Publicity Guide for Unitarians
PUBLIC PROFILE - WHAT IS IT?
It is important to realise that Unitarian churches and fellowships have a public profile whether they want one or not. Our concern is that it should be positive and that it is used appropriately and to advantage.
Whoever writes letters or answers the telephone for your group helps to create an image of the congregation. If the meeting place is neat and attractive, that is good publicity. If the paint is peeling and the flower beds are unkempt, the silent communication to the passer-by is negative. The reception a visitor receives indicates whether or not the group cares. The building usage tells what the congregation thinks about its neighbours; is it a private club for members or open to many community groups? Any news coverage profoundly affects what the public thinks a congregation is trying to do. These are just a few examples of the public profile every group of people emanates, whether they are aware of it or not. The local Unitarian image is shaped by all these factors as well as many more.
Communication is one of our greatest needs. It is useful to remember that communication is about getting response. Without it we cannot be known to potential new members and we cannot survive without them. The need for a strong promotional programme that communicates to potential Unitarians has never been more imperative.
NOTICING OUR SITUATION
The Meeting Place
Whether your building dominates the town square or is in a back alley, the front of the building is always important. Money and effort spent on its appearance are worth the investment. If some members are keen gardeners, the use of their services on a regular basis will enhance the appearance. Well-maintained and well-kept property denotes to the whole community that the congregation cares about its neighbours and its image. It indicates that the people belonging there are lively and active - that they are doers.
Finding the Meeting Place
Some church buildings are themselves publicity sites. Others are obscurely sited and their very whereabouts needs to be publicised. Make sure your congregation is listed in any guide or town map that is published (fortunately, most hidden church buildings are of historical and architectural interest). See if the local authority will permit a direction sign or finger post in the nearest main street. There is likely to be a charge for the erection of such a sign but the moderate expense involved is well worthwhile. In some instances congregations have arranged for as many as three or four such signs to be sited in strategic locations. Obviously, if your meeting place is tucked away, other forms of promotion - in newspapers, public buildings, etc. - are even more essential. Local hotels, tourist information offices, halls of residence and students' unions often list congregations and service times. Be certain your group is on all these lists and that the information is accurate and easy to understand.
Telephone Directory Entries
It is well worth inserting an entry in local Telephone Directories. Make sure the word 'Unitarian' is included in the listing. If your congregation is not already listed, do this now.
BT now offer a free extra listing in The Phone Book under the heading "Churches and other Places of Worship", in addition to the usual alphabetical listing.
Your congregation might also consider advertising in the Yellow Pages or Thomson's Directory as well as the entry in the white pages. One Unitarian congregation found that a £100 advertisement aimed at wedding couples in one of these directories brought in hundreds of pounds of extra revenue through extra wedding bookings, as well as making the church better known.
The importance of attractive, informative and up-to-date outdoor notice boards should hardly need to be emphasised. Many people tend to regard a church as a private club and anything that combats this false assumption is worthwhile.
There are certain essential items of information which should appear clearly on the main notice board outside the premises in a prominent position; these are - the name of the congregation, the times of service, and the name and contact number of the minister or lay leader. Where the word "Unitarian" does not occur in the title of the building, this should be included with the chalice symbol to indicate the denominational affiliation. Indicate that inquiries to the minister about weddings and child namings are welcome . Try also to put up notices that relate to the wider community as well as to congregational functions.
Use of Premises
Most churches let their premises for financial reasons. As far as the image of the congregation is concerned, the more people who enter the premises for meetings and other events, the better. It is sometimes worth giving up a little profit to put one's premises at the disposal of societies which reflect the values of your congregation . Remember, however, that you will be associated in the public mind with any group that uses your property. A good example of how this can be turned to a congregation's advantage is the case of the two Unitarian congregations which now house 'One World Centres', where a variety of local campaigning groups and charities now hold their meetings and fairly traded goods are bought and sold.
Do not forget the area for worship in your building is part of your premises and that it is important to open it, as well as the hall, to the public. Most are suitable for concerts, meetings, exhibitions, etc. Church open days, or flower festivals, are one of the best means of bringing in visitors.
Some meeting places have fronts that are suitable for charitable collections, displays, or even sales or coffee mornings. These show that the group is open and active. It is very well worthwhile to lend your front for such purposes for selected organisations.
