52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation

Growing a congregation is a matter of mastering the basics––are the bathrooms clean, are guests welcomed, is worship inclusive of people who are not insiders? But sometimes we forget the basics, and that’s why an occasional reminder is a good thing.

The Rev. Randy Hammer, pastor of United Church, Chapel on the Hill in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and a graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School, has written a book of such reminders. The book, 52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation: Practical Hospitality, devotes one page to each of Hammer’s 52 ways of making sure guests are welcomed. They include advice on holding special programs, providing guest parking, creating an attractive roadside sign, providing quality child care, and sprucing up bulletin boards.

The book can serve as a reminder of what we already know we’re supposed to do, and it can inspire us to actually do it. It is also useful as a checklist of items to think about as we review just how welcoming we are.

Hammer is also the author of Everyone a Butterfly: Forty Sermons for Children. Both books are available from the UUA Bookstore.

New book explores governance and ministry

At a time when many congregations are rethinking their governance structures in an effort to help their boards function more effectively and to grow in an ever-changing world, the Rev. Dan Hotchkiss, a Unitarian Universalist minister and senior consultant for the Alban Institute, has written a book that can help.

In Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Hotchkiss, who has worked with hundreds of churches and synagogues across the country, calls governance an “expressive art,” like preaching. He invites congregations to grow beyond a “board-centered structure,” instead creating a strong relationship with clergy and other lay leaders in the congregation so that the board is not making all of the day-to-day decisions for the congregation.

Many congregations continue to be organized the way they were in 1950, says Hotchkiss. Yet as a congregation grows and programs multiply, so do the disadvantages of the board-centered structure, he believes. “A board that tries to manage day-to-day operations . . . will spend a great deal of time on operational decision making. If there is no other place for a buck to stop it will stop at the board table. Until a board is willing to delegate real authority to someone else it remains the default chief operating officer.”

Hotchkiss says Governance and Ministry will be most useful to congregations that are at least pastoral-sized––with a median attendance of 50 to 150 children and adults. Among the questions the book strives to answer is: How do we need to restructure our governance to grow larger?

When liberal congregations fail to grow they often think that theology is the problem, says Hotchkiss. It’s not. “Well-organized congregations are succeeding (and poorly organized ones are failing) across the theological spectrum. The key trait such congregations have in common is their strong belief that they have something vitally important to offer other people.” That gives them the courage to let go of old ways of organizing. Improved organization can also inspire more people to volunteer.

He adds, “What healthy structures have in common is a clear understanding about the pathway to be followed when various decisions need to be made.”

As an incentive for change, Hotchkiss notes, “Congregations do some of their best work when instead of giving people what they want, they teach them to want something new.”

Governance and Ministry is $17 at the UUA Bookstore.  Hotchkiss is also the author of the 2002 book Ministry and Money: A Guide for Clergy and Their Friends.

Denominational Affairs committees strengthen connections

Q. Our church does not presently have a Denominational Affairs committee, and I am interested in developing one. Could you tell me how we might make it as effective as possible?

A. InterConnections wrote about this topic here. Beyond that, contact your district staff for guidance about how to go about this. Also, consider signing up for the Unitarian Universalist Association-sponsored email list UU-LEADERS, where other congregational leaders will be happy to share their stories about successful Denominational Affairs (also known as Denominational Connections) committees.

Susanna Whitman, the UUA’s growth services program manager, recommends the following:  “If I were on such a committee I would find out what is new that the UUA is doing (read the UUA.org news pages and the main page and UUWorld online, as well as InterConnections.) Keep an eye out for initiatives and programs that could be interesting or useful to your congregation. Check the Events page on UUA.org and check out events and trainings through your district office. Make an effort to keep the congregation informed of key issues from the UUA and affiliated organizations, including the UU Service Committee, so that members know what the wider movement is doing.

Also, attend any national and district events that you can where you can meet people from other congregations and share ideas. Learn about how congregations support the UUA through the Annual Program Fund so that when people in your congregation ask why it’s important to support the UUA you will have answers. After General Assembly organize a Taking GA Home Sunday service to share some of what went on. And be sure to share all of this information with new members so they understand what they are a part of.

Leadership starts with ownership

From November’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

There was a time when “leadership development” in a congregation might have referred primarily to the nominating committee’s assurance that “We know you can do this,” as it handed a committee assignment to you.

Times have changed. Congregations today generally try to be more deliberate about training leaders and prospective leaders. Toward that end, the number of leadership development opportunities available to them has grown. Congregations are creating their own, other leadership programs are available at General Assembly and through the UUA and district offices, and organizations such as the Alban Institute offer still more.

Nominating committees themselves are morphing into leadership development committees in many congregations. “Leadership development is one of the top two or three things that lay leaders want from us,” says the Rev. Dr. Richard Speck, district executive of the Joseph Priestley District. That can range from information about board leadership to the basics of running a committee, he adds.

Go to the full article.

Filming others may require permission

Q. Our congregation has an excellent choir. Our meetinghouse is a popular place for community dinners and other public events. Recently, one of our fellowship members produced a movie to tell our story to newcomers. Questions are now being raised about copyright and privacy issues. If we sponsor a Christmas fair and we sing Christmas carols from the Unitarian Universalist hymn book, do we need legal permission? Can we film visitors as they walk past our holiday displays? The  movie includes crowd scenes with two or three hundred people present.

A. Peter Bowden, a children’s television producer who also runs UU Planet Ministry & Media, which offers growth consulting and video production services to congregations, has this to say:

I’m not a lawyer, so please conduct your own thorough research and consult experts. However, in my work with producing documentary-style content for broadcast TV we always get a release form with this simple guideline—if you can tell who it is, get a personal release.”

“When filming crowds at public performances and other large events we generally post signs at entrances to the event notifying those attending that we are filming,” he says. “By entering the event they are thereby giving consent. When we do this we take pictures of the signs to document they were posted.”

“In short,” he says, “signed releases for everything! For people, for corporate logos, for property, for pets.  In the spring of 2009 I made a video for our congregation’s capital campaign (http://www.youtube.com/channingchurch). If you look at that video, which is primarily stills edited together, I only used recent footage with people I recognized and thought we’d have a chance of contacting. We went through the video and listed every person clearly recognizable. All of these people were contacted for permission. We went with simple verbal and email permission to be included and were explicit in stating the video would be posted online. I would have liked written releases but the verbal/email is better than many churches do.”

The dangers of not being thorough? “All it takes,” Bowden says, “is one person to discover they are in your video (or their former spouse and child are) and you’ve opened a can of worms. Maybe not a lawsuit, but you can quickly regret not doing the work to get permissions. If you have existing footage you want to use you’ll need to make your own judgment call.”

He adds that some public events, such as newsworthy gatherings, have different standards. “As for music, if it has a valid copyright you need to get permission to use it in a video. Just last week I saw a UU video on YouTube that had a notice posted under it stating that the audio for the video had been disabled due to potential copyright violation. In the YouTube environment people and organizations are getting very sloppy. I advise organizations not to fall into this trap.” Information on obtaining copyright permissions for some UU materials is here.

In addition to his work with congregations,  Bowden created and moderates the website uuplanet.tv, a Unitarian Universalist video network. Through this site he is collecting and sharing all of the best UU television and video content from across the web.