The brief theme summaries below are the YBIL team’s attempt to organize the many varied responses to the two primary questions (see executive summary) presented to the congregation in the twelve YBIL listening sessions. The YBIL team summaries address the comments that fell into nine theme areas. The themes emerged as the YBIL team read each comment and sorted them into groups of related comments, thus the main themes emerged. Each of the nine themes highlighted below received at least twenty comments, with some receiving many more. (The themes below are in the order in which they appear on the YBIL Summary handout, with the number of individual comments noted next to the theme.)
Theme: Communication (20): As a whole, the respondents focused on ways to increase and improve communication both within the church community and externally beyond our doors. This included the use of both print media and electronic media outreach and how we learn about the multiplicity of activities and events at the church.
YBIL Take away: We see communication intersecting with many of the other themes that emerged, whether it related to how to address welcoming & hospitality, volunteers, and responding to change.
Theme: Religious Education (22): Respondents emphasized the importance of RE for both children and adults and seek more integration of the children in broader church life. Religious education also included the development of both deep listening and communication/conflict resolution skills.
YBIL Take away: We understand that Rev. Dana & the Si! Committee are in the midst of an intense renewal process for the religious education program. We feel the Board should turn to them in this area, though we hope the comments are useful to their process.
Theme: Worship/Music (79): Respondents were generally very positive about the Sunday worship services and the music. With that in mind, it is important to acknowledge that our congregation reflects a wide range of perspectives about the “best” way to worship; worship elements (music, art work) that please some may not please others. A consistent comment was interest in worship “beyond Sunday” as a way for people to be involved and connected.
YBIL Take away: We encourage the ministries and committees in the church whose focus is Worship/Music to review the detailed comments for inspiration, encouragement and suggestions.
Theme: Facility (54): The overwhelming message from the respondents in this area was a desire to see our building and grounds upgraded, keeping current elements that are meaningful and improving in new
ways. Several comments focused on a need for more space for more activities, a more aesthetically pleasing sanctuary with more seating, improved kitchen and bathrooms and improved grounds, as well as more multi-use space with more natural light.
YBIL Take away: Most respondents were very aware of the need for improvements to the building and saw a connection between the aesthetics and condition of our church building to the sense of welcoming and inclusion.
Theme: Welcoming/Hospitality (87): This theme garnered the most comments from the congregation. While many comments identified ways in which the church is currently welcoming, there were also many insightful comments about ways in which we need to think deeply about behaviors and attitudes that may in fact be perceived as unwelcoming. Several comments noted the lack of racial and age diversity, and an assumption of political conformity and religious homogeneity (non-theistic). And our church can be hard to “get” how people find the way in to the many and multiple activities that we insiders know are out there.
YBIL Take away: The process of welcoming involves both the structure of how we do hospitality (door greeters, name tags, connections during fellowship, small groups, large groups, etc.) but also our internal expectations as to who can be a UU. As a congregation we need to examine our deeper expectations and wrestle with those in an intentional way.
Theme: Responding to change (47): This was an area where the comments were harder to summarize. There was both ambivalence to the idea of change or growth and a desire to retain our “liberal voice in the community,” maintaining covenant, and “preserving UU philosophical emphasis and historical legacy.”
YBIL Take away: As we grow and address many of the themes already noted in this summary, the Board and church leadership will need to develop strategies to help the congregation through periods of rapid change. We did some of this work several years ago with presentations on the emotional components of change over time. This should be considered again.
Theme: Small Groups (28): Comments about Small Groups were very positive and reflected a desire to see more of them and in slightly different configurations. They are viewed as a way to encourage safe environments and authenticity. There was also a perspective that small groups have a tendency to become functionally “closed;” renewal is necessary to assure integration of new people into the church.
YBIL Take away: We should encourage this model in multiple ways.
Theme: Volunteers (24): There is a clear recognition of the need for volunteers. Suggestions include a consistent, permanent place for volunteer sign-up, matching task to the right person, clear explanation of time commitment, starting with simple tasks for volunteers before they graduate to a big task, and the direct “ask” can be effective. Volunteer recognition is important, not just annually.
YBIL Take away: We encourage staff to consider a framework for volunteers described in “Teams for Ministry,” page 57 of Governance and Ministry by Dan Hotchkiss. The relationship between effective communication, volunteering opportunities, and integration into the community cannot be overstated.
Theme: Affinity Groups/Connection (57): Respondents were broadly enthusiastic about the many interest groups that are available. This theme overlaps with the small group comments in some ways. Affinity groups were viewed as a good way for new people to become connected, and there were several suggestions about ways to expand to new interest areas. Barriers included large group size, binary gender-based groups, how to engage newer members, and the inherent difficulty of integrating into an established group.
YBIL Take away: The multiple interest groups that exist within the church can provide connection and contribute to the lively and active “vibe” that newcomers often feel. And, unless there is a clearly understood way for people to become involved, the same dynamic can leave people on the outside of the circle.