These are especially useful for individual events or new ventures. Printed or duplicated ones can be used when many are needed, but posters can also be done by hand. Informal (not careless) posters done with a felt or marker pen can be very effective. Shopkeepers' windows are one obvious place for them, and you might use your ingenuity for other places. Community centres and public libraries may also be willing to display them.
The Information Office produces sets of Wayside Pulpit posters for purchase based on sayings which seek to reflect the liberal religious ethos of our congregations. These sets have proved popular over many years.
Be certain to remove posters as soon as possible after the advertised event - especially those outside the meeting place for an event going on inside, which should be taken down as the event ends. Out-of-date posters create a negative impression.
Each Unitarian congregation should devise a leaflet, explaining the particular church or fellowship, to hand out to any inquirer. It is obvious that this should be attractively designed and much care should be taken so that it accurately describes your group and does not give false impressions. Some history may be included but it is more important to stress what the congregation offers today by way of worship and other activities. Quotes from members about the benefits they experience through association with the congregation can also be effective. It is sensible to ask one or two non-members to read and criticise before the leaflet is printed.
Colour and good artwork can usually be included.
Photographs and line drawings will add to the appeal of the leaflet provided they are of good quality.
Local art colleges may have students who would be happy to help with such work
In preparing a local leaflet, try to think in advance about distribution as well as production. Public libraries, community centres, tourist information centres and the like may be willing to display one or more copies.
Door to Door Flyer Distribution
For reasons of economy, it is better to use a simple but well-presented A5 size flyer for mass mailings or leaflet drops rather than your main local leaflet. If members are carrying out the distribution themselves, be prepared for some hard work. It will be necessary to leaflet hundreds, or thousands, of homes to get a response - but it can produce results. Think carefully which areas of town are most promising. A good time to leaflet drop may be at Christmas, Easter or Harvest Festival when more people are looking for somewhere that will appeal to them for a service of worship.
Flyers can be produced with a FREEPOST tear off slip for further information. This is helpful because it enables the inquirer to obtain details without having first to commit themselves to attending a service of worship. The Unitarian Information Office has a FREEPOST address and we are happy for this to be included on local flyers following consultation with the Department. District Associations may wish to arrange their own FREEPOST address with the Royal Mail, but congregations may consider this arrangement too expensive.
The newsletter is one of the most vital publicity items each congregation produces, and it is wise to look at your newsletter (hopefully, it's more than a calendar) from the angle of good publicity. For some people the newsletter may be their first introduction to the church. The newsletter, therefore, must indicate that people in the congregation care, that they welcome new people and are active. You might consider the publicity effect of your congregation's newsletter from two standpoints - content and presentation.
Events relating to the outside community and evidence of the congregation's wider interests should be given prominence. Every newsletter should pass the test of having at least one feature item of interest to people outside the congregation . If the minister writes a column (s)he can often help with this. This also helps to makes the newsletter more suitable to distribute to your local press, to other community organisations and anywhere else practicable. (N.B. Don't forget to send a regular copy to the Information Office at Essex Hall to keep us informed)
Be certain that important basic details are always included, such as the name and address of the meeting place, times of services, a list of the minister and officers -complete with their addresses and telephone numbers - and a brief, clear statement of the beliefs and values which characterise your congregation. Some newsletters use short 'interest' articles and quotations very effectively. A standard membership application form, or at least a statement about membership, is well worth including regularly . Include, of course, any forthcoming events - especially those which visitors and newcomers might be interested to attend.
Read other church newsletters as an outsider and see what content impresses you and what basic questions you are left with as a new person being introduced to a congregation. Then, perhaps, these insights might be applied to your own more familiar newsletter.
Care should be taken with the design arrangement and quality of reproduction. A blurred unappealing sheet of paper without an attractive heading will probably be thrown in the dustbin before it is ever read. It indicates that the congregation does not care.
A permanent well-designed cover (or at least heading) is always an advantage. Possibly a colour printed cover with all the vital standard information mentioned above is a good way to begin. Supplies of these can be printed ahead with just the date - maybe also a changing quotation or poem or drawing - inserted for each new issue.
Quality drawings and simple sketches or humorous cartoons add interest. Spacing for eye-appeal and readability is important. Tiny print squashed together may mean more words on a single sheet of paper, but it also probably means people will not bother to read it, even if they have good eyesight! Attractive layout is a sign of caring.
