Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The Beginning

-- Rev. Dr. Ken Brown

It is time for Unitarian Universalist to move beyond the usual methods of growing congregations to explore new options available to us now and in the near future. We can learn from others in North America who are experimenting with new models of church. One of the most interesting models is the creation of multi-site congregations. Jim Tomberlin, a church consultant specializing in multi-site congregations, says, “In the future multi-site will be a primary church planting tool.” The authors of the recently published book, The Multi-Site Church Revolution, “predict that 30,000 American churches will be multi-site within the next few years.” An article in Leadership by Dave Ferguson in 2003 began,

The multi-site church is a phenomenon that you will no doubt be hearing about in the future. An estimated 100-200 churches nationwide are experimenting with this concept: one church (meaning one staff, one board, one budget) meeting in multiple locations, usually with various sites developing unique personalities yet sharing the same “brand identity” and DNA. (p. 81)

The numbers involved with this model have grown to over fifteen hundred in North America. A couple of dozen or more Unitarian Universalist congregations across the continent are exploring the model. I believe there is no reason why we could not or should not add this model to our experiments in spreading the Unitarian Universalist message. In fact our understanding of the interdependent web calls us to find ways in which we can work to grow our faith. Since the article in Leadership, not only have the numbers of congregations involved with multi-sites grown, but the styles and forms have also evolved. In a recent article, Warren Bird of the Leadership Network’s multi-site church project writes: “No two multi-site churches look alike. Across the United States and Canada more than 1,000 churches hold services in more than one location. Each does it differently from other churches – some only slightly so, and others dramatically so.” In fact many of the congregations that have moved into this model have moved to create three, four or more sites. There is no one model but there are some specific things to be learned from the congregations involved with creating these additional venues.

The first question most congregational leaders ask is what prompts a congregation to use this model? There are many reasons for using this particular model. One of the key factors is that it is one way to deal with overcrowding. By creating another site you do not have the expense of duplicate staffing and program development as you would if a spin-off congregation was created. It is also a way for landlocked congregations to expand when they cannot do so on their current site. For many Unitarian Universalist congregations with old downtown or town square buildings this may be a particularly attractive model. Another key factor is that it allows a congregation to reach another area in their community or to reach a target demographic. The multi-site model helps congregations create niche ministries that serve a particular neighborhood or group. It is also a model that might in fact help in greeting more diverse Unitarian Universalist communities. One other factor is that this model, at its core, would help to spread Unitarian Universalism in differing ways, that in my opinion, have a greater chance of succeeding than other models we have followed in the past. In fact the varieties of implementing this model seem to be limited only by our imagination.

So how do we begin? Everyone who has gone the route of creating a multi-site congregation states that it begins with a shared vision, mission, or purpose for moving in this direction. Developing such a mission/vision includes being clear about whom you want to reach. This is not about a quick decision to try the latest fad in building a congregation but must be based on a clear shared mission, vision, or purpose with an understanding of the direction it will take the congregation.

The authors of The Multi-Site Church Revolution ask three crucial questions about beginning this model. 1) How healthy is your church? 2) Is there a driving impetus behind your desire to go multi-site? 3) Are the key leaders behind the decision? Expanding on these questions I would ask if your congregation is already growing and if so how? This is not a model that will help you grow if you have not already shown growth in numbers, programs, and outreach in your congregation. Does your congregation have a strong evangelical drive to spread Unitarian Universalism? A congregation that does not see one of its roles as helping to expand Unitarian Universalism is probably not a good candidate to create another site. Is your leadership willing to take risks? Creating another site involves taking risks and exploring a different way of doing ministry. A congregation where leaders want firm guarantees about anything they support is not ready to create another site.

Another vital factor that most of the multi-site congregations developing multiple venue locations share is that they have a small group ministry program. From the beginning of the new site small groups are created for those who attend the new site. Thus to begin another site it is important for the congregation to already have a structure and support system for small group ministry.

Well done worship is a factor that congregations involved with this model hold up as being absolutely vital to its success. This involves being intentional in planning for worship at the new site. Using worship associates or a worship team to plan and develop worship is key to developing this model. If you decide the new venue is to offer a differing style worship than you currently employ, it must be done well and impart a similar message to your original site.

There are three basic models of how congregations approach worship at multi-site venues. Some congregations have a minister preach at each service at each site, some use video taped sermons at one or more sites, and others have a mix of both live and video sermons at all sites. One thing they all share is that the music and worship leadership is live at each venue. This means that you must develop able worship leaders for each site and have a variety of possibilities for music, for both accompaniment and presentation.

