Tips for Your First General Assembly

With over 50 UU Growth Lab members attending GA this year, many for the first time, we’ve been actively sharing tips with each other. The following is the compiled list as of May 15, 2011.  This list is being maintained by the “UU Growth Lab at GA” group on Facebook.  This public version will be updated periodically.

Tips for Your First General Assembly

Before you go:

  • If you’re not flying, bring a water bottle – keep yourself hydrated. If you’re flying, you’ll probably be able to buy a reusable bottle in the Exhibit Hall.
  • If you’re representing your congregation and they have a budget, you might be able to get some good discounts on curricula, books, and marketing materials (banners, postcards, etc.) but remember you’ll have to have a way to get them back.
  • If you are a delegate, READ the stuff before you come.  You are deciding our future. Available here:
  • Bring business or personal cards so that you can give your information to others.
  • Be sure that someone from your congregation is bringing the banner.
  • Download & review the Program Guide ahead of time:
  • Plan out what workshops you want to go to, but don’t be wedded to the idea.  Pick a few you certainly want to go to, but be open because you’ll change your mind at least once while there.
  • Pick a 2nd workshop for timeslots. You may find that when you arrive at your first choice it’s not what you expected and it will be good to know exactly where to go to find your 2nd choice. (Also, at some GAs, the rooms were too small and you could find yourself unable to attend your 1st choice because it was full.)
  • Pack comfy shoes.
  • If you’re asked to carry your congregations banner, figure out how the poles/carrying PVC pipes go together before hand.  I still think my congregation was hazing me last year…
  • Last year I had a binder where on the back cover I had a map of the area in the plastic cover thing, the front with my delegate card and other really important info, and inside my travel info, the program book, the business resolutions, etc.  It really helped me stay organized throughout.  Put in paper to take notes on, bring pens, etc.  I had that with me in my laptop bag and it was great.
  • Talk to people in your congregation to find out about resources you can scout out and bring home and questions they might have, especially if your congregation has a very limited budget and will be under-represented by delegates. It is even nicer when you reach out to area congregations if your cluster is composed of smaller, less financially able congregations, and see how you can help.
  • If you can’t walk more than a mile easily, you will want to rent a scooter through GA Accessibility Services. If you often use hearing assistive devices in crowded settings, you will want to use GA Accessibility Services. Better to reserve equipment you turn out not to need than arrive & be blocked from participating because no extra equipment is available.
  • Register as an attendee on the mobile site. It will help people connect with you later:
  • Save the mobile guide website onto your mobile phone.
  • If you have special dietary requirements, scout out the food vendors before departure and plan well ahead. Make reservations at places that will accept them. Pack extra food if you have really specific needs. It isn’t uncommon to have to wait at GA area restaurants for a long time, or to have relatively few places that can accommodate vegans, folk who need to eat gluten-free, or even offer acceptable fast alternatives for diabetics.
  • Plan a check-in breakfast/lunch/dinner with some people you know at some point.  Even if you’re the independent/introverted type, GA is really kinda overwhelming in the sheer mass of people and having a drink with some familiar faces can be really nice.
  • If you are the only one you know going to GA, start making friends with people in [the UU Growth Lab at GA]
  • If you really want to hang out with your former minister that you haven’t seen in ten years, email them now and ask them to breakfast.  They will either say “yes” or “I’d love to talk to you for a minute at some point, but my schedule is totally booked.”  If you wait until GA to ask, the answer will almost certainly be the second one.  Ministers are really freaking busy during GA.  I’ve found that breakfast is the meal they are most likely to be free.
  • Prepare your elevator speech about what Unitarian Universalism is and why you are one. Folks ask questions; be prepared to answer.

While you’re there:

  • You don’t have to go to everything.  And that’s ok.  I ended up skipping things last year, including the Ware Lecture, because I needed a breather.  And dinner.  Besides it will be online.
  • You do still need to eat.  You’ll need to schedule that in.
  • Attend the orientations, from GA for First Timers to your regional/district ones.  They help.
  • If you’re on a budget, check out the map for what part of the Exhibit Hall you need to avoid
  • Avoid picking up paper – use digital notes whenever possible (they’re tending toward less paper now any way)
  • Say “hi” to people & don’t be shy to tell them that you’re a first timer.
  • Whatever you do, go to the Service of the Living Tradition on Thursday night & the Sunday morning service.
  • Having a meal with other UUs from across the country can sometimes be more valuable than going to a workshop
  • I was told this by my congregation and it really made a difference for me.  During a plenary, if you aren’t sure what you’re about to vote on, don’t hesitate to ask for a point of clarification from the procedure microphone.  Because if you don’t know what you’re voting on, at least 100 other people there don’t know either.
  • There’s this GA tradition that I don’t fully get – getting as many possible ribbons from booths to hang from the bottom of your nametags.  When you check in, at least last year, you even got some “coupons” to take to certain booths to get certain ribbons.  I just followed the crowd on that one.
  • Wear comfy shoes.
  • If you love to sing, GA Choir is your cup of tea. Rarely do we belong to congregations that can boast so many great voices or musicians.
  • GA volunteers are often wearing specific shirts or pinnies that identify them easily. They’re there to help you. GA is really possible because of the kindness and support our volunteers give.
  • There is a Right Relations Team and there are on-call chaplains. If you are in need of emotional or spiritual assistance, grab any shirted GA volunteer and ask them to help you be connected with either the Right Relations Team or the chaplains.
  • You are an ambassador of our faith. Many people in and around the convention center and downtown area will be meeting their first Unitarian Universalists. This is another chance to make a good impression, invite folks to check us out, and show what great community members we can be. Pick up trash. Be kind. Be generous. You are not a tourist. You are not a business conventioneer. You are an ambassador of and for our faith

This week’s blog challenge “Making congregations welcoming to Young Adults”

This week our public blog challenge asks “How to create a congregational attitude that welcomes young adults even if there are no young adults already in the congregation?”

The Rev. Naomi King has started blogging on the topic and shares some of our initial responses: Answering the Call for Young Adults & Congregations.

Whether you’re in the lab or not, we encourage you to think about this question, discuss with others, and share your thoughts.

The UU Growth Lab on “Why congregations need to grow”

Thinking with Arrows (C) iStockphotoIn the lab a member raised the question, “Why do congregations need to grow? Why is growth and outreach necessary?”   We posed this as our first weekly public blog post challenge.  Here’s how it works.  We post the question and members share thoughts for inclusion in this public blog post.  By default comments are only attributed to “lab member” though members are invited to opt-in to include names.  The following responses are listed in order of submission.

Why do congregations need to grow?  Why is growth and outreach necessary?

Numerical growth is an indicator of our impact on people’s lives and our communities. The more meaningful and relevant our ministry, the more deeper our engagement, the greater the trend toward growth.  Our work and ministry is about people and lives changed, the numbers are a great indicator of whether that work and ministry is making a difference.  — Peter Bowden

Growth also invites us into being bolder and better community partners, learn to live better with and love sacrificing for that greater mission, and grows our own hearts in surprising ways. — Rev. Naomi King

Growth, by the name alone, means an introduction of new ideas, new ways of thinking, and the ability to do as a larger group what individuals or smaller groups are unable to accomplish. — Lab Member

We need more people to change the world. We have such great ideas for justice, but we’re just a blip on the RADAR. If we have more people to stand with us in our message, the bigger the impact we’ll have. It’s also our moral duty – we found a home here, why shouldn’t we let other find their homes with us too? — Tim Atkins, Atlanta

I serve one of the seven remaining congregations founded as Universalist in Pennsylvania – out of over 75. We are the only one remaining in the entire southwestern quadrant of the state. We serve a large rural area of largely lower income…, slightly conservative, folk with less than average higher education and limited employment opportunities. We have 20 or so dedicated friends and members and are currently eating what little endowment is left to survive. We MUST grow…or die. And, we MUST NOT let these churches die. I believe we have a spiritual duty to reach out to people, now more than ever, searching for a religious home and the saving message – particularly the loving and hopeful Universalist component of that message – we can offer. The internet is IMO our only hope for low cost and effective outreach. — Jeff Liebmann, Consulting Minister, UU Congregation of Smithton PA

We must be willing to take a risk, and have the courage to shape the world with ‘our’ vision, or it will be shaped by other’s visions. — Lab Member

To be a visible part of the larger community (by having a building that is a community center, is easy to find, housing a congegation large enough to be known for their good work). So many times I have heard things like “I’ve lived around here for 20 years and I didn’t know this church was here” or “I wish I would have known about you sooner.” — Lab Member

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in “Toward the Future” p. 126 says in a chapter entitled “Reflections on Happiness”, “become conscious of our living solidarity with one great Thing, and then do the smallest thing in a great way. We must add one… stitch, no matter how small it be, to the magnificent tapestry of life; we must discern the Immense which is building up and whose magnetic pull is exerted at the very heart of our own humblest activities and at their term; we must discern it and cling to it – when all is said and done, that is the great secret of happiness. As one of the most acute, and most materialist thinkers of modern England, Bertrand Russell, has put it: it is in a deep and instinctive union with the whole current of life that the greatest of all joys is to be found.” — Lab Member

What form growth takes is always to be discovered, but if growing means contributing to the great unfolding mystery, grow we must. — Lab Member

Why grow? Because people lead happier and healthier lives in happier and more just communities when they orient themselves toward the values of liberal religion — honesty, humility, community, reverence, service, openness. — Lab Member

We can be a model of the world we dream about. We can be an influence to the larger community & world. Change is inevitable – our individual lives & our society – we have to grow & change just to keep up, but we can do so much more. — Lab Member