Explore the various means of reproduction available in your community. What facilities or talents for quality newsletter production do members of your congregation have at their disposal? Photocopying machines can enlarge and reduce copy for spacing and effect. Good photocopiers today can virtually match printing for quality. Top of the range duplicating machines are fairly expensive but are more economical than photocopiers for large or even medium-size runs. The number of copies required will determine which method of reproduction is most appropriate.
A good idea is to invite any visitors to sign the Visitors' Book, giving their address and postcode, with a column indicating whether they wish to be sent future issues of the newsletter. The regular receipt of the newsletter makes visitors feel valued and may encourage them to return. Visitors can be contacted after a few months, if they have not returned, to ask them if they wish to continue to receive it. If they do, it can reasonably be suggested that they might make an appropriate contribution towards production costs.
It is also very important to ensure that local newspapers and radio are included on the mailing list for the newsletter. Items likely to be of interest to journalists should be highlighted for their attention. Be careful, however. If a particular issue of the newsletter contains very negative news then copies should not be distributed to journalists.
Free publicity material is available from the Information Office, such as a variety of pamphlets on Unitarianism, welcome cards, listings of Unitarian congregations in Britain etc.
It has been established that people tend to take literature when it is packaged in pack form, rather than displayed individually. A selection of materials can be put together and labelled "Visitor's Pack. Please Take One." The Visitor's Pack should ideally include the newsletter and the local leaflet informing the stranger about the congregation's activities, in addition to publicity leaflets produced by Unitarian HQ . Transparent A4 or A5 wallets, available from good stationers, are the ideal containers as all the material inside is clearly visible. A cheaper alternative may be to use marked window envelopes.
The free literature rack should preferably be separate from the church bookstall in order that people are left in no doubt that they are invited to take free literature. No harm exists, however, in a discreet box for contributions as some people prefer to pay.
A bookstall is a a good way of interesting newcomers. People enjoy the opportunity to book browse after the service and will easily converse about some books they see on a stand - it gives them something extra to talk about.
A range of books on Unitarianism and related topics can be purchased from the Information Office. Booklists are available on request.
Public libraries will usually accept notices about cultural and other events of general interest, though they may require these to be printed. They may also be prepared to display more general flyers about the congregation. The only way to find out is to ask. Why not also ask the Librarian to place The Inquirer in the Reading Room and, if necessary, offer to provide it free?
It is highly desirable that inquirers are readily able to find out something about us from the library shelves rather than being frustrated in their search.
Given the enormous popularity of books on spirituality at present, seekers are often spoilt for literature about Buddhism, Sufism, etc. As suitable new works on Unitarianism are published, local Unitarians should consider placing order requests with their Library Service, or donate copies.
The Media offer what congregations lack - ways to put information before very large numbers of non-members. We must learn to take advantage of these excellent communication methods.
The Minister's/Lay Leader's Role
It is a key responsibility for the minister (or lay leader) to establish a good relationship with local press people. The minister must take the lead in improving communication between him or herself and the people who gather and spread news. The minister will be quoted as the leader, will represent the congregation at numerous functions worthy of note by the press, and will be the usual spokesperson for concerns of the congregation.
There are a number of ways in which the minister may be able to have direct input into local media. First, a minister may wish to contact the local newspaper offering to supply a regular column of comment. This is one of the best means of getting a Unitarian religious viewpoint over to a large audience. A number of Unitarian ministers currently provide such articles for local newspapers and they have found that this raises the profile of the local congregation significantly. Second, in some places local radio stations may have a religious comment slot, similar to Radio Four's Thought for The Day. One or two Unitarian ministers feature regularly on such slots and it is worth listening in to your local radio stations to find out whether they do something similar. Third, the minister may be best placed to write letters of comment to the editor - especially on issues with an obvious religious dimension. A minister may sensibly provide local newspapers and magazines with a good quality photograph . This may then be used if the minister features subsequently in the news or writes a letter to the editor.
Lay Press Officer's Role
It is important that there is someone whose responsibility it is to act as ''Information Officer', 'Publicity Officer', or 'Press Officer' for each congregation - someone who has, or will seek to gain, the necessary basic skills to be responsible for local promotion and publicity but who, most importantly, has the necessary enthusiasm for the post.. She or he will be glad of the help of a committee, but the establishment of such is of limited value unless there is an executive officer to direct it and to take immediate action when it is needed. If there is nobody whose responsibility it is to do the work, it will not be done. This person is responsible for working on local publicity for her/his own group, making use of ideas outlined in this Guide - especially with regard to keeping newspapers and local radio informed.
