We hear this figure bandied around a lot, but how accurate is it?
In the last year, seven visitors have darkened the doorstep of my UU church who came there with me. At least a few of them signed the guestbook as visitors.
-One of them didn't join because he went home to Ohio mere hours after the service.
-Two of them didn't join because they are already members of CLF. (They came for a social event, not a service, but they still visited.)
-Two of them didn't join because they are presbyterians and were just coming to see me give my lay service.
-One of them didn't join because she's perfectly happy to attend Sunday services in her old folks home, except for the one sermon on a topic of great interest to her that my church happened to have.
-One didn't join because he refuses to join a UUA church because of its stands on political issues. Also, he likes to sleep in on Sundays. He also came to see my lay service and work on the church bazaar.
Yep, my church has a zero percent Chalicechick friend retention rate.
But not one of those visits-without-return was the church's fault. Indeed, my church could have put years of effort and planning into increasing their retention rate, and it would not have made one tiny bit of difference to whether those seven people joined the church.
Similarly, when I had moved back to my area and was choosing a UU church I visited at least ten of them in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia before chosing the one I wanted. So for 2004, DC-area churches had something like a ten percent retention rate of me alone.
That sounds silly, but think about it. For something like nine churches, I attended between one and one dozen times, then left and never came back, in most cases because I'm really picky about the kind of preaching I like, though there were in many cases hundreds of people attending a church with preaching I thought wasn't first rate, so clearly my taste is far from universal*.
And I ended up not chosing the church with the best preaching because that church takes an hour to get to from my house on Sunday morning.
Are we taking stuff like this into account when we bemoan our admittedly tiny-appearing retention rate? Goodness knows that people do sometimes leave churches and never return because of reasons relating to the church itself.
But that's far from always the case, and even if it is, sometimes they just end up at a different UU church.
* Let's not forget, I once walked away from a church because the people were TOO NICE.
In truth, if all of our visitors ended up joining, we couldn't assimilate them. I don't worry much about the folks that visit one time and never come back. I worry more about the people that visit us steadily for three months or so and then fade away. I worry even more about the folks who have signed the book, then drop off.
My church is growing. But I'd rather see my church work on our 'backdoor problem' -- all the folks who have dropped off the membership rolls in the last five years. Sure some moved away, some died. But not all.
UU Covenant Groups, Lay Preaching & Evangelizing
"I worry more about the people that visit us steadily for three months or so and then fade away. I worry even more about the folks who have signed the book, then drop off."
As you and all other U*Us should David, because *those* people are likely to spread "less than excellent" word of mouth *advertising* aka bad publicity aka "less than good" gossip about their "less than excellent" experience of *The* Tiny Declining Fringe Religion.
If we're worrying about 100% or anything close, then it's an issue--and you're completely right.
But most of the people visiting aren't just coming to see one service, or visiting to support a friend.
And Robin, no. There are an abnormally (compared to other religious traditions) high number of non-attending folk who say they're UUs in survey after survey. It's not that the word of mouth is bad. Heck, one of the more common things I hear from new people (after "where have you people been for the last 30 years?"--suggesting that there's not enough word of mouth at all) is "Someone told me I was (or ought to be, or sounded like) a Unitarian." That event may have been a decade ago or longer.... But it also suggests that the word of mouth isn't bad; there are clearly people out there who identify people who don't know they're UUs and can tell them that--and don't tell them "But alas...".
CC, I'm not looking for some amazing retention number. My rough number a few years ago suggested that my congregation sees somewhere between 150-200% of its membership in visitors annually. Those are visitors who sign in....
Of those, some number aren't going to stay--they're visiting the area from Michigan or wherever. Or they're friends or family of some member, visiting this week. Or, or, or.
Our membership outreach--just to people who were interested enough to show up!--has been pretty damned weak, and we've grown anyway. We could double the number of new members, and it would not represent retaining more than 20% (tops)... and it would be overwhelming; we'd have to actually start intentional and conscious efforts to integrate new members....
:And Robin, no.
But Ogre, yes. . .
:There are an abnormally (compared to other religious traditions) high number of non-attending folk who say they're UUs in survey after survey.
And that doesn't have anything to do with the religious "product" that awaits them in any number of U*U "churches" of course. Nor does it have anything to do that the 1000 or so "churches" of *The* Tiny Declining Fringe Religion are few and far between in most parts of the U*U World and indeed real world. . .
