Building Communities of Belonging

Credit: USC Photo/Joanna Clay
Credit: USC Photo/Joanna Clay

To create generative communities where people are invited
into friendship and know they belong and are cared for
requires intention and structure.

Many secular people associate rituals with religion. If your group is like most other secular groups, you probably want to stay far away from any activity that even remotely looks religious. We totally get it. However, rituals don’t belong to religion, and there are plenty of rituals that we engage in all the time that don’t involve religion or a church, mosque, or synagogue, such as birthdays, graduations, weddings, and funerals.

Inducting New Members

You may wish to develop a short list of membership standards, expectations, or requirements for your chapter. These don’t need to be strict requirements. More like soft boundaries that indicate when a person is committed to the community. 

Your goal is not to make it hard for people to be a part of your community. The goal is to encourage participation and commitment at some minimum threshold and to imbue membership with meaning.

Inducting New Leaders

Student leadership is vital to the success of the Secular Student Alliance and without a powerful leadership transition process, all the hard work you’ve invested in building your chapter can be lost when you graduate.

One aspect of successful leadership transitions is the transition itself. When marked by a ceremony or rituals, new leaders can start their tenure with confidence, feeling empowered by the outgoing leaders to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

The SSA Semester

We've created a one-page resource to help you plan out your semester, highlighting key recurring events and activities, like inducting new members and new leaders, that will help you grow your chapter like a pro.

What are rituals?

Rituals are actions, activities, or ceremonies repeated with regularity that have specific meaning or significance and reinforce a desired outcome. Rituals provide important symbolic, emotional, and practical value to our everyday lives. They mark time, periods of transition, and provide us with both social acknowledgment and a temporal structure. Rituals present opportunities to strengthen social relationships, allow us to express shared values and experiences, and encourage opportunities of contemplation.

Why are Rituals Important for Secular Groups?

Rituals play an important role in the organization of secular humanist communities. They are a critical source of unity when forming community without established beliefs and dogmas. While individual members must discern for themselves where they find meaning or awe in various areas of their life, creating and collectively participating in rituals is key for cultivating solidarity amongst diversity and legitimizing shared secular values, practices, and traditions.

Rituals are a way of saying, “This is what we think is important. And to highlight how seriously we take it, we’re going to set aside special time and special activities to focus our attention on this value.”