The leader in the use of video venues is the North Coast Church in Vista, California. This congregation has 21 services at ten different sites. Six of the sites are actually on the main campus; the other four are in differing sites several miles away. Their sites on the main campus offer a varying degree of music and styles of leadership. These sites include a Video café that is in a casual setting with Starbucks coffee and snacks; the Edge which includes loader and edgier youth bands; Traditions which has nostalgic music with a piano; Country Gospel which offers country music; and the Family Room for families that wish to worship together. Now, I understand that having this many video venues is probably not the cup of tea for most Unitarian Universalist congregations but we can learn from North Coast. The move to using video happened after the lead minister, dreading the move to their fifth service, asked a staff member to explore options for the future. The recommendation was to produce videos of his sermons for other venues. Reluctant in part because they were not sure how such sermons would be received, their ministry team planned for a video venue. To their surprise it worked, in fact those attending video presentations of the sermon out number their live presentations. One study suggests that a big screen of at least 110% larger than the live presentation allows people a better opportunity to concentrate on the presentation.

There are two ways in which congregations use video. Some congregations set up live simulcast of the sermons, but the majority of congregations, video one presentation of the sermon and use a DVD copy at the other services. This latter process is less costly and also has less chance of technical difficulties. No matter how you provide worship at your new site, I again want to emphasize the importance of quality worship as being key to its success.

One of the assumptions involved in moving to create other sites is the strong leadership of the lead minister. Yet, it is also a model that requires a team approach to leadership. The lead minister must work closely with the paid and volunteer staff to plan for the worship and programming at all sites. In bringing on more staff it is crucial that those you bring on have an ability to work well in a team. It is easier to teach skills to a team player than the other way around. It clearly involves ongoing leadership training for people who would be involved in the new site; ideally done alongside the training for leaders at the original site. This would include worship leaders or associates, greeters, people who do follow-up with visitors, as well as religious education. Adult education is handled in differing ways, but in most cases there are classes or socials at the new site with everyone also invited to events at the original site.

The majority of the additional sites of multi-site congregations use non-church buildings. The primary reason non-church sites are used is that they are less costly than new buildings and many are rented locations. Linda S. McCoy, a minister at a multi-site venue writes, “One of the reasons I believe The Garden has become the spiritual home for such a diverse group of people is that it is not housed in a church building.” Thus for some leaders using non-church buildings is an added outreach feature.

As the Leadership article mentioned it is important to infuse the new site with the DNA of the congregation creating it. This of course suggests that the congregation understands it own DNA. The DNA involves a congregation’s traditions, heritage, styles of leadership and worship, and commitment to the larger faith. It also includes the practical side of governance, organization, generosity, and congregational demographics. In order to insure that the new site is not just an add-on, the leadership must see it as part of whole, not just a back up location.

In starting a new site, another area to which the congregations involved paid attention was outreach. It seems that the two main methods of outreach were postcards to selected areas near the venue and invitations to friends by members of the congregation. Some congregations took out advertisements in local papers but well written press releases about a new venue were as useful.

While the majority of the congregations involved with creating multi-site venues are large, the range in size for those following this model begins around 250 in attendance at all weekend services. This model obviously requires detailed planning; enough finances to support the startup for months or years; and enough staff, both paid and volunteer, to carry out the plan. Yet for a strong mid-size congregation it is a viable option.

It seems that most of the multi-site venues do not have an office at the additional site. While the majority approach budgeting with one budget for all sites, some have separate budgets for each site. In nearly all of the programs there is religious education for children. Many of the congregations have a combined youth group. While the majority I talked with, read about, or e-mailed seem to be Evangelical Christian, there are many congregations involved with multi-site who belong to mainstream denominations and the majority belong to a denomination rather than being independent.

The Leadership Network website has an article on “Avoiding Detours” that is also included as Chapter 13 in The Multi-Site Church Revolution. This list of ten pitfalls is worth reading and keeping near-by as you develop your plan for another site for your congregation. The book also includes resources for planning in the as do the websites of the Leadership Network and the North Coast Church in Vista. Further information about these resources is included at the end of this paper.

The cost of starting another site is always an issue. There is no doubt that following this model involves an outlay of money. Yet the congregations involved have found that the new sites are self supporting within one to two years. The expense of adding another site will vary according to what model one follows. I have developed a couple of assumptions in studying the multi-site style in relation to Unitarian Universalist congregations. Besides the previously mentioned commitments, a congregation probably needs to have two ministers, particularly if you are not going to use video. The staff should include a paid or volunteer coordinator for the second site. Using video means a financial commitment, at the minimum it involves $15,000 to $30,000 for equipment according to congregations involved with this model. Some congregations may already have some of the basic equipment, like sound, lighting and even cameras that can be used in this project. The First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque is exploring the use of a video venue on their campus and they believe they can keep the costs under $5.000 for their start-up. The North Coast church has resource ideas online that outline some of the basics for video.

