What if 100 New People Walked Into Our Sanctuary Sunday?

What if we suddenly got an influx of visitors to Live Oak, people curious to see what this liberal religious community was all about? This is a question I sometimes ponder, but especially this week. See, our musically gifted accompanist, Darja, skillfully wove a piece of music that is currently trending on the popular app TikTok into our prelude last Sunday. It is an “inside joke” that I suspected TikTokers would love, so I put some video of it on the platform.  

In one day, that video got over 55,000 views!

What was exciting for me were the comments. People who immediately recognized ours as a UU church, and people who didn’t know about UU, posting things like:

  • Where is this church? I’d like to join.
  • I would go to this church.
  • Hey, I’d go here and I’m strictly no church.
  • Now this is a church I wouldn’t mind attending.
  • We are all joining this church now.
  • As soon as I saw “the Lilith Fund” I was like hell yah a Texas UU church.
  • The only kind of church I’d go to.
  • Never heard of a UU church! I’m intrigued, and just found one down the road from me. Said I wouldn’t go back to church, but I have to see what this is.
  • Oh that’s great. I’d go to that church at least once.
  • Welp. Now I want to go to your church.

One person wrote: “Hi new here. What’s a UU?”
Another person responded to them: “Unitarian Universalist! Some of the kindest and open-minded people I have met are UU.”

It’s exciting … but also a little concerning. What will these people find if they do go to their local UU Church?

I got a serious lesson about this in 2005.

In Houston, the UUA did an ad campaign called “The Uncommon Denomination.” Billboards around town, a giant insert in the newspaper, flyers and mailers, etc. There was an article written right after it happened for the UU World.

The Houston UU churches got a lot of new visitors. But we didn’t know what to do with them. I remember that there were materials about hospitality. I’ve searched for some followup analysis, but found none. Anecdotally, I can tell you that there was no significant lasting impact. But I can’t tell you why with any specificity.

Live Oak, you voted in May that yes, you want to grow. This is one significant difference between us and the Houston churches. I don’t believe anyone asked Houston UUs if we actually wanted growth. And what were we willing to sacrifice for it?

Here are some simple things that each of us need to “sacrifice” in order to make our guests feel welcomed in:

A little time – don’t rush off. Take the time to talk to people you don’t know well.

Our fears of feeling awkward – look, if we want to grow, we need to go over and say, “Hi, have we met?” even when we feel shy, embarrassed, and worried that the other person will pull down their mask and say, “George, you’ve known me for 15 years.”

The comfort of familiarity – we naturally gravitate to the people we already know, who know us. But I remember that at the start of the pandemic, one of the things people loved the most was getting put into random “zoom rooms” with people who they might not know that much about. We vowed to keep that up when we were in person. So let’s do that!

I firmly believe that your vote to grow was based in love. You found a loving community here, one that has made a difference in your life. And you want to share it with others. You know there are other people in our area whose lives would be even happier and more fulfilling if they became a part of this community.

I don’t expect 100 new people to show up this Sunday – TikTok is national, not just local.

But what if they did …

p.s. Want to know more about the inside joke with the corn song? Here you go. It’s delightful.