Resources for congregational governance, leadership, conflict, stewardship

Earlier this year Annette Marquis, district executive for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Southeast District, compiled several lists of books she believes are useful for congregational leaders. She created lists for the following topics:

• Good governance in congregations

• Congregational leadership

• Leadership tools

• Covenant, conflict, and right relationships

• Congregational stewardship

She notes, “Although you probably can’t read them all, engaging your congregation’s board and leadership in a planned course of study of at least one of these books a year will help to build a culture of commitment to best practices in your congregation.”

The lists are on her blog, Vital Congregations. While you’re there, check out some of her other blog posts on Technology Resources for Congregations and Right Relationships in Congregations.

Evaluation a constant process

The Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, writing on the website of the Central East Regional Group of the Unitarian Universalist Association, encourages congregational leaders to constantly evaluate programs by asking, “Are we serving our core purpose (by doing this program)? Is it relevant to people’s lives?”

In her blog post, Ruchotzke, who is Regional Leadership Development Consultant for CERG, writes,

Our congregations can get stuck in . . . patterns with events or traditions but we don’t always notice when a committee or a program has outlasted its relevance . . .  In systems, any change within the system elicits one of two reactions.  The first and strongest reaction is push-back:  the system wants to return to its previous “comfortable” state.  The other reaction is for the system to change and establish a new equilibrium of the parts, and a new homeostasis. It’s the role of the leaders to help the system to respond to change based on the congregation’s core purpose rather than to react based on habit and individual desire for comfort.

Congregational leadership articles on blogs

Here are two useful congregational leadership articles posted recently on blogs:

Church Leaders Need to Be the Grown-ups, says church consultant Margaret Marcuson. She recommends not taking other people’s anxiety personally and paying more attention to your goals for yourself rather than your goals for the congregation.

• Shane Raynor, on the Ministry Matters blog, gives reasons for Losing the Offering Plate. They include: many people don’t use cash and checks anymore, it reinforces negative stereotypes about churches and money, and it gives the impression a dollar or two is enough. He suggests other ways of giving—a credit card kiosk in the foyer and an online giving option. He adds, “Even if you choose to retain the collection plate, pushing alternative ways of donating gives people who don’t use the plate permission to be more comfortable in your church.”

Supporting congregational decisions

The following is a posting the Rev. Daniel Harper made to his blog, “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist,” recently, about how congregations make decisions.

We were in a meeting talking about how our congregation makes decisions. An engineer told us what happened after they made decisions in her for-profit workplace. She said, “We used to have a saying: Agree and commit; Disagree and commit; or, Get out of the way.”

In congregational life, as in the for-profit world, there’s usually a fourth option: Disagree and sabotage. A decision is made by a duly constituted authority, or through an established democratic process, and a small group of people who disagree with the decision start to sabotage it. And why wouldn’t we behave in this way? That’s the way democracy in America works: once a decision is made, many politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) go out of their way to sabotage the implementation of the decision. Ordinary citizens like us unconsciously follow their example.

But I think our congregations should be countercultural; we should not do democracy the way many U.S. politicians do democracy. We shouldn’t blindly adopt the standard from the engineering world, but it might be a good starting place:

Agree and commit; 
Disagree and commit; or 
Get out of the way.

UU leaders share tips via Facebook

Here are resources that people have recommended on Facebook that could be useful to leaders of congregations:

  • Kathy Burek, president of the Prairie Star District Board of Trustees, recommends the book Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. “It’s been my favorite conflict-resolution book for decades.” UUA Trustee John Blevins recommends a 19-minute video talk on it by Ury.
  • UUA Moderator Gini Courter recommends an online column by Bruce Epperly, author and theology professor, about taking our faith seriously and reclaiming Christian education.

Books focus on church leadership

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

As congregations head into the challenges of another church year, here are books that can help in areas of leadership and administration. All are available from the UUA Bookstore. Some have been around for several years and others are relatively new.

“These are books that congregational leaders continue to order,” said Bookstore Manager Rose Hanig, “They are among the most useful books we carry on congregational topics.”

Go to the full article.

Welcome to new lay leaders

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

If you’re a new member of your congregation’s governing board, welcome to InterConnections, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s free online newsletter for lay and professional leaders of all our congregations.

For 13 years InterConnections has been creating and publishing articles designed to meet the practical needs of congregational leaders. InterConnections searches out congregations that have had extraordinary success with particular issues and tells you how they did it and what other resources are available on that topic.

Whatever issue you’re struggling with, chances are we’ve written about it––from being more welcoming to how to talk about money to how to develop a caring committee.

Go to the full article.

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.

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.