Jim Tomberlin states, “Multi-site multiplies ministry exponentially because it maximizes seats at optimal attendance hours, and its return on investment in money and people is far greater.” This multiplication will work for the Unitarian Universalist congregations that have a commitment to spreading our faith. It is a cost effective way in the 21st century to build on healthy, strong congregations looking to grow. While I have talked with a number of Unitarian Universalist congregational leaders about the multi-site approach, two groups seem to be moving toward implementing some form next year. The First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque is moving toward creating a video café on their campus and is seriously exploring using video to either start another group or to support a couple of Fellowships in New Mexico. In California, the Riverside Universalist Unitarian Church and the Chalice Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Escondido are considering creation of a site in Temecula, a town between the two congregations that would be supported by the staff in both congregations. This means evolving even another model of how to create multi-site ministries regionally.

The conversation has begun among Unitarian Universalists and in some cases we are moving beyond just talking. I believe this model is one that Unitarian Universalists serious about spreading our faith need to explore in the near future. This model takes seriously our interdependence while offering us the opportunity to fulfill our commitment to greater diversity. The future possibilities in developing multi-site congregations are truly limited only by our imaginations.

Resources on Multi-Site

Dave Ferguson, “The Multi-Site Church,” Leadership (Spring 2003, Vol. XXIV,
No. 2, page 81) http://www.ctlibrary.com/le/2003/spring/21.81.html

Linda S. McCoy, Planting a Garden: Growing the Church Beyond Traditional
Models (Abingdon Press) 2005

Larry Osborne, The Video Venue Starter Kit (Owl’s Nest) 2003

Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon & Warren Bird, The Multi-Site Church Revolution
(Zondervan) 2006

www.leadnet.org/LC_MultiSiteChurches.asp Leadership Network

www.multisitechurchrevolution.com Multi-Site Toolkit

www.northcoastchurch.com North Coast Church, Vista, CA

www.communitychristian.org Community Christian Church, Naperville, IL

www.seacoast.org/ Seacoast Church, Mount Pleasant, SC

www.merkertbrown.com Website for Ken Brown and Angela Merkert with
materials from workshops, etc.


Rev. Dr. Ken Brown June, 2007

I first encountered the Emergent Church movement in March 2004 when I attended the National Pastors and Emergent Church Conference in San Diego. I had read a bit about this emergent movement that seemed to have developed as a response to the mega-church movement that had dominated the church growth scene since the late 1960s in the United States. Yet in the United Kingdom where the Emergent Churches were having great success of attracting younger generations the growth of this movement was clearly a reaction to a stagnant religious situation. In North America as well as the UK, people were looking for a community where they could live out their values in a postmodern world, in part because they had found the existing congregations wanting. At the conference in San Diego I met Dan Kimball and Brian McLaren, recognized as leaders in the emergent church in the United States. Dan, a Gen Xer, is a pastor at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA; he has been a prolific writer on the subject as well as practitioner. Brian, a Baby Boomer, is founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in MD. He has written philosophical books, some have been best sellers, about Christianity in a postmodern world. He is recognized as a leading spokesperson for the emergent culture.

