helps small congregation build community

Guest post written by Rev. Amanda Aikman, consulting minister at Skagit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Mount Vernon, WA. Her congregation’s Meetup Group can be found at

When considering an online solution to communicating with the members of our UU fellowship, we decided to use

Our congregation is small (sixty-five members), semi-rural, and far-flung. We wanted to create more community-building activities, classes, etc., both at the church and in the communities where members live. But it is hard to get people together for anything besides Sunday morning activities. Also, we wanted to empower all members to suggest and initiate activities without having to wait for leadership to come up with them! Another factor was the digital divide; many older members were not active online.

Many people recommended Facebook to us, but we wanted to explore other solutions that would help us with community-building and that would not require a lot of maintenance. (We do expect to add Facebook at some point.)

Meetup has turned out to be a very good solution for us.

Because Meetup is designed specifically to get people together in person, there is a minimum of chat and a maximum of planning.

It is extremely easy for any person designated as a Meetup “Assistant Organizer” to announce an activity and get a reading of how many people are interested and likely to attend. I have made every Meetup member who is also a member or friend of the congregation an Assistant Organizer. Activities can be planned far in the future or on the spur of the moment.

The Organizer has total gatekeeping power. In our case, the organizer is the minister (me), but this job could be shared between several people. We decided to set up our Meetup group so that anyone from the public can see what’s going on, but only people who are known can join the group.

Because Meetup is geared toward improving the quality of events, attendees can rate the events afterwards, make comments and suggestions, and post photos.

Because Meetup has no ads, our Meetup Group costs $15 a month. This has been well worth it for us.

It’s easy for members to set their email preferences and the like.

It was extremely easy to set our Group up and it looks quite nice.

A small but real bonus is outreach. If someone is looking at Meetup for activities in their neighborhood, or looking for Unitarians, they will easily find our church. To try it out, browse to “” and enter “Mount Vernon, WA” and “Unitarian.” Or just browse Meetup Groups near Mount Vernon. You will find Skagit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

There are some potential disadvantages to using Meetup:

1.  Cost.

2. The fact that the recent redesign by Meetup took away several desirable features, most notably a format that showed the discussions in a column beside the Meetup announcements. (Grrrr.)

3. The fact that it takes some cheerleading and education to get people to join.

We now have a critical mass (a little over half of our church membership is on Meetup). Activities generated via Meetup are then put on the church calendar, announced on Sundays and in the newsletter, etc., so that everyone – whether they are internet-savvy or not – benefits from the Meetup activities.

I would be more than happy to discuss or explain Meetup to anyone who is interested.  It has been a real boon to our congregation – almost like having an extra staff person!