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.”

Leadership tools come in many forms

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

Leadership development happens in many ways in our congregations. A book makes us think in a new way. A speaker at a workshop gives us an “Aha!” moment. We watch someone flawlessly lead a meeting or execute a project. We’re talked into taking on a task that’s different from anything we’ve done before.

Since most of us can use all of the help we can get in honing our leadership skills, InterConnections asked several staff members of UUA districts to tell us about their favorite leadership development tools. Not all will be right for you, but we hope some will. And sometimes it’s simply useful to see what tools others find helpful.

Go to the full article.

Factors combine at Mt. Diablo to create growth

Any Unitarian Universalist congregation that grew both in numbers and average attendance in the past year has something to share with other congregations. When annual membership numbers were tallied in February by the Unitarian Universalist Association, some of our congregations had risen in one or the other of those categories, but few rose in both. One that did was the Mount Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Mt. Diablo gained 20 members and its average Sunday attendance increased by 44. To add perspective, in the same period the UUA declined by several hundred members and about half of our congregations lost members. Read about the UUA’s current membership report here.

Mt. Diablo’s coministers, the Revs. Leslie and David Takahashi-Morris, explain that the membership and attendance increases didn’t just happen. Says Leslie: “A number of factors came together to create an aura of excitement that is continuing.” Specifically, there were four factors––their new ministry, the congregation’s commitment to social justice, a new building, and strong lay and professional leadership.

They began their ministry at 400-member Mt. Diablo in August 2008. Just prior to that the congregation had voted to oppose California’s initiative (since passed) to ban same-sex marriage. “The combination of a new ministry and engagement in the marriage issue helped create a strong first year,” says David. Adds Leslie, “Mt. Diablo attracted people who saw our engagement with marriage equality. People in the community saw us taking the lead and they wanted to be involved.”

Mt. Diablo had also just completed a new fellowship hall, causing social life at the church to “blossom,” says David. Leaders also made sure members felt comfortable in coming to church even if they’d lost a job and couldn’t contribute as much. They started a weekly community dinner and a midweek meditation service. And Leslie says they made sure members kept coming, even if some couldn’t pledge. “We emphasized our desire to be strong together and to not be afraid to bring our vulnerabilities to church,” she says. “The economy has hit Mt. Diablo as hard as anywhere. The canvass is harder this year. More people lost jobs in the past year than in the previous one. Families are struggling to stay in their homes. Yet there has been a generosity of spirit and the material kind that has sustained us.”

Growth Summit book published

A dozen ministers of some of the fastest-growing Unitarian Universalist congregations gathered in Louisville, Ky., in November 2007 at the UUA Growth Summit to share some common threads about their growth. Parts of those conversations have been gathered into a book, The Growing Church: Keys to Congregational Vitality, published by Skinner House this month. The book is available at the UUA Bookstore for $12.

The book’s editor, the Rev. Thom Belote of the Shawnee Mission UU Church in Overland Park, Kans., participated in the summit. He cautions that there is no “magic secret,” but there are principles that will lead to growth. He says congregations need to have a saving message, a purpose, a balance between “looking in” and “going out,” excellent worship, a “moving, energetic spirit” (also known as “buzz”), seeing welcoming as a moral imperative, leadership from the minister, and a willingness to try new things and fail.

The UUA Growth Summit has also been featured at a workshop at General Assembly and in a DVD (available to watch online). There is an online study guide for the DVD (which will also work with the book).

Contributors to The Growing Church include the Revs. Ken Beldon, John Crestwell, Liz Lerner, UUA President Peter Morales, Christine Robinson, Victoria Safford, Michael Schuler, and Marilyn Sewell. The book features a foreword by Alice Mann of the Alban Institute, who facilitated the gathering in Louisville.

Recent articles for lay leaders on uuworld.org

Congregational leaders may find the following recent articles on uuworld.org useful.

Chalica, a new weeklong UU holiday in December, slowly gains adherents. Chalica, first envisioned in 2005, devotes a day to each of Unitarian Universalism’s Seven Principles and invites families to conduct simple rituals at home. 12.7.09

Restoring a Gilded Age church. Restoration of the historic Channing Memorial Church in Newport, R.I. 11.1.09

UUA health plan blends insurance with social justice. The plan now covers 745 employees of UU congregations and organizations.  The article includes a history of the plan’s evolution and stories from those it has helped. 11.16.09

Morales plans comprehensive review of UU ministry. UUA President Peter Morales announced a year-long review of ministry, to include recommendations about where it needs to head in the next twenty years. 10.26.09

New system announced for choosing GA 2010 workshops. General Assembly planners have adopted UU University’s track system and are offering three GA tracks in the areas of growing congregations, evolving ministries, and building just communities. There will be no UU University at this GA. 10.19.09

Youth, adults bond through service trips. Involving youth in social justice work. UU World Fall 2009

New articles are posted weekly on uuworld.org. Sign up to receive a weekly email letting you know what’s new.

Worship resources office is more than WorshipWeb

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

A small congregation in Wisconsin reached out to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Public Information Office earlier this year with a very specific question: Are there any CDs of accompaniment for our hymnals when we don’t have anyone to play on Sunday mornings?

In the past that question might have gotten a short answer—no, unfortunately, there are not. Yet thanks to a three-year grant in 2008 from the Barrett Foundation, there is now an office within the Department of Ministry and Professional Leadership that is dedicated to “discovering, developing, and disseminating the resources needed to deepen the worship experiences in our congregations,” as its mission statement says.

Go to the full article.

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.

Recent uuworld.org articles useful to congregational leaders

The gospel of inclusion – Article about the experience of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla., when it welcomed about 200 Pentecostal Christians. By Kimberly French. Fall 2009

UUA staff restructuring – Announcement of a new organizational structure in which staff will be divided into two groups: Ministries and Congregational Support, headed by the Rev. Harlan Limpert, and Administration, led by UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery and Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and vice president of Finance. By Jane Greer. 9.14.09

Morales and Hallman reflect on UUA presidential race – UUA President Peter Morales, the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, and their campaign chiefs talk about their recent presidential campaigns, including travel, technology, the challenges of identifying delegates, and how congregations might help the next UUA election go more smoothly. By Donald E. Skinner. 9.21.09

Reach out to become a public church. Argues that a Unitarian Universalist church should see the greater good as its primary purpose. By Michael Durall, church consultant 9.7.09

Youth, adults bond through service trips. Service trips are a great way to help people in need. By Donald E. Skinner. 8.31.09

Sign up for a weekly email alert about new articles at uuworld.org, including information useful for adult study groups and worship, food for thought for lay leaders, and other stories about acts of social justice, UU history, and inspirational UUs and congregations.