Making best use of local newspapers is a vital means of getting the Unitarian message across to the local community. There are a number of ways in which congregations can take proper advantage of local newspapers; each approach will be more, or less, appropriate according to what the congregation is seeking to achieve.
Letters to the Editor
As Unitarians we must take opportunities to respond to news items of a controversial religious nature, or those about which Unitarians might make comment on the grounds of social responsibility, or any other situation in which a reply by a Unitarian might be appropriate. It is free publicity. It is always worth writing when there is anything of general interest to be said which will draw favourable attention to the congregation, and which will emphasise the caring or liberal nature of the congregation. It would be a great boost if more grassroots Unitarians would share in the responsibility of writing letters to the editors of local and national papers, and journals, whenever a suitable opportunity arises. Ministers, publicity officers or other church officers have the advantage that they can make their letters official by using the congregation's headed notepaper. Even so, letter writing need not be just for the minister or the officers - the whole congregation can join in. Opportunities should be seized for approving and positive comments as well as criticisms. Whenever this can be done in the name of a group of Unitarians or the word "Unitarian" mentioned, it makes more people aware of our existence. If a newspaper receives one letter with a Unitarian response to an issue it may be thrown out, but if three are received, one of these may very likely be printed.
Where Unitarians have passed resolutions on particular issues at national or district level it is desirable that local letters try to reflect the spirit of these resolutions. While we cherish our diversity, Unitarians should try to speak with a coherent voice when communicating with the media. Texts and information about past GA resolutions are available from the Office of Social Responsibility at Essex Hall.
Most papers ask you to keep your letters short. It is good advice. If, however, you must spread yourself, have a look at a few back numbers and check the maximum length of the letters published. And beware - if you are too long-winded, the editor will have to cut your letter. Get your contribution in promptly.
The value of consistently appearing in the papers as being concerned, informed on issues, and a responsive group is impossible to calculate. The Information Office does plead for much more of this from our congregations. Please send copies of anything printed to Essex Hall, so that we can be aware of all the good public relations work that is happening.
Newspaper News Stories
What is news? Very simply it is an item that is timely, interesting and important. Newspapers are big business. Their job is to sell newspapers and advertising - not to provide free publicity, however worthy the cause. Study your local paper. See what kind of items they publish and the style they use, and try to write your story accordingly. Gone are the days when an editor sent a reporter to find out what was going on in the community. You must do the work.
Remember in many cases the evening paper and the weekly have different ways of treating news. Generally speaking the 'evenings' like it short and succinct; the 'weeklies' will include more detail. They will never print the summary of a sermon but a telling phrase from one may strike a responsive chord! Reports on unusual sermons or talks are possible, particularly when these chime in with very topical issues. Never give up when your contribution fails to appear. Don't be downhearted - keep on trying.
Newspapers will publish stories only if they are of interest to a wider public than the congregation itself. Many chapel events will come into this category: interfaith happenings, anniversaries, special services, well-known (national or local) speakers, presentations, new ventures, resignations and appointments of ministers, concerts, drama productions etc. It is also worth taking the trouble to think about some 'angle' that will make the story more interesting to the media.
The Media (or Press) Release
If timing is very tight, jot down the basic facts without writing it out and deliver by hand. If time and preference allow, write the story in the form of a media release, with all the crucial details included in the first paragraph. Who, What, Where, When, Why and How (5 W's and an H) are questions to ask yourself. Is all this information included at the beginning of the story? Do take note of the following 'rules' if news story writing is new to you.
1. Always type or use a word processor or computer. Start part way down the page leaving room for a headline to be inserted. Use double-spacing and wide margins (about 1.5 inches). Type on one side only of the paper. Never carry a sentence or paragraph from the foot of one page to the top of the next. Number the pages. Type 'more follows' in the bottom right-hand corner of each page and at the end of the story type 'ends'.
2. Always send original copies. If it is being sent to several outlets, photocopy or duplicate the story - never send carbons.
3. Be certain your name, address and telephone number are included as a contact for further information. Identify every page with a number. Simply state 'Further information from' and provide an out-of-office-hours number too. If you issue information to the press, you must be reachable.
4. Date the material.
5. Be brief. Use simple natural straightforward language - avoid obscure words and complex sentences. Try not to exceed two pages.