There is no one description of the emergent movement, no one style of worship, nor one style of congregation. Bob Whitesel’s book, Inside the Organic Church shares the stories of twelve emerging congregations from the US, UK, and Canada. The congregations range from 25 to10,000, attendees with five being what we would consider small congregations (under 200) and only two mega-church size (over 1500). Whitesel writes that emergent “is a self applied label, [it] connotes perceived parallels with the so-called emerging postmodern philosophy…emerging churches are a branch of Christian expression created and led by young people.” Some of these congregations meet in warehouses, one moved to the center city for its social witness, others do outreach in coffee shops and clubs. Many of these congregations have small groups that meet regularly, they also do social justice work in the community together.
In Dan Kimball’s 2003 book, The Emerging Church, Rick Warren wrote in the Foreword: “never attach your church to a single style, you’ll soon be passé and outdated.” This seems to fit with the findings in regard to worship in the Faith Communities Today survey where it was reported that congregations that had changed the style of worship were the ones that were growing. In 2004 Michael Moynagh wrote emergentchurch.intro, early in the book he stated, “Experiments are one of the defining features of emerging church.” The congregations described by the various authors on the emergent movement (see the bibliography at the end of this paper) and those I have visited vary greatly in form. In the majority of congregations even the style of service varies from week to week. Dan Kimball declared in his introduction, “While many of us have been preparing sermons and keeping busy with internal affairs of our churches, something alarming has been happening outside.” He goes on to describe a post-Christian world that no longer accepts the standard creeds and forms of the traditional Christian church.
Kimball’s most recent book is They Like Jesus But Not The Church. In it he discusses his experience in reaching out to young adults and college students. In surveys he conducted he found that young people felt that Jesus wasn’t into organized religion, judgmental and negative, into male dominated religion, homophobic, disrespectful of people of other faiths or a fundamentalist who took the whole Bible literally. Such findings should not be a surprise since the younger generations (those born since 1970) have grown up in a more openly pluralistic and diverse society than their parents or grandparents. The younger generations are more likely to accept gay marriage, have close friends of a different ethnicity or race, and not see abortion as major faith issue. (Although recent Gallup and Barna Polls do show when asked about abortion their views are the same as their parents, they are against it.) They are more likely to care about the environment, health care, and be open to drawing on non-Christian traditions for their spiritual journey. In other words the emergent culture has moved away from the black and white culture we have heard from the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Kennedy. A recent Gallup Poll found that among the 40% of people in the U.S who do not attend church or synagogue regularly the main reasons were that they don’t agree with organized religion and don’t believe in going to church, this fits with the emergent cultures suspicion of traditional congregations.
In his article in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Brian McLaren wrote that “we see ourselves as the church emerging, meaning a growing edge of the church at large in all its forms, stretching from the margins into new territory beyond modern, Western Christianity.” In the following paragraph he expanded on this thought: “That means we are emerging into a postcolonial faith, a post-Western faith – not a faith that wants to forget and deny the many blessings of Christian faith…but a faith that no longer wants to be in denial about the dark side of our history.” McLaren has faced a stream of criticism because of his push for Christians to follow Jesus’ teachings and help the poor, to be open to the stranger, and question the powerful. He works with a wide range of evangelicals and mainstream congregations in an attempt to redefine the Kingdom of God for a postmodern world. In fact the majority of emergent congregations are creating new connections around community and worldwide issues. In Gibbs and Bolger’s book, Emerging Churches, they quote Holly Rankin Zaher of the Three Nails congregation in Pittsburgh as saying, ‘”We partner with others who seem to embody kingdom values and are doing kingdom work, even if they are not `orthodox’ Christians. We collect cans with Unitarians…”
Robert Webber has an introduction, a conclusion and several appendixes in a recent book he edited, Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches. In the book five pastors of emergent congregations share their perspectives on theology of the emergent movement. I actually find Webber’s pieces to be the most useful. In the conclusion he discusses the five contributors from a number of angles. He talks about the culture from which they emerged, summarizes the core of their message and suggests what the reader needs to listen to from these pastors. Webber suggests these emergent leaders are “reminding us we are living in a new world;” that pastors “have not been trained to minister in this world;” and that they suggest “theology and practice must be brought back together again.” Webber goes on to state that these “emergent movement is marked by diversity” and that the leaders are doing theology “out of practice, not out of abstraction.” The leaders of the emergent movement are also creating a theology that is not tied together by reason and logic but open to mystery. Lastly Webber suggests that the emergent culture is one that is striving to speak to today’s culture, not the world of yesterday. This is all the more important since we live in a time that he says “is no longer secular, but at the horizon now shaped by an incredible appetite for worship and spirituality.” Once more I find these challenges to be precisely the same areas we Unitarian Universalists are grappling with in our theological schools and our congregations. It is also interesting that I found the theological discussions of most of these pastors to be very close to Liberation Theology but rarely, if ever, have I found a reference to Liberation Theology in the work of the emergent leaders.
The emergent congregations have diverse ways of connecting to their communities and different ways of coming together. They do use music that speaks to their generation including hip-hop, heavy metal, rap but some also hold Taize services and meditative services or parts of services with djembe style drumming. Often their services include time for participants to share or for participants to visit various stations that offer opportunities to create art that speaks to the theme of the service or to journal, pray or meditate. To get a sense of some of the diversity in these congregations I have pulled some quotes from web sites of three congregations.
The St. Thomas Church of Sheffield, UK describes their gatherings (notice they are not called worship services) on their web site:
Our Sunday gatherings are when many of our smaller communities/clusters gather together each week in the Conference Centre. They're our opportunity to meet with God in a larger gathering and to listen to what he is saying, both through people speaking from the front and through learning how to hear him for ourselves. It's where we bring all our personal responses/relationships with Jesus and mingle them together to hear the big picture - to raise a louder shout of praise, to pray for our world and to learn how to relate our faith-life with our work-life, community-life and home-life. Whatever stage of life you're at, whatever stage of faith - even if you don't know God in any way - you're welcome. There's chances to get prayer for healing and we always end with coffee and opportunities to chat.
The Bridge community in Phoenix, AZ declares their mission as engaging the movement of God. Their mission page states: “you are welcome and encouraged to be a part of our inner-city community center where we distribute food boxes and clothing 5 days a week, feel free to stop by any morning to join in the cause!”
The web page from the Vintage Faith congregation that Dan Kimball serves declares that there is a
rising feeling among emerging church leaders and followers of Jesus, that in many modern contemporary churches, something has subtly gone astray in what we call “church” and what we call “Christianity”. Through time, church has become a place that you go to have your needs met, instead of being a called local community of God on a mission together. Through time, much of contemporary Christianity subtly has become more about inviting others into the subcultures of Christian music, language and church programs than about passionately inviting others into a radically alternative community and way of life as disciples of Jesus and Kingdom living.
These examples from the web pages o f these emergent congregations speak to the desire of younger generations to connect to their culture, to be change agents in today’s world and at the same time connect to their spiritual yearnings. Yet they are distrustful of the organized religious institutions or at least unable to find what they want within the structures of the existing religious world.
The importance of understanding the emergent culture and the emergent congregations within the Christian ranks for Unitarian Universalists is that we live in the same world and the same communities. We have similar concerns about reaching out to younger generations to share our saving story just as these emergent Christian congregations are doing with their story. The emergent congregations are attracting people who want authentic and open spiritual experiences that will also help connect them to engagement with social concerns in their communities and the world, certainly a UU commitment. Interestingly these desires are not far off from the 60% of people that the Gallup poll identified as going to regular religious worship mainly for spiritual growth and guidance and because it keeps them grounded. Yet those attracted to emergent congregations are looking for a different way to come together in community. The standard worship experience does not appeal to many young people. They are looking for something that helps them relate the fast paced digital world in which they live, to their deep concerns of the spirit and the world they will inherit from older generations. They see themselves as actually going back to the true message of Jesus. Thus some emergent authors have written about the ancient/future church, discussing a return to the core message from Jesus while speaking to current culture. People in the emergent movement believe they are not changing the core Christian message, they are just finding a way to get the story to people in the 21st century.
The challenge we Unitarian Universalists face is how to get our story out because it seems to me that those in the emergent culture are open to our diverse and pluralistic tradition. Can we create outreach ministries that build on the understanding of the emergent culture? It may be that by our existing congregations creating multi-site locations we can serve the emergent culture more directly. Maybe this is where the discussion of internet congregations, like comes into play as well. At the very least we need to be in conversation about how we can move into the postmodern world reaching the emerging culture, many of whom I am convinced are looking for what we offer or can offer.

