Professional associations support congregational staff

Want to help your staff members and volunteers be more effective in the coming year? Consider paying for memberships for them in professional groups that support them.

For membership professionals there is the UU Association of Membership Professionals which is open to paid staff who work with membership issues. A membership is $40.

The Association of UU Administrators is open to administrators of congregations. Fees range from $55 to $75, based on the size of the congregation.

The Liberal Religious Educators Association supports educators with continuing education programs, conferences, and newsletters and other publications. Fees are $50 to $175.

The UU Musicians Network invites congregational music directors and others involved in music ministries to join. Fees are $70 to $100.

The UU Small Group Ministry Network is open to leaders of small group ministry programs. Membership is $40 for an individual and $100 for a congregation.

General Assembly workshop recordings available

So you’ve come home from General Assembly 2014 in Providence, R.I., filled with the fire of enthusiasm. You’d like to share what you learned in the various workshops. But how? Or maybe you didn’t get to GA, but you heard there was a workshop there that dealt with that thorny issue your membership committee is struggling with. But how to access that workshop?

Here’s how.

Virtually all of the workshops at GA, which cover a wide range of topics about aspects of congregational life, were audio recorded.

Any adult who registered for any part of General Assembly should have received an email (probably on July 10) from Strategic Events Plus with a code that provides free access to the audio content of all of the workshops. For $75 you can buy the workshops loaded onto a flash-drive.

If you didn’t attend GA you can buy downloadable access to all of the workshops for a fee of $150, or you can get them all on a flash-drive for $225.

The business sessions and the worship services from GA can best be viewed by accessing them directly from the GA website, for which there is no charge.  The only content you cannot get are those presentations that include music, which is copyrighted and for which the Unitarian Universalist Association could not get permission to use apart from the original presentation at GA.

If you have not received an email from Strategic Events Plus you may contact the company at support@strategiceventsplus.com or 888-640-4899, extension 104, from 9 to 5 p.m. weekdays. Please check your spam filter for the email before contacting the company, however.

Strategic Events Plus also has GA content back to the 2009 GA.

Best-selling books at General Assembly

The following books were top sellers at General Assembly 2014 held in June in Providence, R.I. All are available at the Unitarian Universalist Association Bookstore.

 

Get more tips in the InterConnections newsletter

The InterConnections Tipsheet is a great place for church leaders to get quick news and ideas, but there is more expanded coverage in our monthly InterConnections email newsletter. Are you getting InterConnections? Do you know a congregational leader you think should be getting InterConnections who isn’t? It’s easy to sign up for a free subscription.

Q and A: How to increase Facebook views

Q. I’ve taken many of the suggestions about doing church Facebook better (InterConnections, March 1, 2014) but am very frustrated by the rate of views allowed by Facebook algorithms. Last year I regularly got 100 views, sometimes 1,000 or more, and now they are very small. Someone told me that about one in five posts get through to the news feeds, more likely the ones with videos. I always have a photo. I can see the content is not reaching my own news feed. What can we do to change that? I changed the option on my website to receive notifications from the church website, but still am not getting all the posts.

Sara Morrison Neil, membership program director, First Parish, Framingham, Mass.

A. Facebook changes privacy controls, news feed algorithms, et al. per its own business needs, not per the user’s needs. Only when user needs tie directly to its bottom line will Facebook suit UU needs, let alone any special interest group.

Sara’s not getting the traffic because she has no control, not only over what Facebook does but over how friends or followers to her page set their Facebook accounts. Unless everyone on both sides of the dialogue identifies each other as “close friends” or “followers,” there’s no way for her content to be viewed consistently by those she’s trying to reach. And therein lies the crux of the Facebook problem. Forget about covenant because the technology works against it. Even with the setting of “followers,” there’s no guarantee people will see her posts.

June Herold, former executive of AOL, member of the UU Church of Arlington, Va., and author of REACH: A Digital Ministry Program.

Church tips found through social media

For a look at how some Sunday morning guests might see us, read the account of a Texas blogger on her first visit to a UU church. She wrote of her visit:

“I’m not sure what to think of this service. I expected something a bit more like Unity, Church of Religious Science or Divine Science. I didn’t hear any mention of Jesus Christ and only found the word ‘God’ in a few of the hymns. Most songs were about the clouds, community and beauty, etc.

 

Though I’ve never been to a Native American service, I would think it would have the same general feel.

 

I’d call this church a true ‘feel good’ church. While I didn’t get much from it, I’m glad there are denominations like this that are welcoming to gay, lesbian and transgender people, who often find it difficult to worship openly with their partner in an environment filled with judgment.

The comments to her blog entry by church members are useful reading as well.

Over on Facebook, an item notes a new book, Real Good Church, How our church came back from the dead, and yours can, too, by a United Church of Christ minister in Somerville, Mass. The church grew from 30 to 150 members. The Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette writes, “It wasn’t one thing (that made us grow). It was 200 things: about signage, about stewardship, about advertising, about staffing, about creative worship.”

A few excerpts:

“Don’t privilege the people who have been at your church over the people outside your community who don’t even know about you yet.”

“Your work, as a pastor or lay leader, is to build up your own tolerance for disappointing people. Learn how to evaluate criticism for what it can teach you, don’t take it personally, and don’t let it slow you down or hijack God’s work.”