6. Use the 'inverted pyramid' style of writing (i.e. important facts in the first few paragraphs and continue in order of decreasing importance). This provides for easy cutting. Again check that the 5 W's and H are in the lead paragraph.
7. Do not draw conclusions or state opinions. That can be done in letters to the editor. News should be unbiased reporting.
8. Quotations add interest, especially when they are strong statements. Do not use bland ones.
9. Deliver the release personally if possible. Questions can then be asked and answered.
10. Be prepared to accept that your material may not get printed, or be cut drastically. Never argue about this; it is the editor's right.
Remember that events which are held on your premises could be reported. It is worth asking yourselves when you let your premises whether the event is such that you wish to be associated with it in the public mind.
A good quality interesting photograph accompanying the story may help to 'sell' it. Black and white used to be preferable, although an increasing number of local newspapers now make use of colour to some extent. Identify the picture with a caption taped to the print. When posting a photograph, always pack it with stiff cardboard or use a hard-backed envelope.
Whether or not the newspaper decides to run a full-blown article about your congregational event, they will almost always have a free listings section where it could be mentioned. Make sure that as many as possible of your significant forthcoming events are featured in the listings section.
Timing is all important. What is news today may not be news tomorrow. Get your contribution in promptly. For planned events, warn the news editor that the story is coming and give notification well ahead. This information can be posted to the media. When the event occurs, carry by hand, if at all practicable, the copy to the media. Posting may take too long.
In assessing the effectiveness of newspaper advertising for churches it is necessary to weigh up the likely benefits against the costs. One important factor is placement within the paper. A weekly advertisement in the Church Notices section may be cheap but one placed in the Entertainments section, or opposite the Letters page, is likely to be read more widely . The usual advice given is that advertising needs to be regular to be successful. A small advert once a month may be the most sensible and affordable schedule.
One option sometimes used by clubs and societies seeking to boost membership is the so-called 'advertorial' . This is a large advertisement with a photograph which looks like a regular article but has the advantage that the client has complete editorial control. It can be fairly expensive but is a good way of increasing local awareness of the church and what it stands for and, if well-written, would be likely to attract some new faces.
There are many different kinds of radio station, from national and regional broadcasting and local radio to hospital and university closed circuit radio. Most local and specialised programmes are in need of interesting material. It is important to keep them informed about interesting events and people who have something to say, and who can say things well.
Too much paper floods onto the desks of radio journalists so that not all of it even gets read! Whereas local newspapers feed off well-written press releases, with local radio it may be better to telephone first. Local radio stations exist to serve the local community. As with all local journalists, their greatest dread is having no local news to broadcast so it is worth giving them a call.
Traditionally, it has been possible to classify all broadcast local radio stations in Britain into one of two categories, BBC or Independent Local Radio (ILR) - the commercial stations. Free coverage is generally easier to obtain on BBC Local Radio, rather than ILR, because of the higher proportion of spoken word on the BBC. BBC stations operate under tighter guidelines which mean that, while awareness can be raised, direct fundraising appeals by charities are not permitted.
BBC local radio used to select interviewees purely on the grounds that they had something interesting to say. The trend now is more towards news journalism; BBC Local Radio is looking for local happenings which are newsworthy, or local people who can comment intelligently on national issues.
Radio journalists are not always good at passing ideas around the office so it is important to speak to the right person if possible. BBC Managing Editors will often be pleased to have a general chat over the phone to find out more about your local organisation and its activities. Concrete ideas for local programmes should be telephoned through to the Managing Editor, in the case of BBC stations, and to an appropriate programme journalist in the case of commercial channels. Alternatively, if you think you have a story that would justify an interview on a particular programme, you may telephone the presenter directly. Larger BBC stations may have a Social Action Editor who should be contacted about projects and initiatives with a social responsibility slant.
Many BBC radio stations have religious programmes on Sunday mornings. They may be willing to conduct an interview with the minister or, for example, with the visiting GA President - if given sufficient notice of the church visit. Get to know the presenter of the religious programme and try to find out whether or not he or she is sympathetic to liberal religion. This information should influence whom within the station you decide to direct your material to in future.
Get your news and ideas into the station in good time - not five minutes before the broadcast. Try to find out when programme planning meetings take place and phone your suggestion through to your contact before the meeting so that your idea is fresh in his or her mind.