Bibliography for Emergent Worship/Emergent Culture

Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006
Commission on Appraisal of UUA, Engaging Our Theological Diversity, UUA, 2005
Crystal L. Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, InterVarsity Press,
Faith Communities Today, UU responses at http://archive.uua.org/cde/education/ fact/ – national responses at http://fact.hartsem.edu/ Eddie Gibbs & Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches, Baker Academic, 2005
Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church, Zondervan, 2003
Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New
Generations, Zondervan and:emergentYS, 2004
Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus but Not The Church, Zondervan, 2007.
Marcia McFee, The Worship Workshop, Abingdon, 2002Michael Moynagh, emergingchurch.intro, Monarch Books, 2004
Brian D. McLaren, The Church on the Other Side, Zondervan, 2000
Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, Jossey-Bass, 2001
Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, Zondervan, 2004
M. Rex Miller, The Millennium Matrix, Jossey-Bass, 2004
Doug Pagitt & Tony Jones, ed., An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Baker Books,
Leonard Sweet, ed., The Church in the Emerging Culture, Zondervan, 2003
Paul Rasor, Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century, Skinner
House, 2004
Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evngelicalim for a Postmodern
World, Baker Press, 1999
Robert Webber, gen. ed., Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five
Perspectives, Zondervan, 2007.
Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church, Abingdon, 2006
Mike Yaconelli, ed., Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic,
Zondervan, 2003

http://www.precipicemagazine.com/brian-mclaren-interview.htm Interview with
Brian McLaren
www.emergentvilliage.org website dedicated to emergent church
http://www.secondlife.com/ location of the 1st UU Church of Second Life, go to site
and in the search instrument type in Unitarian
http://www.emergingworship.org/ website from mainstream Protestant
denominations dealing with a joint emerging worship project
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/ 20 something written magazine on culture and
religionhttp://uucyf.org/ UU site of the Church of the Younger Fellowship
www.submergence.org Karen Ward’s blog

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Reflections on Rekindling the Mainline

