Meeting the need for intimacy in a growing congregation

Research tells us that if newcomers to a church don’t make some significant friendships in the church within a few months, they’ll leave the church.  Wise leaders in growing congregations provide many opportunities for people — newcomers and longer time members — to get to know each other and begin to form friendships. Here are examples from two growing congregations in Prairie Star District.

Shawnee Mission UU Church in Overland Park, KS [335 adult members and growing!] has many groups that are open to all – visitors, members, and friends. Some examples are the Thirtysomethings Potluck group, the Tuesday Book Group, the Ulysseans [active seniors], the Thursday Book Group, the Halftimers [adults 40ish to 60ish], the Math and Science Group, the Quilters, the Men’s Group, the Playgroup, and so on. Invitations to participate are listed in the monthly newsletter and the weekly Order of Service. It gives the impression that there’s a group for everyone — or there could be. The President of the congregation told me recently, “We want to be the kind of church where if someone comes to us with an idea, we will ask just two questions: ‘Does it fit with the mission of the church?’ and ‘Does it bust the budget?’ If the answer to the first question is ‘yes’ and the answer to the second question is ‘no,’ we’ll say ‘go for it!'”

When I spoke with an active member of SMUUChurch yesterday, she mentioned a recent Women’s Health and Wellness Retreat. Held on a Saturday, it featured yoga, a talk on the healing aspects of music, nutritious food, other programming, and plenty of opportunities for women to chat and get to know each other. “How did this come about?” I asked. “Oh, two women had an idea, and it just went from there.” And more than forty women of all ages came together for the day!

Here’s another example. I recently attended the Building Dedication for the UU Fellowship of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. [See photos in the sidebar.] During the reception afterwards, I spoke with the woman who’s in charge of the Covenant Groups** in this layled congregation of 93 adult members [and growing!]. She told me they have recently started a Covenant Group for people in Tomah, WI.

“Tomah?!? But that’s fifty miles away,” I said.

Yes, they have people who drive an hour to get to church on Sunday mornings. The congregation wanted the people in Tomah to have a way of bonding with one another at times other than Sundays, so they started the group for Tomah residents. And they’re thinking of starting another for people who live in Sparta, which is between LaCrosse and Tomah. In this way they’re meeting the needs for intimacy and connection for those folks who live too far away to come to LaCrosse for evening meetings during the week.

These forward-looking congregations know that people are coming to us looking for connection with people with similar values, for enrichment of their spiritual lives, and for ways to make a positive contribution in  the world. Providing these groups is a way of giving them what they’re seeking, and it can make all the difference!

**If you want to know more about Covenant Groups [sometimes called Connection Circles or Small Group Ministry], go to www.smallgroupministry.net 

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