Speaking on Radio
If you are asked to speak on radio try to find out what the interviewer is going to ask you, or at least determine the direction of the interview before recording. If you have advance notice, think about the points you want to cover, but do not over-rehearse because you will cease to sound natural. Remember that in this situation you are the important person. The interviewer wants your expertise and comments.
The 'What's On' Slot
BBC stations usually have a regular 'What's On' slot. This free service is perhaps the best way that congregations can secure regular mentions on local radio. 'What's On' is an outstanding medium for advance notice of church events - including sometimes even basic functions, like coffee mornings. Telephone a little while before the event (not on the day itself) and follow swiftly with some written details. Commercial stations often also have the equivalent of a ''What's On' slot for which there is likely to be a small charge. Remember to put your radio stations on the mailing list for your newsletter.
Worship Services on Radio
With the notable exception of Wales, the Information Office has had difficulty persuading BBC Radio to broadcast Unitarian services of worship. The Information Office encourages congregations that are interested in having one of their worship services broadcast on Radio Four, or BBC World Service, to contact their local BBC radio station, as allocation of slots for 'Sunday Worship' is done on a regional basis. It is possible that with persistence we may overcome the barriers to being broadcast in this way
A network of small-scale community radio stations is rapidly developing across the country which may provide opportunities for publicity.
The Department of Trade and Industry now grants licences for community groups to run temporary radio stations for up to four weeks in limited transmission areas. These temporary stations are particularly suitable for community projects seeking to enlist large numbers of local volunteers - such as seasonal initiatives on homelessness etc.. Other Churches are getting involved in this field. Unitarian congregations might consider participating in schemes such as these when opportunities arise. Some of these temporary stations have subsequently gained licences to become fully-fledged community stations, broadcasting all year round.
The Internet offers worldwide communication for the cost of a local phone call. People all over the world can send messages to one another through the use of e-mail. These messages are usually received in a matter of minutes.
If e-mail is the on-line equivalent of conventional post, then the World Wide Web is the equivalent of newspapers, magazines and directories all rolled together - with the added bonus of being able to link your pages to other sites around the world. To view World Wide Web pages on a computer you need a piece of software called a browser . This is normally provided free when you sign up with an the Internet Access Provider company. The browser enables you to access a page by typing in its address - http: //www.unitarian.org.uk in the case of the GA Web site. The browser displays the computer files on screen as text and images. The latest technology even allows the inclusion of sound, animation and video clips.
Publicity campaigns involve bringing into play a number of different publicity and advertising techniques over a defined period. Sometimes campaigns are unwisely viewed as a potential 'cure-all' for a struggling congregation. "If only we can afford to place a few advertisements we will get new members and this will revive our fortunes", members are heard to say. This is an understandable but simplistic assessment. Increased levels of public awareness are unlikely to translate into increased Sunday attendances, unless the congregation has first given careful thought to 1) what they are offering, 2) how it may be improved and developed and 3) how this can be presented effectively to the local community. Congregations which are serious about growth should think about seeking advice and assistance from the GA's Denominational Support Commission, or their local District Association, on local development issues, in addition to looking at publicity opportunities.
Notwithstanding, publicity campaigns can be worthwhile if arranged as part of a continuous process of raising the congregational profile within the community. Congregations considering organising a publicity campaign are strongly advised to seek advice and assistance from the GA Information Officer.
CONSIDERATION FOR THE FIRST TIME VISITOR
We ought to think carefully about the needs of first time visitors to Unitarian worship.
The appearance of the building and premises is a major factor determining the image which the congregation projects to the wider community. A well-maintained frontage and tidy premises are essential. Provide wheelchair access if possible.
Visitors will be embarrassed and discouraged if they find it difficult to find the way in. In cases where the entrance to the chapel is unclear or hidden the congregation should invest in an on-site direction sign.
Greeters (or stewards) have an important role in making attenders to worship feel welcome - handing out hymnbooks and perhaps an order of service, helping visitors find a seat, and simply being a smiling face at the door. Greeters or committee members may also sensibly be given the responsibility to pay particular attention to newcomers' needs.
Some small congregations look lost in a large building. The ideal is to provide enough seats for the regulars plus a few extra spaces for visitors. It may be worth considering removal or reduction in the number of fixed pews and replacement with chairs. This has the benefit of making the space more flexible for alternative seating arrangements (e.g. in a circle). There may be aesthetic implications in such a change and the ability to make such alterations may be greatly circumscribed in the case of Listed Buildings.