Reflections on Stephen Compton's Rekindling the Mainline
Ken Brown April 27, 2005

This past year Alban Institute published a book that addresses the issue of "New Life through New Churches." Stephen Compton is Executive Director of the Office of Congregational Development for the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Compton's perspective is that denominations do not grow without a commitment to planting new congregations. He suggests the following compelling reasons to start new churches:

1) New people are more likely to join new churches than old churches
2) Old churches are moved toward renewal by the presence of new churches in their communities
3) Old denominations are renewed as the percentage of new churches in their total number of churches increases
4) New churches are more likely than old churches to be open to all kinds of people (inclusive of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, nationality, gender, etc.)
5) New churches are more likely than old churches to call or receive female pastors, or pastors whose cultural background, race, ethnicity, or nationality differs from that of the majority membership
6) New churches find it easier than old churches to live out new models of mission and ministry (39)

In the book he provides statistics and stories to support these statements. My experience and observation supports his perspective. While our UU congregations have done very well in being more open to diversity when it comes to women and BGLT folks, we have had problems with other kinds of diversity including theological.

Further into the book he offers a ten point strategy for new church development:

1. Declare from the denominational center that new-church development is its priority task
2. Make new-church development normative, not a temporary programmatic fix
3. Begin new churches at rates that ensure that within 30 years, at least 30 percent of a denomination's churches will be less than 30 years old
4. Select executive leaders who are committed to the priority of new church development
5. Structure judicatory agencies to match the needs of advancing new-church development
6. Fill judicatory staff positions with people who are committed to new-church development and who have experience in new-church development
7. Change the focus of spending, budgets, loans, and the like to promote new-church development
8. Require that denominational seminaries provide at least one year of intensive congregational leadership studies in their curricula
9. Reward regional judicatories whose leaders, strategies, and goals reveal courage, boldness, and innovation to lead the church through change
10. Make closure of old churches a fundamental part of the strategy for new-church development (104-116)

Again we UUs have to deal with an organization that functions on a political level rather than theocratic. Thus people organize to get their issue a place on the table or a new UUA administration brings its perspective to how things should be done. Rarely, if ever, have we done a strategic plan that began by stepping onto the balcony to look at the whole system and how we might learn from such perspectives as the one presented by Compton. Further, seemingly agreeing with Roy Oswald's book "Transformative Regional Bodies" Compton focuses four of the ten strategies on supporting and developing staff at the District level and one strategy that speaks directly to ministerial formation at the theological schools. The other five strategies all speak to implementing a vision of transformation and growth from the whole system. Too often we seem to function at the level of the UUA as if we are a small church, rather than developing a strategy and hiring staff to implement it, we respond to the folks in the political mode. We need to begin to organize in a fashion that best serves our vision and our congregations, not just today but for generations to come. This may mean making hard decisions as Compton proposes in his list of strategies.

Further I believe that given our size we cannot hope to approach what Compton is suggesting for the mainline denominations. Yet, I expect we can learn from what he suggests needs to be accomplished to grow congregations. Compton says that first we need to stop the welfare that props up existing congregations. We are not in the position to give money to any congregations but we do give staff time to a wide range of congregational programs, do we need to make tough decisions in how we allocate our time? Compton goes on to propose that we need to create congregations within existing congregations if we are to meet the needs of generations now looking to come into our congregations. He offers five steps to accomplish this task:

1. Identify congregations willing to be born anew
2. Prepare leaders to guide churches into new life
3. Begin new churches within old churches
4. Reward Innovation
5. Leverage the economy of scale (128-137)

Compton offers a number of evaluation tools to find the congregations where leadership is really ready to be born anew. Secondly, we need to recognize that not every minister is suited to do this work, so training ministers and lay-leaders is a must; as well as real discernment among ministers interested in doing this work. By beginning new churches within old he is suggesting that new styles of worship and small groups can accomplish this action. I also believe that creating satellite congregations is another way to deal with beginning a church within a church. Giving congregations who have been innovative grants to take next steps and holding them up as models is a relatively easy way to help create an atmosphere of transformation. His last item in this list is more difficult for us, he suggests that the mainline denominations remain among the largest non-profit systems in this country and have the ability to leverage deals on equipment or by using their investments. I believe that these suggestions about how to work with existing congregations, along with the ten point strategy offer us some useful guides as we develop a vision for the growth of Unitarian Universalism.

