A new frame on church membership
Stepping back from our customary ways of looking at membership, what if we used a frame that other non-profits use: "the ladder of engagement?"
|Slide from a presentation by Farra Trompeter, Big Duck Consulting, presented at #14NTC.|
Some definitions and an application to the congregational environment:
- Unawares are people who don't know about the congregation, but who should.
- Observers are people who know about the congregation, observe it with friendly interest, but are generally uninvolved. They might come on Christmas Eve.
- Supporters are people who know about the congregation and support it. They are the rank and file members.
- Advocates are people who champion the congregation: they actively work for the congregation and its programs.
How this maps to our membership schemes.
Customary UU schemes of sorting people would map supporters and advocates into members/friends, a category which covers a wide range of engagement. There are a lot of misperceptions that come from lumping these two groups together. For example, advocates often think that if everyone pledged like advocates, our money problem would be over. Much of the current discussion about increasing membership commitment comes from lumping these two groups together.
A tiny slice of observers would be classified as 'visitors' if they had made a visit to the church.
But, most observers and unawares are off our radar. Our congregations don't consciously communicate or engage with them.
Congregational money problems cannot be solved by asking Unawares and Observers for money. This is obvious. Why should they give to the congregation? So, right now, many congregations are trying to resolve their money problems by moving Supporters to Advocate levels of giving, through the annual pledge campaign. It is not keeping up.
Unless there is a steady flow of people from Unawares to Observers to Supporters and Advocates, the natural process of attrition will dry up the income stream. But since we have very few efforts to inform the Unawares and engage the Observers, that's what is and what will continue to happen.
So the the congregational money problem is the really the same as the growth problem. So the answer to the congregational money side comes down to one essential task: building a process of engagement with Unawares and Observers, to create a stream of future givers.
The "ladder of engagement" suggests that there is one process of engaging with people, all people, all throughout their engagement with the congregation.
Questions for future posts:
1. How could UU's apply a "ladder of engagement" concept to growth?
2. What systems and structures would be required?
3. What's the public theology and ministry (mission) behind it?