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Finally, A Church that Makes Sense – Community Perceptions of First Church

“Finally, a church that makes sense.”

This summer, as your Interim Communications Coordinator, I’ve run a promoted ad on Facebook using that message, along with the question: “Might our church be a good choice for you, too?” The ad included a “Learn More” button.

Here’s one of the two ads:

First Church FB ad version 1, Summer 2018

WHY I CHOSE THIS AD MESSAGE

This message has a bunch of outstanding positive factors. At a First Church membership dinner a year or two ago, a speaker highlighted that phrase, which was offered by a visitor: “Finally, a church that makes sense.”

It was a great comment that everyone seemed to like. I immediately thought how perfect that would be as a tagline for a summer church-shopping social-media campaign. (Summer is a traditional time for people to visit churches, to “shop around.”)

The phrase has a couple of great elements:

  • It’s easy to remember.
  • It was offered by an actual visitor. We’re not making it up as a wishful adverting slogan; it’s from a real customer’s point-of-view — First Church instantly made sense to them as a newcomer.
  • It distinguishes us from other churches  — those more inclined to promote a group belief/dogma, rather than making sense to the individual.
  • It’s a bit surprising & thought-provoking.
  • It sets up a further conversation: What do you mean? How so? Tell me more . . .

“Making sense” can incorporate the spiritual side as well as the rational side. It just points to the thoughtfulness and deep inclusiveness of the church’s approach, that allows everyone to find their own sense of meaning.

AD RESULTS

The results were very good in drawing people to our website. At the same time, some comments (on the ad on Facebook) revealed perceptions of Unitarian Universalism in the Milwaukee area that should cause us to wonder if we are communicating well who we are and what we stand for.

First, the good results: I ran two similar versions of the ad, with the same message. One showed the exterior of the church, the other showed the sanctuary filled with people. Both ads drew about the same response. The totals: 17,000 people saw one of the ads at least once; there were 35,500 total views, so some people saw it more than once. The ads were intended for Friends and for Friends of Friends; we were reaching out to people who have some connection with friends of the church. We paid only for actual clicks on the ad that went to a landing page on our website; we had 743 clicks, at a cost of $.38 per click ($283 spent in total).

The landing page: https://uumilwaukee.org/welcome-summer-2018 .  It in turn highlighted link options to go on to 3 destination pages: Sunday Services, Religious Education, and Groups Directory (for ways to get involved). Click-throughs were roughly split equally among those 3 pages and our home page. So more than 700 people did indeed check us out. I don’t expect instant membership increases! But those are very good results for under $300.

IMPORTANT Feedback & Conversations

Now, for the interesting feedback. Besides a few predictable comments about us being sinners if we don’t accept Jesus as our personal savior, or that sort of message that fundamentalists might want to tell us (for our own good, I assume!), we also got some comments that might be instructive as to how some folks see our denomination.

In particular, note the sense of a) we don’t believe in anything, our philosophy is “whatever,” b) we’re confused, c) we don’t have any good holidays or much fun.

  • Unitarians don’t talk about God.”
  • “Unitarians don’t really believe in anything. It’s basically religion without any rules, which is the very reason they accept not only everyone who walks through their doors but, the person’s sins as well. In a Unitarian church, repentance is optional.”
  • “Unitarians have the shortest and easiest of all doctrinal statements: ‘Whatever.’ “
  • “Making sense … what exactly do you mean by that? I’ve come to the conclusion that UUs are as confused as the established/orthodox religious groups are.”
  • I grew up Unitarian. They’re totally free of irrational or misanthropic dogmas, bizarre trappings, or ritual obligations, but they don’t have any fun holidays of their own. Or culinary traditions.”

Some good replies from friends and from our members:

  • Google Unitarian Unitarianism. We have rich history and core values.
  • Come visit sometime and find out. You are welcome here.
  • I’ve heard so much that is good about the Unitarian Church and their values.
  • I have several friends who were or are members there; Church seems to have a great spirit.
  • “While we do have guiding principles – one definition of doctrine – we have neither creed nor dogma. I think ‘whatever’ is an oversimplification with hint of disrespect.”
  • Here is my spiritual home and I love it!”

I posted some longer replies, either as myself or a few times as our FB page administrator. I wanted to present more detailed rebuttals to misconceptions, and wanted to try out ways to communicate who we are without antagonizing or getting into arguments.

  • “I grew up Unitarian, and happen to believe in God in a sense, the caveat being that I also figure that God is a lot more complicated than a mere mortal will ever really understand. I don’t assume that God looks like any of us. And don’t rely on the Bible as any sort of dogma. I did absorb the Christian tenet of kindness and tolerance, and agree with the Universalist part that says there are many paths to heaven or righteousness. So a big thing to think about if you’re considering whether Unitarian Universalism is right for you is whether you’re okay with being very inclusive, listening a lot and accepting others who may see things differently, and not being dogmatic. But individually, we still believe in things, and take responsibility for that very personally. So it’s not a ‘whatever’ thing but rather a thoughtful, questioning approach. Not everyone’s cup of tea!”
  • Unitarian Universalists aren’t typically “confused” but we do ask a lot of questions to get to what we believe! It’s an inquiring denomination. We prefer not to start with being told what to believe by others but instead develop our own creed statements or an internal sense of what we believe. It’s certainly not an easy way to know what to believe! And it’s definitely not for everybody. But UUs are in good company, including people who believed in something strongly (not “whatever”), like John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence to Susan B. Anthony to Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. You might say that UUs have a greater interest in moral values over religious dogma, a respect for reason, a tradition of accepting of religious diversity as a strength, and other values and beliefs that work well for us! (At least I can say personally I was raised Unitarian, and it’s worked well for me.)”
  • Re: the comments about Unitarians not having fun holidays of their own, I’m not sure what that refers to. You might want to check out our candlelit Christmas Eve service for a beautiful event. Folks might also be interested to know that early Unitarians had a significant influence on how Christmas came to be celebrated in America. http://www.uucwc.org/unitarians-influence-americans/ .”
  • “You’re correct, Unitarians didn’t come up with Christmas. I guess you could say that about, say, Lutherans, in the historical progression. But we do celebrate it, and always have at First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee. And treasure it. But most UUs have a view of Christmas as a time to celebrate concepts of peace and unity across the world, and are far less likely to push the divine birth story as fact. Anyhow, we’re just a certain type of choice for people looking for a church in the Milwaukee area, a better fit for some and less so for others. And have been so for more than 175 years in Milwaukee.”

Any take-away? Let’s consider whether we want to do some more community outreach to correct misconceptions that exist in some portion of the public that UUs are lacking in belief, are confused, believe in whatever, don’t celebrate holidays like Christmas, are cheerless, and because of this we might not be a good place to come to worship, to be together in fellowship, to raise a family.

You all know better! Let’s find ways to communicate that to the surrounding community. Then, others can make choices for their personal church based on good knowledge, not on false impressions.

– Philip Martin
Interim Communications Coordinator
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee

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