00: Introduction to the Report

Overview: Growth Research Learning Team

The member societies of the American Ethical Union (AEU) constitute a movement that can inspire all people to live in a more joyful and purposeful way. The Ethical Culture movement draws on spiritual insights from the world’s great religions, but does not ask us to put our faith in the supernatural. Ethical Culture makes ethics central, encouraging us to build trusting relationships with friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to create a more loving world for all.

In a world crowded with distractions, however, growing the membership of Ethical Societies will require a sustained effort to apply the wisdom of experienced leaders as well as lessons learned in other types of congregation. Our team did research and interviewed members of Ethical Societies over a period of two years. We pulled together what seemed to us some of the best current advice we could identify, organized around a series of goals that are essential for any society to grow. We present here a distillation of this effort.

First we must acknowledge the enormous efforts of others who have addressed similar questions for the AEU in years past, in particular the compendium of essays and sample documents called Great Expectations. Indeed, one of our efforts was an attempt to make this valuable resource more easily accessible and useful to society members.

Great Expectations can be read at:  (link has changed, will be added)

A password, available from the AEU office, is required to consult the document. A new “overlay” for Great Expectations created by our group will, we hope, provide an enticing route into this volume and increase the use that society officers and other members make of it.

Other projects addressed by our team focused on efforts to gather recent information on Increasing Passion and High Commitment to Ethical Culture; developing Lay Leadership; Welcoming people into societies; the Use of the Internet to make ethical culture better known; Increasing Engagement of members in societies; and Treating Each Other Well.  In each of these areas we have identified themes and findings that we believe may inspire fellow members. Some of the conclusions might seem obvious; others are not widely known. We are, however, confident that a determined effort to put more of these lessons into practice will help grow the Ethical Culture movement.

Although we considered the problems of growth especially from the perspective of smaller societies, we encourage members of societies large and small to think about how they can use these ideas, along with Great Expectations, to create welcoming and fulfilling communities that excite a passion for doing good.

Passion and High Commitment section seeks to connect to a palpable search for ethical meaning– in government, corporations, families and the daunting crises human beings face in these times.  Through our passion, we are able to enlighten ourselves with the same vigor we created when developing religious and ethical education for our children.   We aspire through all ethical means to embody the passion that created this movement in the first place.   We challenge ourselves to become a people who embrace high commitment to the growth and development of our communal practice we know to be ethical culture. We hope that our findings and recommendations inspire our readers to continue an awakening of all of us to the richness and power yet to be mined in ethical culture.

The Lay Leadership section seeks to promote reflection on the importance of Lay leadership.  It recommends regional Lay Leader trainings to meet intra-Societal needs such as pledging, inter-Societal networking, and national info workshops that educate membership on the work of the Federation, its affiliates, etc.   Here, we identify qualities needed for relevant leadership today.    Special attention is directed to Ethical Action trainings that highlight how to organize in some newer modalities that promote effective outcomes.   One particular model is described.

How we work matters as much as what we work at.  In ethical culture, we seek reciprocal relationship between the agents and beneficiaries as much as we acknowledge that ethical action is never about others alone but about our own personal ethical growth.  We believe that identifying all of us as Leaders and change agents is important to growth in community.

Welcoming focuses on assessment of society membership programs and practices, welcoming people into your society and a wide range of practices to build membership.  Sections in this area include; Before You Begin – A membership Program Rating Scale; What to DO After You Say Hello – a brief 9 point list of steps that are suggested to help connect newcomers connect with the society; Building Membership – advice on how to attract newcomers, welcome them, bring them into membership and integrate them fully into the congregation by Bob Kaufmann; and 100+ Ideas for Membership Growth form the UUA.

The section on Engaging Members in the Work of a Society considers primarily growth in quality of membership, and only indirectly growth in number of members. It contains ideas, devices, tools, and procedures for increasing volunteering by current members in our societies. Three types of material are included in this focus: (1) guidance for persons recruiting and coordinating volunteers; (2) examples of tools for recruitment of volunteers; and (3) sample job aids for volunteer activities.

Use of the Internet as a Growth Tool highlights some trends in Internet tools and usage that societies could use to publicize their programs and the ideas of Ethical Culture more generally. It describes briefly some of the prominent applications that seem relevant to Ethical Culture and points their advantages. The section also provides a warning about some of the pitfalls for the unwary. The section concludes with a recommendation that societies collaborate on a more extensive project to identify and document the use of internet tools in Ethical Culture.

Treating Each Other Well focuses on ways to enact positive relationships in our Ethical Societies.  When we treat each other well, we demonstrate to potential members who we are. Ethical behavior is lived in the words we choose when we communicate with each other and the concern and compassion we demonstrate through non-verbal communication.

All of us together need to prioritize practicing the skills to treat each other well and develop the vocabulary to communicate with empathy. Society sponsored workshops incorporating communications skills are useful places to gain relationship tools – but modeling good relationships in our Ethical Societies is the best example of how to treat each other.

Treating each other well is a way of practicing and living out our Ethical ideals.


Index to this section: