Tabling on Campus: #1 Strategy

As the new academic year begins, UU Campus Ministries move back into full-time action.  Successful groups must plan to do information tabling during student fairs, orientation, club day, and other opportunities.  Organizing Campus X has some tips for you on tabling, including handouts and sample scripts for talking to newcomers.

UUCM groups that do not incorporate tabling at least once each semester into their outreach not only create an "exclusive" environment lacking a personal face-to-face way to for newcomers to connect, they ultimately fail to build a critical mass of students to sustain the group year-to-year.  Groups may well survive with one or two core organizers (prophets in some respects!), but consistent tabling is the key to long-term sustainability.

I’ve talked at length with dozens of campus organizers and UU religious professionals.  All unilaterally report their success in doing tabling, success that even surprises many of them.  Most sign up between 20 and 30 students, a majority of whom are "interested" in the UUCM group but new to UU.  Some sign up close to 100 students.  The key is to maintain an announcements-only email list to keep these folks in the loop but not overwhelm them with the nitty-gritty detail emails that can drive newcomers away.

One campus coordinator told me they have about 150 people on their list, and that sustains a core of 15 participants at their weekly meetings.  It is best to limit announcement emails to once-a-week, making sure you provide all the necessary details and contact info in that one email.  Campuses with less than 2,000 students are not exempt from these numerical goals, there has been more success at small schools than large schools in America and Canada.

If you’re not sure where to go to set up a table, tell me your name, school, and I can help do some research for you.


One response to “Tabling on Campus: #1 Strategy

  1. How can we maximize the effectiveness of setting up an information table for your local UU Young Adult / Campus Ministry group?

    I just sat at the local UU Church’s table at the University of Illinois’ “Quad Day” this last week.

    What I can tell you about this effort is that we do it every year and only about 10 percent of the folks who come by the table and sign up will actually ever do anything with the local UU YA group or the local UU church.

    But, sometimes key people to build a UU YA group are contacted this way.

    The best way that I have found to contact young adults, in terms of effectiveness, is to go to the local UU church (or churches) and talk to the young adults as they leave the service.

    Most new young adults won’t go to the coffee hour since they don’t know anyone at the church and they often won’t see many other young adults at the service.

    New young adults will come along to UU Church services at a rate of only one or two per week, or per month. But, their interest in other UU young adults will be high.

    I ask them 1) if they would be interested in a UU young adult group, and if they say yes 2) how they found out about UUism.

    Question #2 will key you in on who brought who to church that day. This helps a lot. Even if a person attended alone, this question is a great ice breaker.

    Leave the service with the minister just before the end of the service. Wait far to one side of the minister as people leave the service.

    Talk to young adults as soon as they leave the service, after they get a chance to talk to the minister. Don’t wait for them to show up at the coffee hour. They will usually head straight out the door.

    Don’t be afraid to run after them down the sidewalk to give them a flyer or to ask them if they are interested in a UU Young Adult Group. 90% of the time they will be thrilled that you mentioned it.

    Also, instead of just setting up a table the same day that every other student organization sets up a table, try getting permission to set up a table at the student union or a similar place on a different day early in the semester. Your visibility will increase tremendously.

    The beginning of the fall semester through the end of October is the best time to do recruiting on college campuses. The next best time is the beginning of spring semester.

    YA groups will decline in numbers at the end of the fall semester, somewhat, and again, very sharply, at the end of the spring semester.

    I think this is mainly due to other commitments conflicting with the group, combined with the fact that folks will quickly determine if they are getting what they want out of the group.

    One of the main things that young adults want is quality time with other young adults. At first, there are lots of possibilities for new friendships and romantic relationships.

    As it becomes clear what the limits of the group are in terms of developing strong friendships and romantic relationships, attendance will drop off.

    But, one thing that I have seen is that most of the core female members of a young adult group have boyfriends outside of the group, and that most of the core males that attend are “single and looking”.

    These guys are usually getting a lot out of just being able to talk to interesting UU women even if they are not single women. So, if one woman leaves a group, many males may soon leave.

    That is a classic UU young adult group dynamic.

    When new romantic relationships form in a young adult group, the two in the couple usually leave the group. But, if two people begin to attend as a couple, they will often remain in the group as a couple.

    Unfortunately, if a couple in the group breaks up, it can be disasterous for the group as a whole. Also, guys who innappropriately pursue women in the group can drive those women away. Nip that in the bud.

    It helps to understand that young adult group dynamics depend on many things that you have absolutely no control over.
    You can always try again next year.

    But be sure to try to remember why it important to have UU young adult groups as you go through the semester, no matter what the group dynamics are.

    Of course, those reasons are different for different people, which is one of the main difficulties in forming a Young Adult group.

    Remember, it is OK for one church to have more than one young adult group to meet different needs.

    Grad students and young professionals tend to like to be involved in church services and the committees of the church. Undergrads will often skip church services all together and will often meet elsewhere.

    As stable young adult groups develop and then mature, it often is easier to form an entirely new group as a second group (usually a younger group) than it is for new young adults to work their way into the social dynamics of old friends in a long standing group.

    Well developed groups will develop a variety of types of activities: social, spiritual, programmatic, church service, etc.

    After a few years, different groups can develop to meet different needs of local UU young adults.


    Jim Sechrest

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