Another interesting observation that Compton made that I believe speaks to our predicament is the following: "I contend that each of these historic infusions of large numbers of new churches into the ranks of many older churches caused a systemic change in the outlook and commitment of the conference leadership…" (102) In other words, the infusion of new congregations with new ways of doing things impacted the whole system. Compton speaks to this as positive thing if the congregations do indeed bring the perspectives mentioned above, but it stands to reason that such an influx brings other possibilities. If we look at this historically there are two periods in the post World War II era where the AUA and the UUA had a significant amount of new congregations. The first was the Fellowship movement which brought a large influx of congregations from the late 40s through the late 70s. The second was the Extension program of the 1980s and 90s. I would suggest that an analysis of the Fellowship movement would show it did bring in many new members and congregations but that the anti-authority attitude and style that became predominant within these congregations in the long run contributed to stagnation, not sustained growth. The Extension Ministry Program tried to get beyond the anti-authority stance by supporting congregations who wanted ministers. The results of this program have been mixed, some congregations were not ready for ministry, the majority hit the 150 member ceiling, a handful moved into midsize. Of course we might see more of these congregations grow, we probably need to give them another ten years to see the total impact. Yet, I believe that the effort to begin full-service congregations has had a positive impact on our system as I see more and more congregations seeking even part-time ministers. When I arrived in the PSWD in 1984 there were ministers in 25 congregations, today there are ministers in 44 congregations, with roughly the same number of congregations over all. On the other hand, it has been long enough for more in depth analysis of the Fellowships and I believe that the ongoing difficulty we have with a shared vision of a growing UUism is in part attributable to the attitudes prevalent in Unitarian Universalism. I do not want to beat up on the Fellowships in this paper, but I do think we need to understand the culture of our congregations and thus I do believe we need to take into consideration the impact that the attitude of extreme independence and anti-authority has had in our congregations as we develop support for transformative congregations. We need to be aware of the culture within our congregations, as well as regions and the UUA and develop programs that speak to where they are, even as we nudge them into the future. This will not work unless we move our congregations beyond a consumer mentality where they expect to get the approximation of services for what they pay into the system. We must create a vision of necessity for us to work together to serve Unitarian Universalism, to support sustainable growth that will ensure that there will be a significant Unitarian Universalist movement for my grandson.

View From the Mountains: Welcome

View From the Mountains: Welcome

Friday, March 18, 2005

Policy Governance

Here is an article I wrote in response to people's questions about Policy Governance:

So You Want To Adapt Policy Governance®
Ken Brown March 17, 2005

Many Unitarian Universalist Congregations and Districts are seriously exploring their forms of governance and how it impacts their ministries. The issues congregational leadership want to address in the governance discussion are expressed well in these bullet points sent to me by Jan Means of the Valley UU Church in Chandler, Arizona:

· Empowering the organization
· Simplifying the organizational structure
· Shifting board emphasis to fulfilling the church’s vision
· Resulting in better defined structure, roles, and responsibilities
· Providing structure to support growing church membership
· Reducing frustration and miscommunication caused by current ambiguities in roles and responsibilities

In seeking to address these issues the Chandler congregation decided to move toward a policy form of governance.

As more congregations explore the possibilities of adapting Policy Governance® as their mode of governance a number of issues have come to the forefront. First is the recognition that each congregation is adapting this form of governance not adopting it. In our Unitarian Universalist tradition we do not fully accept another person’s understanding of anything without running it through our own experience, so it is with governance in our congregations. Each of our congregations develops its own style and fit for this form of governance. We also need to recognize that Policy Governance® is a registered trademark by John Carver who trains people to lead workshops in this mode of governance. Thus I will discuss our congregations moving to a policy board style of governance since the adaptations being made by most congregations do not conform to one or more of Carver’s ten Policy Governance® principles..

Key to developing any governance system is having a clear shared mission for the congregation. Governance will function well only when people on the board know the mission and understand their role in implementing that mission. Further the ministers, staff, and committees can only be held accountable when it is clear that their role involves the creation of programs and ministries within the congregation that support the shared mission.

Another range of issues in moving to a form of policy board involves matters of trust and understanding. A congregation cannot succeed with this form of governance unless there is trust in the staff and the board to carry out their particular roles as delegated under the policies. This often means changing longtime relationships between the board and committees, as well as changing the whole way committees are developed. It places a level of responsibility on the Executive* that many ministers and laypeople might not be fully ready to accept. Along with this responsibility comes a clearer understanding of roles and responsibilities as well as more regular assessment than most of our congregations have undertaken in the past.

The built in processes of assessment in policy board governance involves regularly scheduled monitoring reports. I also believe that the UUA document “Assessing Our Leadership” fits well with any form of governance by policy. A policy board is charged with upholding the vision of the ministry of the congregation as articulated in Ends policy. The board has a prime role in assessment and that assessment goes beyond the regular monitoring reports. Thus I believe that incorporating the planning and assessment as suggested in “Assessing Our Leadership” helps the board fulfill its role within this form of governance.

