A few years ago, spurred by Linda Kooiker‘s retirement from her good work as Membership Coordinator, we began a period of assessing and adjusting our membership processes. The change in staffing was a wonderful opportunity to regroup and see how things were going. Linda’s great work with connecting new folks and her strong gift of hospitality were invaluable, and provided a strong foundation to the membership program which we have been able to build upon in the intervening years.

There are many aspects to the congregational work that is classified as “membership,” and I have found it helpful to articulate three stages of engagement:

  1. From the moment the person walks in the door to signing the membership book.
  2. Becoming a member to year three of membership.
  3. Year three to the end of their membership – hopefully only ending with a move away from Asheville or death.

We know that this work belongs to all of us – staff, dedicated membership volunteers, and every congregant – but it is helpful to know that there is a structure underlying the work that you do on Sunday morning greeting and welcoming newcomers to the congregation.

The Sunday Morning Welcome Team is the first line of engagement. From Greeters who open doors and say good morning to Ushers who help people find their way, to the Welcome Table volunteers who help newcomers get connected to enews and answer their first questions, there are 48 volunteers each month who step up to offer a wide open welcome on behalf of our community. Additionally, last year we added a new role to this group, the Connectors, whom you may have seen wearing “Ask Me” buttons. The Connectors are charged with two simple tasks each Sunday morning: To answer questions or help people find someone who knows the answer, and to engage with newcomers and introduce them to other members.

Some Connectors also work with me in the New Member Class series (Beginning Point & Connecting Point), leading spiritual journey groups, meeting the new members, and helping them to find their niche in the congregation. We know that the time between signing the membership book and year three of membership is a crucial time in the life of a UUCA member. Those years are the ones in which deep connections are made (or not), and the way we help people make those connections is essential to our ability to retain members and sustain a vibrant and engaged congregation.

Over the past two and a half years we have worked very hard to adjust and sustain our infrastructure for Phase 1, and I believe we have been successful in this. The program is running well, and feedback from new member classes is that people feel welcomed and supported on their path to membership. We have gotten into a good routine with the new member classes as well. If we stay the course and continue as we have begun, this part of our ministry will continue to thrive. Therefore, I am pleased to be able to shift our focus to building a stronger infrastructure for Phase 2.

Last summer, we added 5 staff hours for membership back into the mix, and Christine Magnarella Ray has been a fantastic addition to the team. I’m pleased that she will be increasing her membership hours to 15 on July 1. This will only improve our ability to meet the needs of this essential ministry of the congregation.

Our first focus in Phase 2 will be to increase volunteer engagement in helping new members to connect. I am recruiting a team of Connectors to work with us, increasing one-on-one contacts for new members and helping them to find their way to deeper engagement in congregational life.

Small Group Ministry is another essential piece of Phase 2. We know from our own experience and from outside evidence that in a large congregation, smaller group experiences are key to helping people feel connected and invested. We would like every new member to have the opportunity to participate in a small group immediately upon joining the congregation. We also would like every long-term member to have this opportunity as well.

The work we have done as a congregation over the past few years is really stupendous, and I look forward to continuing to build a wide open welcome for all who cross our threshold, whether it is for the first time or the five hundredth.

If you’d like to be a part of this foundational ministry of our congregation, please let either me or Christine know. We particularly need Connectors and Small Group Facilitators, but there are many other opportunities to help out – from light clerical (making name tags and returning emails) to Sunday morning roles, and more. Training will be provided