:It's not that the word of mouth is bad.
No, of course not Ogre. . .
:Heck, one of the more common things I hear from new people (after "where have you people been for the last 30 years?"--suggesting that there's not enough word of mouth at all) is "Someone told me I was (or ought to be, or sounded like) a Unitarian."
Guess what Ogre. . . That's what some people told me way back in 1992 and/or 1993. I found out the hard way that their beliefs about Unitarianism, no doubt based on U*U propaganda, were not supported by the actual behavior of corpse-cold U*Unitarians. Other people have very similar experiences I might add albeit not necessarily as bad as my own rude awakening as it were. I am well aware of the good reputation that U*Uism has amongst people who have little or no real experience of U*Uism. *I* am talking about the bad reputation that U*Uism has gained from people who have actually attended U*U "churches" for some months or years.
:That event may have been a decade ago or longer....
Why am I not surprised Ogre? Not that U*U things have changed all *that* much. . . Right Ogre?
:But it also suggests that the word of mouth isn't bad;
See above. *Some* word of mouth isn't bad, usually the word of mouth spread by self-satisfied U*Us or people who only know about U*Uism based on U*U propaganda, but there is no shortage of bad word of mouth about U*Uism as you can quickly ascertain by following the latest well publicized bad word of mouth publicity to say nothing of televised bad news for U*Us caused by paranoid U*Us rushing to stab pagan UU Charles Rowe in the back. . .
:there are clearly people out there who identify people who don't know they're UUs and can tell them that--and don't tell them "But alas...".
But alas? Maybe you and other U*us would be well advised to ask "But why?"
"Someone told me I was (or ought to be, or sounded like) a Unitarian."
Internet quizzes have that effect on a lot of agnostic liberals. I'd probably identify as UU without ever having stepped into a service if I didn't have to keep up the numbers of my own slack religious tradition (Hinduism) via responses to surveys.
FYI, the "Congregations Count" workshop at the last two GAs has some helpful benchmarks on the number of visitors vs. members, retention and causes for leaving, etc. I think it's still in the Leaders Library on the site. She got the numbers from evangelicals, so I'm not sure they directly apply to UUs. But it's still nice to have some benchmarks rather than meaningless numbers floating in space.
Here's some meaningless numbers floating in space for U*Us. . .
i.e. the missing, and to date "less than available", UUA membership statistics from 2000-200 to 2008-2009 that are floating in the empty space at the bottom of the page of this UUA Financial Advisor's report. Somehow I get the impression that the UUA isn't all that enthusiastic about making these not so meaningless numbers available to U*Us for some reason.
Needless to say that should have been 2000-2001 to 2008-2009. I would settle for numbers bringing U*Us up to 2007-2008.
needless to say that Robin continues to try to twist every topic until it reaches his topic. But to show us statistics that show him wrong is a switch. and of course the statistics for the last few years are easy to find out- wonder why he didnt link to those as well?
UU is growing, not growing alot not growing as much as the population- but growing. Right now, we can even say that we are outgrowing Southern Baptists (of course while true, this would imply something that isnt true - much like unadorned statistics often do).
Two notes on that list. One is that that in the 1980s the Canadian UUs moved out of the UUA, so we took a bump down, and second is that 1968 is when the UUA started trying to define what "member" meant - so while there was a decline (most folks think a major decline), it's hard to say exactly how bad a major decline.
So the good news for Robin is that he gets to diss the UUs for years if not decades to come.
I was once a member of a small church that decided to change what "member" meant. They cut something like 100 members off a roll of something like 300. I guess it saved them some postage costs, but I thought it was a very stupid decision from a long-term perspective.
CC-- Taking members off of the list if they are no longer there -- how is that stupid?
As I understand it, if people just cease coming and participating, they rarely send a message to the office about it. But if you haven't seen them in years, they probably aren't still members.
It saves not only on postage, but on what money we send to the UUA, since that's a per-member amount, but it's also just more honest to count the members who are really members.
What KimC said. . .
:needless to say that Robin continues to try to twist every topic until it reaches his topic.
No need to do that here at all ever so anonymous U*U. The low percentage of retention has a lot to do with my topic(s) as my comments clearly show.
:But to show us statistics that show him wrong is a switch.
:and of course the statistics for the last few years are easy to find out- wonder why he didnt link to those as well?