Another primary block to successfully moving to a policy board is not having an organizational structure that supports the implementation of this form of governance. Too often boards move to develop a policy board structure without recognizing that they also need to take into account the relationships as dictated by their current organizational structure. My experience suggests that most congregations do not need to change their by-laws to adapt Policy Governance®, since most by-laws do not deal with governance issues. Where the by-laws give authority to a president or treasurer which become the Executive’s responsibility in policy style governance, the language often allows the officer to delegate this responsibility without having to change the by-laws. However, very often the organizational structure or relationships are described in by-laws and might need to be changed to create an organizational structure that supports a policy style governance. If, for example, the Vice-President is the chair of the Council in the by-laws this sets up a relationship that is not appropriate for a policy board. The by-law would need to be changed to call for a non-board member to chair the council or not to refer to the chair of the council at all. In addition to understanding the by-laws connection to a policy style governance and organizational structure the leadership moving to a policy style governance needs to carefully take into account how the current organizational structure might need to change to support policy governance.

Another area of difficulty in moving to a policy board is that very often members of our congregations have an understanding of our democratic form of governance to mean something like the New England Town Meeting where everyone gets to vote on every issue. A policy board functions as a form of representative democracy where it is clear which person or group has the responsibility for which decisions but limits the number of decisions where the whole congregation votes. This does not mean that there is not input from the congregation, a major role of the board to link with the owners, in other words, the congregation, as they develop policy to fulfill the ministry. It must also be clear that delegated responsibility is directed toward fulfilling Ends and will be assessed.

An additional aspect of change that needs to happen in the move to a policy board is recognizing differing gifts of members and working with nominating committees to help develop the leadership needed in differing roles. People on the congregation’s board in a policy style need to be folks who clearly enjoy the role of upholding the broader vision and doing the assessment in line with that vision. Thus a person who may enjoy the program work on a committee that is responsible for carrying out an area of the ministry may not be the optimal candidate for the board. Our political understanding of serving on the board as the ultimate role in one’s volunteer efforts in a congregation needs to be changed to help people understand that folk’s have differing gifts and that all roles in a congregation’s ministry are important for what they contribute to the mission.

One other area that congregational leadership needs to take seriously in moving to policy board is providing of ongoing training of new board members. I constantly get requests from new board members or board presidents to offer help in understanding their roles. I believe that Districts can be helpful in this area, particularly in doing such training in clusters. Yet, I also believe that congregational leadership needs to develop ways in which they ensure that new board members, and for that matter anyone in a leadership position, understand their roles within a policy style governance. This form of governance is different from what most of our members have experienced in the past and they need help in order to fulfill their responsibility.

For me one of the exciting aspects of a policy style governance is that it supports the direction many of our congregations have moved in trying to develop a shared ministry. Shared ministry at its best recognizes the varied gifts of professional ministry, staff, and lay people. It offers each congregation the opportunity to develop a system that allows for the fulfillment of people’s gifts. For a congregation to truly use the gifts of all their members there needs to be a clear shared mission. Thus each person knows how she or he is contributing to that mission when asked to participate in any aspect of the ministry. There also needs to be authority given to the board by the congregation to do the assessment of the whole ministry of the congregation, not just the minister(s), within the context of the established policies.

The bottom line in my experience is that the great majority of people in a congregation do not care about the form of governance. Members of a congregation want to be sure that the ministry of the congregation speaks to their needs and is providing what they want on their religious journey and care less about how it is accomplished. There will always be a vocal handful who will object to moving in the direction of a policy board, but my experience suggests that the clarity of roles and responsibilities in taking governance seriously only enhances the ministry for the great majority of people in a congregation. It also frees the staff to use their skills and passion in support of the congregational mission. The discussion of governance within our congregations is vital to the future of our Unitarian Universalist tradition. I believe to flourish and grow into the future we need congregational systems that support creative and transformational ministry. Our struggle with how to adapt Policy Governance® is a crucial part of that future.

* I use the term Executive in this essay recognizing that in adapting policy governance each congregation has their own configuration, for some the Executive is the minister but in many it involves some type of Executive Team that includes differing configurations of staff and lay leadership.


Welcome to our blog, A View From the Mountains, sort of like Ronald Hiefetz's view from the balcony only a bit higher. Through this blog we will share our thoughts on congregational systems, transformational ministry, and change processes. We will do this via brief memos, as well as longer papers. We will add pieces from our workshops and respond to questions you raise. This is a way for us to share our work beyond our workshops. We hope you find it useful.

The Rev. Ken Brown, D.Min. & Angela Merkert, Ed.D