The first time visitor will be strongly influenced by his or her reactions to the minister, or worship leader. Good quality worship is one of the most important reasons why visitors return. Involving members of the congregation in worship - for example by inviting someone to light a chalice and say a few words at the beginning of the service - can help to emphasise that ours is a movement which values each person's contribution.
A vital practical concern which is too often neglected, is ensuring that everyone can hear each word that is spoken. Use of amplification may be essential for lay readers who are unaccustomed to public speaking. Availability of a loop system is often greatly appreciated by the hard of hearing and is fairly inexpensive to purchase and install.
It is highly desirable that an announcement is made during the service welcoming visitors and inviting them to stay for coffee afterwards, also indicating exactly where this takes place. The announcement should include an invitation to visitors to write their name and address in the Visitors' Book. This announcement is worth making even if there are thought to be no new faces. Visitors often arrive late and may be hidden somewhere at the back. Making such an 'upbeat' announcement can be part of raising the expectations of the congregation towards growth.
The newcomer may need help finding their way around the premises; signs indicating the toilets, vestry, church hall etc. may therefore be helpful. Toilet facilities and the room where children's church takes place need to be clean and well-maintained. Visitors often also appreciate the minister who notices them and is on hand to exchange a few words at the end of the service.
Coffee after service is a chance for members to catch up on what has been going on in one another's lives. Regulars need to be sensitive to the presence of newcomers and not ignore (or swamp!) them. It is sensible to introduce new attemders to members of similar age, backgroud or interests.
Interior Notice Boards
Notice boards should be located preferably near where coffee is served. Different types of material can be placed under separate headings for clarity; thus one section might cover congregational happenings and programmes, another could deal with denominational news, a third might feature news about members (postcards, photos), and a fourth could be miscellaneous material (petitions, local courses etc.) to act as a conversation starter.
Individual photos of committee members, or of the whole congregation, with names underneath can make a very effective display as well as helping people to remember the names of people they met recently.
The Visitors' Book
Every congregation should have a Visitors' Book. The book should be open and clearly visible in a location near the exit. A newcomer's wish to slip away quietly must be respected; few, however, will object to being asked politely if they would care to write their name and address. A column should be added so that newcomers can indicate whether they wish to be sent the chapel newsletter for a few months plus personal invitations to special events - Adult RE programmes or special worship services, such as a Flower Communion - likely to be particularly interesting to newcomers. What is clear is that without a name and address there may be no opportunity for follow up.
TRY THIS QUICK QUIZ
Here are a few questions which form a good basis for discussion by the church publicity group, management committee or even midweek discussion group. The answers should also provide a spur to action.
* Have you a committee person or other member whose job it is to deal with publicity?
* Do you send your newsletter to local newspapers and local radio?
* Has your minister, publicity officer or other church officer established personal contact with someone on the local newspaper?
* Have you tried to use your local radio (and or TV stations)?
* Can visitors find their way to your meeting place easily?
* Is it clearly indicated at the front of your building that regular services take place and that all are welcome?
* Are you proud of the front of your building - and particularly of the notice boards?
* Have you a leaflet rack or table near the door with new clean free literature well-displayed, and a clear invitation to visitors to take it?
* Do you have a bookstall? If not, would someone like to take on this interesting job?
* Does your local undertaker know about the Unitarian approach to funeral services? Your local crematorium? Do they have copies of the Funeral and Memorial Services leaflet?
* Is there an up-to-date leaflet available describing your church or fellowship and its activities.
* Can you improve the look and content of your congregation's newsletter?
* Have you any Unitarian books in your town library? Have you any modern ones? Can you get Yr Ymofynydd, The Inquirer,Faith and Freedom, or The Unitarian into the Reading Room.
* Do your local libraries, Information Centres, Citizen's Advice Bureaus etc. have a Unitarian name and telephone number for referring anyone calling and expressing an interest?
* Is a telephone number for the congregation listed at least twice in The Phone Book?
* Are there hotels, holiday camps, halls of residence or student's unions with notice boards listing church services in your area? If so, is your congregation listed and are the times of service, and the other material given, accurate?
* Finally, are new people really welcome at your worship services? Try to put yourself in the shoes of the a first time visitor and imagine the kind of reception such a person would typically receive. Does your congregation reflect the image of Unitarianism projected on your notice board, in your literature and in your advertising?