Growing need pushes congregation to increase accessibility

The First Unitarian Church of Sioux City, Iowa, installed an elevator and created an accessible restroom out of a closet after someone who uses a wheelchair joined the congregation. The congregation uses a 100-year-old house for offices and has a newer sanctuary attached.

The lay-led congregation, which has 31 pledging units, spent $60,000 on the renovations. Of that, $10,000 came from a Missouri River Historical Development grant, $3,000 came from a Chalice Lighters grant through the MidAmerica Region, a member bequeathed $8,000, and the rest was raised or borrowed by the congregation. The congregation took out a $28,000 loan.

Marty Nash moved to Sioux City from Phoenix. For about two years she attended church by way of makeshift ramps. “Each Sunday we’d have to get out this long foldable ramp,” said Nash. “It was irritating to everyone and the ramp felt uncertain at times. The congregation had discussed this long before I came. They realized that since everyone was getting older, with bad knees and arthritis, this was going to be a continuing problem.”

Nash ended up heading a committee that, over a two-year period, raised or borrowed the money to do the projects. “Almost every member contributed. Everyone wanted this to happen.”

She added, “We had no money to start. We used $50,000 from our estate gifts fund to cover exenses until we raised the money.” She said the project has changed the congregation. “I feel a new energy, and I think that communicates to our visitors.”

Shed old processes to create vitality

Natalie Briscoe, a Congregational Life staff member for the UUA’s Southern Region, invites congregational leaders to undertake some “spring cleaning” in a recent post on the region’s blog. She suggests some things congregations might want to get rid of, including:

• A mission that is uninspiring, inaccurate, or old. A vision that is too small, old, or doesn’t lead you to where you want to go. An old covenant that isn’t practiced. Processes that no longer serve the congregation (such as committee structures, governance style, or communication processes).

• Along with old processes, how about old technologies? Are you still using a membership database from 1994? Do you still have Yahoo email groups? The internet, social media, and new database systems can streamline our congregations. We no longer need to waste time with outdated technologies.

• Silence around financial issues. Does your congregation have anxiety when it comes to speaking about money? Throw out the silence and start having honest conversations about what we can realistically do to financially support Unitarian Universalism in our communities. There are no tips or tricks; we just have to do it.

Briscoe’s complete blog post, from March 16, is here.

 

Brochures boost Small Group Ministry

The March/April issue of Covenant Group News, the online newsletter of the UU Small Group Ministry Network, describes a brochure the UU Fellowship of Vero Beach, Fla., created to explain that congregation’s small group ministry program to congregants and to others who enter the building.

Vero Beach member Pete Kersey notes: “We created our brochure when we realized that everything we wanted to pass on to the congregation about covenant groups/small group ministry was too much to swallow in a letter or flyer format. The brochure allowed us to include pictures, graphics, and text in a format that was a page-turner, easy to look at, and full of timely and relevant information, including what the movement was about, when we were recruiting members, and how to join. We have found it to be an effective piece.”

More information is here. The Small Group Ministry Network website invites other congregations to submit their brochures.

Small Group Ministry is a program of intentional lay-led small groups that deepen and expand the ministry of a congregation. The Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network is a grassroots organization of small group leaders and participants. It publicizes information from many sources and encourages networking to enhance the development of Small Group Ministry. Congregations with small group programs are encouraged to join.

June 30 deadline for retirement plan

For congregations and other UU organizations already participating in the UU Organizations Retirement Plan, June 30 is the deadline to submit the 2014 Employer Participation Agreement form to the UUA’s Office of Church Staff Finances.

Congregations and other eligible employers that have not been participating in the plan are not required to join by the June 30 deadline.

A new participation agreement is required of each participating employer because, after more than a year of work by the UUA Retirement Plan Committee, last year the UUA Board of Trustees approved a comprehensive revision of the plan, also referred to as “restatement” of the plan. Restatement means the plan was updated to include all of the changes that have been made to federal regulations affecting retirement plans since the last restatement of the UU plan, which occurred in 1999, and to reflect current best practices of defined contribution retirement plans.

The restated plan gives congregations and other participating employers greater flexibility in retirement benefits offered and encourages participants to contribute more toward retirement.

New options include allowing employers to match employee contributions rather than simply making a base employer contribution. Fair compensation guidelines remain the same. Another key change is that employees who are not eligible to receive employer contributions are able to elect to make their own voluntary pre-tax salary reduction contributions. See the Employee Contributions Form here.

In order to continue to be a participating employer with the plan, employers/congregations must pass a motion to adopt the restated plan, submit the 2014 Employer Participation Agreement, and receive confirmation from the UUA Retirement Plan Committee. This process must be completed by June 30. A sample adoption motion can be found here.

Failure to act may mean that organizations may not be able to continue to submit contributions on behalf of their employees to TIAA-CREF. Congregations that are not yet participating in the plan are invited to view detailed information online and direct specific inquiries to retirementplan@uua.org. Employees who are already enrolled participants in the plan do not need to re-enroll.

Participants in the plan as of last November received a packet of materials regarding the restatement as well, and are encouraged to engage their employers in conversation about the benefit and any changes the employer may be considering.