How your church can appeal to a younger crowd

In the introduction to her book, Designing Contemporary Congregations: Strategies to Attract Those Under 50, the Rev. Laurene Beth Bowers, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Randolph, Mass., describes some of the people in the congregations she has served over the years:

They are people I love and care about, but they are also a stubborn and stagnant people who have sacrificed for too long at the altar of “everything must stay the same” and who need gentle encouragement and caring confrontation by passionate leaders who will love them enough not to let them remain there.

Bowers suggest ways to lead congregations into change that can be more inviting to a younger generation. Among her suggestions: Create worship that moves. Add nontraditional music, dance, drama, and personal witnessing, with elements no longer than three minutes each, plus a 10-minute sermon. And yes, it’s OK if it goes more than an hour. “It moves, so you don’t notice the time,” one congregant told her.

She includes chapters on worship, social justice, life-cycle rituals, and evangelism. Her 128-page book is available at the UUA Bookstore for $14.

Regional Association Sundays strengthen church connections

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

Association Sunday was begun three years ago to provide an opportunity for individual congregations to think about, celebrate, and support their connections with the larger world of Unitarian Universalism and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

More than 500 congregations take part each year, holding a Sunday worship service focused on associational ties. But what do you do if you’re a small congregation and your denominational ties simply aren’t as apparent or as numerous as they might be in larger congregations? Or if you simply want to get to know your UU neighbors better?

For some congregations the answer to those questions is to gather with each other to create a combined Association Sunday event that is bigger than any of them could manage alone.

Go to the full article.

How to counter bad behavior with covenants, loving intervention

Tandi Rogers Koerger, program specialist for the UUA’s Pacific Northwest District, has added a post to her blog about conflict and covenants of right relations. She notes:

Many a visitor will walk through our doors seeking to be guided by Unitarian Universalist theology and held by Unitarian Universalist religious community. And many of those visitors will leave, repelled by less than inspiring worship or an exhausting congregational conflict or our issues with power and authority… So many of our congregations allow bad behavior in the effort to preserve “the inherent worth and dignity of all.”

More often than not, this bad behavior becomes part of the cultural norm: arguing the fine points of final reports at congregational meetings, using candles of joys and concerns for public service announcements, assuming there is one politically correct way to be Unitarian Universalist, triangulating and undermining leadership, using email for heated discussion, and using consensus as a weapon to get one’s way are just a few of my favorite examples. There is nothing worthy or dignified in this behavior. A loving intervention and firm, clear boundaries are the way to promote worth and dignity…

She goes on to describe how congregations can create positive patterns, and the resources available to help with that. Read the full post at her blog.

Skinner House books support lay leadership, multigenerational worship

Two books, Serving with Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice by the Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom, the worship and music resources director for the UUA, and Story, Song and Spirit: Fun and Creative Worship Services for All Ages by the Rev. Erika Hewitt, minister of the Live Oak UU Congregation in Goleta, Calif., are available from Skinner House Books.

Serving with Grace includes chapters about learning to say no, mindful meetings, mission and community, relationships with other leaders, and spirituality of service. Wikstrom writes, “Imagine church not as a place led by a few overly taxed people, but one where leadership is a broadly shared ministry that members of the community undertake for the deep joy of it.” This small 90-page book will no doubt be given to many new lay leaders as an introduction to leadership. It is $12 from the UUA Bookstore.

In Story, Song and Spirit, Hewitt notes a “collective anxiety” about doing multigenerational worship because we’re mostly used to sitting and listening. She has created services that call for active participation, including storytelling, music, and acting, that will engage children and adults.

The book includes requirements for nine services, including one for Water Communion and one for Christmas. The book is $12 at the UUA Bookstore.

How to publicize gift-giving information

The UUA Office of Legacy Gifts has created educational inserts about wills, life income gifts, and basic estate planning, which congregations can hand out on Sunday morning, post on bulletin boards, or reprint in newsletters. The inserts are to encourage members and friends to consider planned giving that will benefit their congregation and the UUA.

The inserts are available on the UUA’s Stewardship and Development staff group web pages.

Who owns your church’s website?

Who owns your congregation’s website? Occasionally a congregation finds out the hard way that it doesn’t.

If a congregation’s website is registered to an individual in the congregation, and that individual pays the monthly fee, then the church may not have any legal right to it if that individual becomes disaffected. In one case in recent years a member who controlled the website also maintained the congregational email lists and other databases. When a dispute developed, the individual proceeded to empty everything out.

The test: If a webmaster pays the bills each month for the website domain names and site hosting with her personal credit card then chances are good that the site host will recognize that person, and not the church, as the owner of the website.

InterConnections reported on a situation a few years ago when a congregation’s webmaster, who had registered the church’s domain name in his own name, was asked to leave the church because of a personal indiscretion. In retaliation, he blocked access to the website and posted negative information on it. It took the church six months to regain control of its domain name and website.

A UUA staff member in a district where another of these incidents took place reminds, “Congregations must always insist that ownership in electronic assets, including websites, databases, and all their content, is vested in the congregation, not the manager. And they should always have more than one person authorized to access and exert control over these resources––just like paying attention to authorizations for bank accounts.”

Unintended consequences of small group ministry

The April 2010 issue of Covenant Group News, for leaders and members of small groups, includes an essay by the Rev. Steve Crump of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, La., about some of the “unintended consequences” of small group ministry.

He notes that small group ministry “encourages right relationship and diminishes acting-out behavior in the larger church community because the modeling of right relationship in small groups extends to right relationship in other areas of our lives as well.” Small groups also teach the art of hospitality and encourage good communication, he says.

Subscribe to Covenant Groups News and find out about small group ministry here.

CLF has new themed worship resource

The Church of the Larger Fellowship has created a “Make Your Own Sunday” resource where congregations can choose a worship topic, then select opening words, a chalice lighting, meditation, a children’s story, sermon, and closing words, all on that topic.

The cost to subscribe is $129 annually. For more information visit the CLF’s “Make Your Own Sunday” page, email Beth Murray, or call 617-948-6150.

Videos for newcomers

Q. We’re looking for a video about Unitarian Universalism that we can use in newcomer classes.

A. Many congregations use Voices of a Liberal Faith. View it here: http://www.uuplanet.tv/video/Voices-of-a-Liberal-Faith-Unita.

The Church of the Larger Fellowship also has a new service in which it will help congregations create a five-session “Welcome In” online class explaining Unitarian Universalism, how the congregation works, UU spirituality, the larger world of Unitarian Universalism, and the history of Unitarian Universalism and the congregation. Find out more and view a sample online class here.

A third option is the DVD Our American Roots, highlighting the history of Unitarian Universalism in North America. It is $75 from All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla.

Read more about congregations on uuworld.org

InterConnections is one of many sources of information for leaders of Unitarian Universalist congregations. Another key one is UU World’s online edition. Here are several articles relating to congregational life that have appeared on uuworld.org over the last few months.

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