Because we want to share the joy we’ve discovered in religious community. Because we remember how it felt to be without religious community. Because research shows that more and more people do not have a spiritual home, and that breaks our hearts. Because we know that religious community empowers us to “be the change,” and we want to share that power source with others.  –Heather Christensen

I would contend that growth via net increases in numbers is as important as growth via ever-deepening fulfillment of our own beliefs. 500,000 UUs is a nice number. 500,000 enthusiastic UUs with the “Fire of Commitment” is downright awesome. — Lab Member

I think I failed to answer the question, though. Why grow? Our principles create value in our lives. My congregation’s mission of “Seeking Truth, Building Just Communities, and Caring for One Another” creates spiritual, moral, ethical, a…nd personal value for me. The more we interact with those that fulfill our principles and missions, there are multiplier effects to making ourselves and the world a place and a life worth living. The world can be a cruel, unjust place, and we’ve asked for 10,000 years “What is the meaning of life?” The Association, the congregations, the principles, the sources, the strategies toward action, the people, their beliefs, the common wealth we create through principled faith, reason, action, hope, and love – it’s too valuable. It’s downright priceless. — Lab Member

My knee-jerk reaction to the question is a gut-wrenching “in order to survive,” but I realize that’s negative thinking. So I tell myself instead “in order to share with others our spiritual community and our liberal religion.” — Lab Member

Why must we survive? To combat the rise of Fundamentalism. To bless the lives of those rejected by society. To teach liberal religious sunday school. To fight for justice. To give an Atheist his/her last rights on their death bed. To challenge theistic doctrines. To raise funds for non profits. To preach the love of God. To challenge the exsistence of God. To give a safe haven to heretics. To show that love, above all else is what matters in life. WE HAVE TO SURVIVE!  — Lab Member

[one of the comments above] is more tapping into my gut response: which is to truly change the world around us today might mean growing smaller but more committed, especially in the foreseeable future; good chapter by this name, growing smaller to change the world, in Shane Claiborne’s first book The Irresistible Revolution. — Lab Member

What wonderful and diverse comments! We must grow (not only in numbers but in our ability to nurture deep meaning in people’s lives) because the world needs what Unitarian Universalism offers- a voice for peace and justice, for diversity, for the inherent worth and dignity of all, and for the importance of being planetary stewards. — Lab Member

I actually think the more we keep talking about growth in terms of number of members, amounts of money, and numbers of programs, we are doomed to close the doors on lots of our congregations and eventually the association as a whole. I agree with Ron. We need to talk about how many people are churches are serving, not how many people are in our church services. When each congregation can go out in its community and As “X UU Church is known as the Church that_____” and get resounding answer from 8 out of 10 people at random to the tune of “They are the people that (pick one or create your own: feed the homeless, work for immigration, save the environment, stop hydrofracking,)” then we won’t have to worry about growth. — Lab Member

We don’t want to grow, per se. We want to help people touch the holy in themselves, in a community of support and outreach. When people see how that has changed us, and how we change the world around us, many will want to join us. Growth comes from our own depth, authenticity and outreach. So, I want to grow because it will mean we have succeeded in those things. — Vance Bass

Why do congregations need to grow?
Share your thoughts in this post’s comments or
join us in The UU Growth Lab on Facebook

UU Growth Lab in the Blogosphere

UU Growth Lab inspired posts have started appearing.  Here’s the first batch as collected by the amazing site,, plus a few shared in the lab.

Answering the Call for Young Adults & Congregations
The UU Growth Lab on Facebook this week has been buzzing about shifting congregations where there are few or no young adults to ones that are vibrant multigenerational communities with many young a…
Posted on City of Refuge (Site / Info) on Wednesday March 23, 2011
Metaphors matter
Human beings need images to think about complex things. We need to simplify and compare and picture in order to hold a multifaceted concept and we need such images even more if we are to successful…
Posted on Throw yourself like seed (Site / Info) on Thursday March 17, 2011
A Metaphor for Unitarian Universalism?
Yesterday in the UU Growth Lab we started discussing metaphors for Unitarian Universalism and our congregations.  My favorite so far is “a base camp for life’s expedition” shared by Rev. Andrew Pak…
Posted on The UU Growth Blog (Site / Info) on Thursday March 17, 2011


Change agent, know thyself
About ten days ago, Peter Bowden of the UU Growth Blog created a Facebook Group called the UU Growth Lab.  It’s an understatement to say that the group has grown rapidly:  today there are 279 members, and several spin-off groups. Connecting with that many people passionate about the growth of Unitarian Universalism has been incredibly energizing.
Why I do the social media for our congregation
So I do the social media for our congregation.  I don’t do anything with the website, but I do our facebook page and our twitter and just started up a congregational tumblr account.  I’ve been trying to keep our facebook page active throughout this year.

Playing with logos

In the lab we’ve been playing around with logos.  This was sparked by a suggestion that we make buttons for General Assembly.  The following are a few logos created by Molly Martin.