I finally got round to checking out the local Humanist group yesterday (Sunday). It was an interesting experience. This is only a short write-up as I'm on lunchbreak at the moment and don't have much time left.
For those who haven't come across it before, humanism is an atheistic/agnostic belief system. I haven't come across any humanist credos that I can recall, but their party line could be summed up as "morality without credulity". In the UK, this belief system is represented by the British Humanist Association, with whom the Berkshire Humanists (who I visited) are very loosely affiliated.
On the good side, the group was lovely - very friendly and considerate. The topic of conversation was interesting to me: we discussed the pagan origins of Christmas traditions (short version: if a Christian ever says Christmas is being co-opted as a secular holiday, feel free to laugh loudly). And they cheerfully encouraged me to chair the meeting, which I enjoyed to a quite unhealthy degree. Also, homemade mince pies.
There were a few bad points. Most obvious was that the average age was roughly 60. This wasn't a problem for me - I like talking to elderly people - but it would put off most people my age. Secondly, the group isn't really big enough to be strongly self-sustaining - only 12 attendees. You may have noticed that in most churches the management committee is a small cabal that quietly deals with all the admin? Well, in this group the committee is everyone, so a big chunk of the meeting was taken up with discussion of these rather tedious administrative issues.
Or, alternatively, the management committee was one person, a guy called David who seems to do most of the admin tasks singlehandedly. A very dedicated individual. However, he was also the single biggest problem I had as chairperson: he insisted on going into excessive detail on the committees he was involved with and the tasks he was undertaking. Completely overran the time limit, and he was so clearly pouring his heart and soul into it that it was hard to ask him to cut short.
If I were to continue going to this, I would feel a very strong urge to start to make changes. The group clearly has momentum - it's been going for decades - but it could use a friendly shakeup. Key points would be:
1) Get all David's information on committees, websites, etc into a structured format. The guy deserves to have his say, but in the meeting it would be far more effective to just reel off a list of headlines and ask that people review a handout for further info.
2) Make a clear break between the management/admin team and the ordinary members. Work on the principle that the members probably would prefer as little dry information as possible, with the caveats that a) the info should be accessible if they want it, and b) the admin team should work to "upgrade" existing members*.
3) Split into smaller groups during the discussion period. I wish I'd suggested this at the time, because I could see that a couple of the quieter members were getting left out in the cold. Humanism seems to attract people with strong personalities.
4) Resist the urge to computerise everything - it leaves the older members out in the cold. With such a high average age, and correspondingly low average degree of computer experience, the internet is mainly useful as an organisational principle and an advertising tool, not as a way of communicating en masse with members.
5) Look less at joining various committees and more at advertising to the general public. For example, I was hooked by a poster in the local library. Encourage David to think in those terms. Maybe I should pass him the link to this site.
* I'm suddenly getting flashbacks to the Loyalty Ladder that we were taught about in my OU training course. Damn, I hadn't realised that stuff had sunk in so well!