General Assembly 2009 Event 2008
Speakers: Rev. Nathan Detering, Maureen Gormley, Rev. Polly Leland-Mayer, Pat Manley.
“Raise the bar for yourselves,” said the Rev. Nathan Detering, minister of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Area Church at First Parish in Sherborn, MA. “This church had a lot of low expectations across the board for itself. If you give folks a reason to be there on Sunday morning and you give folks a reason to pledge from their hearts, the rest follows after.”
This session gave an excellent snapshot of what worked for First Parish in making their church an intentional community that would attract new people and better support the individual growth of existing members. In existence since 1685, they had remained a family-sized church focused on maintaining the historic building. Then, in 2002, the board president challenged them by saying, “We can either be a Building Preservation Society or we can focus on what goes on inside our walls. If we focus inside, what goes on outside will take care of itself.” While most congregations in the denomination don’t have 300-year-old buildings to preserve, the lessons learned at First Parish have universal appeal.
The first lesson was “Be welcoming!” They held a sort of Welcoming 101 class complete with role play. They walked around the building as if seeing it for the first time. Is it clear what goes on here? Are the offices and classrooms well-marked? Do parents know where to go when they come in with their kids and do they feel comfortable leaving them in the Sunday school?
Rev. Detering and other members of the staff and leadership of First Parish shared “good practices” that made a difference in the life of this church and helped to remind people of why they were there:
Maureen Gormley has the responsibilities of Communication and Membership at First Parish. She was hired on a grant and has been one of the transforming factors for this church. She talked about their organized events with prospective members and new members, such as education about the denomination and the local church history and an open house where they are asked: “What did you come looking for? What have you found?” She has put together “new visitor” bags that include a CD with the church history and answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Very important, she says, is the followup that she does with visitors and new members. The key is to plug them in quickly to the community and each other.
Reported by Dee Ray; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.
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Last updated on Friday, October 3, 2014.
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