriarch(s) as well as members in their peer group and the leader, if there is one. There should be a greeter at the door for platforms and major activities where newcomers are expected. Some kind of informative meeting, open house, or orientation is important. More important are opportunities to gain a sense of belonging in this small community.

2. Pastoral — There should be an opportunity to be meet and be welcomed by the Leader. These Societies can do many of the above activities as is indicated by the materials and resources in this section — greeters, name tags, information packets and brochures, newcomers open house, a note or telephone call within week after first attendance, orientation classes.

3. Program – In addition to the practices in 1 and 2 above, there should be opportunities to meet and be welcomed by the Senior Leader or Associate Leader, as well as lay leaders or leaders of sub-groups, sometime in the first few weeks of their attendance at the Society. A dynamic, high quality platform experience is very important for this size Society.

4. Corporate — Opportunities to meet at least one professional Leader as well as lay leaders, membership staff or staff of major appropriate groups. A high quality, dynamic platform experience is crucial to welcoming newcomers.

After we get the newcomers to come and we welcome them, our questions become What will keep them coming? Will they come back now that they like us?

Resources and activities: Advertising, flyers, brochures from Societies, Greeter and open house training packets, sample letters, bibliography of congregational growth materials.