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How to Build a Community Ritual

Rituals are often considered low-hanging fruit in community building, but you'd be remiss not to make the most of them. These recurring, relied-upon activities boost positive feelings in the community, strengthen relationships, and increase trust.

Rituals surround us, appearing in our daily lives in both obvious and subtle ways — from religious or cultural ceremonies to our favorite way to unwind on a Friday night. In a community these can be myriad experiences such as Tuesday Tea, Monthly Vent, Seasonal Movie Night, and so on.

And there's a reason rituals hold so much power. Research has shown that they have anxiolytic properties — that is, they reduce stress and anxiety by providing a sense of structure and predictability.

Rituals can work in nearly any type of community, ERG, and within teams — even friendship groups can benefit from this special sauce. Bonus: they're likely already happening in your community organically and just need a little bit of nurturing and structure for maximum impact.

How to create a ritual

Here’s the process I use (and have adapted from the Art of Community by Charles Vogl) to curate new and invigorating rituals for the communities I oversee based upon member personas and the ways they engage with each other. You’ll note that from the steps of intention to acknowledgement, we go from ethereal to tangible; keep this in mind as you begin brainstorming and curating.

1. Begin with intention

Designing a ritual with intention means focusing on what may be missing from the community and how this ritual may fill that gap.

During my time as a Community Manager at Osmosis, we had something called Shoutouts & Milestones, where members were asked in a monthly survey to share who they were shouting out in the community and why, as well their own personal/academic/professional milestones. The intention behind this was to give the community an inkling that, in order to have someone to shout out, they'd have to have an enhanced connection (the ‘what’) as well as the chance to be recognized by all for their great work.

2. Ask ‘why’?

Yes, it’s different from intention! Where intention encompasses focused attention on the what and how, the why begs the question ‘why does this matter’? Who will care, and why should they? A hypothesis can cover both your perceived intention and reasoning as to why, because within it you may have brainstormed potential impacts or metrics that can prove your case over time.

At Tunnel to Towers, the ‘why’ behind the annual national run and walk event series is to both never forget those we lost on September 11, 2001 and to honor the legacy of Stephen Siller by doing good. This ‘why’ is emotionally driven and is directly aligned with the values of the organization; it’s not a hard sell, it almost feels natural.

3. Explain and set expectations

Your ritual is getting more concrete, and it’s time to figure out how you’ll explain it to your community. I suggest starting out with pen and paper [or whiteboard and markers, my favorite!] to jot down the who, what, where, when, why, and how from your members’ perspective. What is every single morsel they’ll want to know in order to be set up for success? Have it written out clearly.

You can share this in in a town hall, in a newsletter, at a dinner or, my favorite, Loom video — asynchronous heaven! You can record a video of yourself explaining it or even record a video where you go through the process as a participant (and not just a talking head) to share what it will look and feel like for members. More information is the ticket!

During my time working at Remote Year, one of our rituals was an optional monthly service project. In the first month of a new cohort of members' 12-month journey, I explained the ins and outs of this ritual with the help of an in-person town hall, where a Remote Year alum shared their experience. They helped me thoroughly explain the intention, importance, and impact of these service projects with personal stories. To drive the message home, I shared all the steps necessary to set members up for success via email and in our Slack channel (pinned).

4. Invite your members

Everyone’s cordially invited! Whether it’s an IRL gathering, a virtual summit, or a series of coffee matchups — make an effort to actually invite everyone to this intentional ritual you’ve created. If it's feasible, opt for a personal invitation to add to the sense belonging and an air of exclusivity.

Keep it simple: it could be an invite via email or an image inviting everyone in a channel. At Remote Year, we ran a monthly lunch club (which we dubbed 'Tupperware Club'). Every month, I shared a Slack post with a GIF or meme to invite a volunteer to lead in a particular city, as well as a larger event invite. I'd also share the invite or image for those who had agreed to lead or attend for them to share too — the point was to keep them accountable by committing in public as well as drumming up some excitement for a new crew with a new meal (to continually set the stage for the next iteration).

5. Acknowledge those who participate

Find a way to acknowledge those who attended or participated in the ritual, particularly those who, say, won a prize or hosted. This could mean a celebratory graphic made or even a video with bells and whistles! The point is to make it fun and memorable so that your community will want to keep joining.

With that, I’d love to hear what rituals you conjure up! If you’d like some starter ideas, feel free to test any of these out.


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