During this time of year, it’s difficult to extricate myself from the TV screens. The wonderful NCAA basketball tournament takes hold of me. Everyone, college basketball teams and their alumni, have a chance to become the big winner.
It’s fairly similar to the historic lottery that took place this past January when several winners shared a $1.5 jackpot … every ticket buyer had a chance to win!
These types of events always bring a smile to my face.
In the Powerball situation when a winner was determined to be from Chino Hills, CA, people gathered at a local retail store to celebrate the good fortune of two others – both, in a sense, anonymous: The actual ticket buyer who made a small investment and took a chance on winning a massive amount of money – something way beyond one’s imagination – and the store owner who sold the ticket.
Here they were, the Californians of Chino Hills, coming together, celebrating the joy and happiness of someone else! Yes, the joy of community!
And it got me to thinking … wouldn’t it be wonderful if here at UUCF we could celebrate new visitors in a similar fashion.
Think about it … there are similarities and most of us here at UUCF have experienced this: The visitor is making an investment of time … taking a chance on UUCF and on us, the members. Many times visitors know no one in the congregation and little about Unitarian Universalism. And they can’t even imagine what or how UUCF and UUism will affect their lives if “winning” a membership occurs! And I think we can all agree, that new spiritual path will transform one’s life. It’s a Powerball membership at UUCF!
Now I’m not advocating that we turn our parking lot into “Chino Hills II!” But I am suggesting that we take a fresh look at how we welcome and retain congregants at UUCF. And it’s not because we are failing or doing something wrong. On the contrary, over the past 10 years, since I have been part of UUCF, membership has gone up. Over the past 6 or 7 years, the number of new visitors and new members has been fairly steady. For example, we gain about 50 members per year. And, that is against the tide of mainline religions where membership rolls have been on the decline.
While these numbers are good, who’s to say we couldn’t welcome 100 or more new members each year versus 50?
Assuming we’re not injecting new resources and especially significant financial resources into the mix, what are we to do? And, financial resources will not do it alone.
Well, some aspects of this issue have been in discussion with the Membership Committee, under the leadership of Mary Jo Smrekar, with staff support from Member Services Coordinator Carol Jensen. They and the committee members do most of the heavy lifting for membership. As the Lay Minister and a committee member, I can tell you that we have great, caring people performing all the welcoming duties for our visitors. But they can’t do it alone.
The committee needs your help. You, the members of UUCF, need to be more involved, because welcoming visitors – the future of UUCF – is not a 16-person responsibility, but the responsibility of all 700+ members.
We need you to communicate the joy and spirituality here at UUCF to your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Let them know of our great ministers, our Religious Exploration program, our music and more! If inviting someone to a Sunday worship service might be too bold, try a Vespers service. If your neighbor is a music lover, try a concert. Encourage your friends to explore. They might find the joy, happiness and spirituality they weren’t even aware they were seeking!
And yes, we seek visitors and new members who are as diverse as the area population – whether they are young or mature singles, families with children, people with faith backgrounds or none at all, persons of color and even people of different political persuasions!
Here at UUCF we also need to consider “filling the gaps” with activities we may not currently have but might aid and support the interests of new visitors. If this is going to be their spiritual home, they need to feel at home.
So, we need your ideas, your help in improving our welcoming spirituality. The good souls who enter our sacred space are seeking a new home, trying to quench their spiritual hunger. A green mug and a blue information packet are helpful, but that won’t do it alone.
Maybe a hug and a Chino Hills cheer might do the trick!