Monday, July 5, 2010

Should UU Be More Like the Y to attract YAs?

In thinking about the issues of attracting and then tracking Young Adult (YA) members from a church's perspective, I was thinking that maybe churches should have a membership program that works more like your local YMCA and less like, well, churches.  Here's what I've been thinking about this...

First: Income/Pledges.  Now, every UU church I know of, even if they have a minimum expected pledge, will waive that pledge for financial hardship, but it's often awkward to ask for or to have to explain, and many people fell put-out by being asked for money in churches.  There's a big issue around pledging in churches, because people have negative experiences from other churches sometimes, as well.  At the Y, on the other hand, they have a very set guidelines of what membership costs, and you pay it, and if you don't you're not a member.  They also have a philosophy that everyone should be able to be a member, and therefore they will work on a sliding scale.  This could work particularly well for young adults, to have a specific "young adult rate" annually for membership, that could be waived in case of need.   It could come with certain additional perks, like if you have a thriving adult RE program but you charge for your adult RE classes, the young adult membership could come with three free RE programs. 

Second: Transience.  I think a lot of churches think, secretly, that having young adult members is a negative because not only do they not get as much income as they pay out in dues sometimes, they also have trouble tracking the young adults because they're transient.  Churches often don't have a good way of noticing if a member has moved away and neglected to resign his or her membership.  At the Y, on the other hand, membership is for a set period for which you've paid your membership fees.  If you neglect to pay your membership fees, your membership lapses.  If you want to become a member again, you pay your fees again.  This could be a great way for young adults to become members where the church would know that they wouldn't have to go tracking the young adults down later to see if they want to retain membership or not.  In some ways, I think this would be a great way for the church to deal with all members.  Just like you renew your gym membership, you renew your church membership. 

Obviously this is quite a bit different from the way we think about church.  But maybe the reasons that membership at churches is done the way it is are no longer valid.  People move around a lot more today than they used to.  We no longer have, in most UU churches, a way we transfer membership from church to church or denomination to denomination.  You can join more than one church if you want. 

So should UU be more like the Y?

You tell me.  I'm interested in knowing what you think.  This is just a wild tangent I've been on, so I'm not wedded to the idea, by any means!

6 comments:

kinsi said...

Pretty interesting!

Something that was talked about in one of the workshops I went to at GA about generations was re-envisioning membership. Does it have to be tied to financial?

Let's say you get someone in their mid 20s, just starting off in their career or unemployed like so many in my generation are right now. Is there a way to become a member where the fees are waved, but something is still asked of them?

For example, if you need to waive membership fees, it can be a humbling/humiliating experience for the person who can't afford to join. But say, "we will wave your membership fees if you agree to teach RE, or volunteer twice a month in the childcare room, or x y or z." It's a way for folks to still maintain, well, their dignity but still join and make a meaningful impact on the community.

Thats something....I can't see a lot of congregations doing. But I think its something that should seriously be considered.

Your point about being transient more than makes sense to me, I mean, why don't churches purge folks from the membership roles who haven't pledged or lived up to their end of the membership agreement at the end of the church year? It's done occasionally, but not annually. I think part of that is done because, well, bigger numbers look good, even if it costs in dues.

Cynthia Landrum said...

@Kinsi,

No, I don't think membership HAS to be tied to financial, but I've in the past been really negative towards the approach of saying people give either time or money. Frankly, we need for the majority of people to be giving both! And some people have very little of both, and some people have a lot of both. And it's important for everyone to think about what they can give, and not to just jump to the assumption that they can't give anything. There needs to be a way, though, as you point out, for it to be okay to be a member and not give anything without having to have a humiliating experience around it. It's obviously very complicated, no matter how you structure the situation.

Paul Oakley said...

Interesting. I have already pushed in my small fellowship for yearly membership that has to be re-committed to each fiscal year. That would take care of flushing the meaningless memberships from the books without any laborious record culling or calling everybody to determine their intent.

But call me a heretic. I really dislike the linkage of membership to the pledge or dues, whether made or waived. It makes far more sense to me for membership to be free and for giving to grow out of budget-planning pledge drives and the ongoing development of a culture of giving linked to fiscal transparency and responsible, efficient use of resources.

Heather said...

I'm reading the UU World article about James Freeman Clarke this a.m., and it has interesting things to say about his role in doing away with the "pew rental" system.

Heather said...

Paul, I really like the last part of your comment, "the ongoing development of a culture of giving linked to fiscal transparency and responsible, efficient use of resources." I would add that fiscal transparency should include talking about finances in concrete ways that non-finance people easily understand.

Eric said...

Having been around all the sides of this conversation, from Board Chair to membership committee, to now being a seminarian I've given this topic a lot of thought. And if nothing else, what really strikes me is the way that our reported membership is so much smaller a fraction of the self-reported self-identified UU population when compared to just about any other historically mainline Protestant church in America.
I can't help but wonder if part of our small membership numbers are tied to the fact that our congregations are actively encouraged to keep their membership numbers small so they don't pay dues for them. All except the largest congregations in our movement pay their UUA and district dues based on their reported membership. I don't know if other denominations are the same, but I know that there are a lot of self-identified UUs out there that aren't counted in our membership numbers, and that suggests that perhaps our way of sending money up the chain might be an area of investigation when it comes to understanding who, and how many, we serve.