If I had online access to publicly available statistics for total membership in UUA congregations for the blank years of 2000-2001 up to the most recent statistics I would have had a look. If the figures showed me to be wrong I would acknowledge that fact but everything that I have seen indicates that U*Uism is not in fact growing as a percentage of the overall population and may well be in decline in recent years. Provide a URL for more recent official UUA membership statistics and I will go have a look.
:UU is growing, not growing alot not growing as much as the population- but growing.
Thanks for acknowledging that U*Uism is "not growing" aka stagnant or even *declining* as a percentage of the overall population which is what *I* have been saying all along. The graphs and words on page 12 of the UUA Financial Adviser's 2007 Annual Report indicate that adult membership is steady aka stagnant as a percentage of the overall population of the U.S.A. I have seen another graph that seems to indicate a sudden drop off of membership in recent years. It may be that there has been a significant loss of RE enrollments which are included in *total* membership figures.
:So the good news for Robin is that he gets to diss the UUs for years if not decades to come.
You can say that again YYAAU*U. But hey, it's not like I need U*U membership statistics to do *that*. U*Us keep seem to stop passing me all kinds of much more interesting ammunition and/or weapons policies of Mass destruction. . . :-) I already have enough ammU*Unition to last decades to come, but I am confident that more ordinance is on its way. There's hardly a week that goes by where some U*U somewhere doesn't pass me some ammU*Unition.
Interestingly enough the WVC is joilly which *I* interpret as meaning jolly with and *I* in it and pronounce Joy*ly. It appeals to my bi*culturalism as well since joi is joy in French. :-)
I think some churches really do have a problem with retaining visitors. They may very well simply choose another church, which isn't a problem from a general UU perspective but can be a problem if you happen to be with the church that isn't being chosen.
As someone who left a church after a few years of very deep involvement, though, I worry more about a church's member retention than its visitor retention. After I stopped attending services it was a year before anyone checked in with me to see what was going on. I'm sure the assumption was that I was taking a break and would come back as I recovered from overall burnout. But really a phone call or note early in that time saying we miss YOU (as opposed to we miss what you do, which I did get one of very early in my withdrawal) would probably have made the difference in my decision about whether I was taking a break or leaving. Granted this was a church with *problems* and I understand all too well that everyone was spread so thin that an institutionally based solution to membership retention would be hard but I have a hard time forgiving the lack of a more loose cultural solution to the problem.
If it helps, and it may not, I'm on that one from the other side right now and it's a weird place to be. There's a guy at my church whom I sort of know who has been having some issues and has disappeared.
I know other people reached out to him a couple of months ago. I don't know if they are still doing so. I don't want to be one more person bothering the guy if he just doesn't want to come to church, but I don't want him to feel the way you did.
In addition, going around finding out whether other people are still reaching out would seem to involve asking and would invite a dozen conversations about what's wrong with him. I wouldn't want that if I were in his place.
I know that this wasn't your situation and that we're kind of talking about different extremes here, but I wanted to let you know that it's at least possible that people didn't know what to say or assumed someone else had already said it.
Which still isn't good, but there you go.
I used to take a pretty hard-line approach---i.e. visitors don't stay around because they're not acknowledged, greeted, or engaged in conversation.
This is still true, of course, but many people are in the process of shopping around, some people go once in a blue moon, and some people are seekers who may not return because they simply don't like getting up early on Sunday morning.
The Quaker meeting I attended in DC has a well-documented problem of having a kind of intellectual frostiness to it--and it took four months of steady attendance and vocal ministry for that to begin to thaw. There were others, however, where I was greeted warmly and made to feel part of the gathering.
As for being too nice---the only time that's been an option for me is when I visited a more right-wing church that was clearly interesting in recruiting members to fund their new church building.
"I used to take a pretty hard-line approach---i.e. visitors don't stay around because they're not acknowledged, greeted, or engaged in conversation."
That is certainly part of why many U*U churches can be called "The Church of the Revolving Door" but it is by no means the only one, or even the most significant one. Rev. Peter Morales, Rev. Kenn Hurto, seem to think that if U*Us simply took steps to "repel fewer visitors" that U*Uism would grow but I am not convinced of this. In the end it comes down to the religious "product" that U*Us offer to the public. If the "product" is mediocre or otherwise less than palatable visitors will not return no matter how welcoming U*Us try to be to newcomers. In fact, as per Kevin's final paragraph, ersatz "too nice" welcoming of visitors can be just as off-putting to some people as callous disregard for them. . .
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