The work of shifting our commitment from meeting the needs of the individual to claiming our core values and living them as a community is the path that will lead us to stronger, deeper, and more engaged faith.
Knowing that there has been some conversation over the past few weeks regarding membership numbers, attrition, and tracking of such, I thought it would be helpful to share some details about the path to and from membership here at UUCA. The data we have suggests that we tend to gain approximately the same number of new members as we lose each year. Here is some of the larger context in which this data exists.
The numbers reported track with my experience over the past few years, which is that once you adjust for deaths, moves, and people who were not particularly engaged in congregational life, we know why the remaining members are leaving. That awareness is the best any congregation can hope for, because there will always be people whose needs change, or for whom the congregation is not a good fit, or who get upset about a specific situation or person. In most cases, we are not surprised that a person leaves – we know that they are experiencing a life change, or have had some upset or conflict regarding the congregation. Whenever possible, Mark or I contact anyone who resigns their membership and we don’t know why.
When I arrived in 2011, one of the main concerns regarding membership was retention, including the proverbial back door. Over the past 6 years, I have worked with Mark and the Connections Coordinator (Linda Kooiker, Christine Ray, and now Venny Zachritz) to improve the efficiency and content of our path to membership. Linda and I focused mostly on the structure of the new member class cycle. Christine and I launched the Connector Program, which, in tandem with the Luminary Program, is intended to provide support and connection to new members, maximizing both their engagement in programs and their access to information and relationships within the congregation. Knowing that the first three years are essential to retention of individuals and families caused us to focus on years zero to three of membership in Phase 1 of the program, which is fully implemented at this time. Phase 2 will include years four to death/move, and is in the beginning stages of planning at this time.
Membership development programs are not the only variable that impacts retention. This congregation is in the midst of an ongoing discernment process in which change is happening rapidly. The shift to family ministry beginning in the fall of 2016 is part of this change, as is the Board’s work on clarifying core values, mission, and ends. This ongoing work, while it may appear that it is happening in separate areas of congregational life, has the effect of narrowing and focusing what it is that we do as a congregation. As a result, people who do not share that more specific vision will go elsewhere, at the same time more new people will be attracted to the clear and focused articulation of who we are as a community. Therefore, we expect that eventually the attrition numbers will stabilize and the new member numbers will increase.
This work of shifting our commitment from meeting the needs of the individual to claiming our core values and living them as a community is the path that will lead us to stronger, deeper, and more engaged faith.