Words like 'outreach' and 'evangelism' can be taboo words in the progressive Christian world (and for good reason!) We don't want to be seen to be manipulative or coercive, so we can feel a bit wary or unsure of how to go about attracting new people to our SCM groups. As part of this year's Resource training we asked three SCM groups how they go about attracting and engaging new members - here's what they had to say!
Engage with other groups
"We have tried lots of ways to engage new members of SCM over the years. We have a stand at the freshers fair where we proudly show the pride flag to let people know we are an inclusive society and spark conversations about Christianity! We engage in interfaith week and try to promote via Instagram and Facebook to get the word out. We have done takeovers of promotional spaces on campus and gone to interfaith meetings with other societies to raise awareness of what SCM does. This year we have started running socials to help build community within our group and have been bowling, ice skating and out for dessert! This weekend we are running a trip to Chichester Cathedral to go to evensong, have a talk from the chaplain and explore the city. This is something we are hoping to replicate on a larger scale to other cathedrals next year as a Give it a Go event affiliated with the University. Most of our new members have come through word of mouth, and through liaising with the University Chaplaincy for help with running sessions. We have really enjoyed welcoming new people and at the start of each session are sure to go around and introduce everyone as well as have some icebreakers!"
- Katy Llewellyn, SCM Southampton
Flexibility and a clear identity
"When we started holding on-site meetings again last year, most of our exec team had joined the society during the pandemic, and had only ever experienced Zoom meetings. So to start with, we focused on figuring out how things had been done in the past, and learning as we went along. But since we’ve settled into things more over the past year, we’ve begun exploring what doesn’t work so well for us anymore, and what changes might be beneficial. Most of these changes have been to do with raising our society’s visibility, and making sure our meetings are easy to get to both for our existing members and for people we know of who are interested in coming along.
Flexibility has been the key to our outreach to new members over the past year. We meet on Sundays, so we changed what time we met so that it didn’t clash with any church services around Durham, and so that it’s light when people are going to and from meetings. A big change we’ve just undertaken is changing our name, from Joint Anglican and Methodist Society (JAM) to Inclusive Christian Movement Durham (ICMD). We’re very attached to the old name, but it just didn’t reflect our purpose as an inclusive Christian society (and our members aren’t all Anglicans or Methodists!). We’re hoping that our new name is going to serve us well particularly as we look forward to the new academic year, and make sure everyone who comes across us knows what we’re about!"
- Jem Parker, Inclusive Christian Movement Durham
"It has only been in recent years, after overcoming some previous challenges, that SCMExe has been guild-recognised as an official student society and that has been a particular aspect which has been both intrinsic to what we see as our successes but also the perpetrator to a lot of the new challenges we’ve been facing. For one, our outreach will never be as large or polished as any of the bigger Faith Societies as we don’t have the resources or large committees to accommodate this. Because of this, most of the time our social media posts or announcements for the weeks' sessions are made sparingly, with committee members either hunched over the phone, finding a loosely themed picture of a biblical scene to “meme-ify” (check it out at @scmexeter!) or nervously speaking in a Sunday service about the half planned-session! But what comes from this, which I think is part of the charm of our group and what we’re most proud of, is the other contents of this blog- a genuine friendly engagement with those who attend.
Most of the time, our members aren’t looking for a corporate-looking poster of a prayer night, or a packed out stadium for a carol service with lots (but not all) having negative experiences with these “sale” centred Christian Faith groups. And so, we’d hope, from our rather… let’s say… creative turn on outreach (we have a TikTok too!) our attendees would find the image of group members superimposed on a technicolour Donny Osmond or an SCM Nativity, or a safe space to talk about gender identity and expression, or colonialism, or sign language and disability, or how we make community, how we understand faith and the senses, alternative readings of the Bible, Faith around the world, presentations of Jesus in art, or even just kicking back and sharing pizza and a chat to know that there is no pretence here, just genuine friends with no ulterior motives or messages. We are an SCM family, where we know we will have a laugh, support one another and share the ups and downs of faith and life- together in one room, every Wednesday at 7."
- Vic Wiess, SCM Exeter