— Social Ministry & “Congregations & Beyond” Whitepaper by Rev. Peter Morales

January 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Posted in Online Ministry | 2 Comments

I am very happy to see that the work of many UU ministers and lay people who have been practicing various forms of ministry in the digital world has helped pave the way for the recognition and a call to action by Rev. Morales, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Given all of this ground-breaking work, I would have liked to see a deeper summary of general tactics for implementation. In this post, I focus on one key learning from the experience of my church, the UU of Arlington, VA, to identify an  important way the UUA could help our congregations on the specific points I’m considering here.

For two years, the 1,000+ attendees of my church,http://www.uucava.org, have witnessed church life online and offline. Our digital religious practice sprouts from our own social network and secondarily through twitter, facebook and YouTube.

We have learned much. First and foremost: No amount of great content and transparency in online ministry is guaranteed to cultivate new comers who stay.

My church has attracted, according to Google Analytics, about 40,000 unique individuals to its site in two years — 94% from the USA, and the rest from 170 countries representing 94 different languages. We are struggling to turn this overwhelming interest into new physical memberships. These numbers are proven by the percentages of Sunday new comers who say our site compelled them to visit. The percentage of under 35s who attend our New to UU classes increased and has been the result of our online presence.

Unless there is a coordinated, multi-pronged (marketing) effort to maximize this good fortune, digital ministry by a congregation will only help retention. New people who come to our services, thoroughly check us out online and come because they see us in action and get to know us. But after the one or two services they attend, we lose them because of follow up challenges.

Here’s where congregations need help from the UUA:  Help us make this conversion possible. We need integrated marketing plans, with many touch points.

Second learning from our experience:

When a congregation extends its practice online, it extends its liberal religious voice into a very large, worldwide conversation. Together, our congregations, the UUA and the Church of the Larger Fellowship can effectively consolidate a UU Identity that is understandable to all and seen as a leader in restoring liberal religious voices in our national and local issues.

I hope to offer a few ways of doing this in the grant work I have to create a model online ministry program for congregations to consider adopting. I will be completing it this spring, when I should be able to release it online. I’m in debted to many lay folk and clergy who have been working and experimenting in this effort long before me.

I believe that for us to manifest an understandable UU identity and to be effective as a movement, much change must come, and it needs to come from the congregations — from the bottom up — from crowd-sourcing our collective UU values, wisdom and love and effectively giving it a very powerful voice and seat at the table.

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  1. Hi Christopher. Thanks much for the feedback. I do see your point. I should have made the context of my remarks clearer. I am focusing on only one part of the whitepaper because I’m a member of the UU Social Media Lab and wrote the blog in the context of our discussions there. If you are a member of it then perhaps I also need to reiterate something I’ve said there about what marketing is to me. But first, my comment noted what is clear to me in Rev. Morales’ paper: an acknowledgement that the digital world plays a large role in redefining where ministry occurs, and he specifically noted that some of this work has begun in our congregations. That specific point of his is what I’ve chosen to amplify, and in the context of conversation of the UU Social Media Lab. Yes, of course there is much much more in the paper. I’m not addressing its entirety.

    Regarding the word marketing: I have been creating experiences, tools, individual products and services for many years, holding fast to what the practice of marketing is for me — and frankly many other professionals. I do not work in service of consumers or for the express purpose of profit. I created newspaper products as a journalist for our readers — to uphold the public trust. In my digital career, I have created in the name of connecting human beings and in the service of knowledge creation. I am a product marketer.

    Here is my definition of marketing: It’s about best practices to deliver a service or experience that serves the needs of citizenry. If we all treat the word “marketing” the way popular culture treats the word “religion” then we’re making the same uninformed error, IMHO. The profession of marketing has much to offer us, just as spiritual and religious practices can offer something meaningful to atheists.

    Perhaps I’m deluding myself. Many UUs I respect and trust appear at times to be fixated on the word marketing. I have to admit, I find it trying at times. But I am doing my best to remain open and I appreciate your comments very much.

  2. Very interesting. I wonder though whether your first point misses the point quite substantially in framing the question as being still about needing tools to assist in followup marketing to keep people in your physical congregation.

    What I hope Peter’s note indicates is in fact a much broader consideration of what it means to be a practicing UU and a complete reframing of this demand for bigger and better congregations. A movement that inspires people to live a UU life without weekly attendance or their names on a roster list of the UU saved is fine with me.


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