Tag Archives: Polity

our whole lives (OWL).

10 Jun

The Rev. Cindy Landrum and I have been blogging over on the Lively Tradition about removing barriers to the Our Whole Lives (OWL) comprehensive sexuality curriculum used by Unitarian Universalist congregations.  Go read it!

Part 1: The expense and importance of OWL, by Cindy and Dawn

Part 2: A small congregation’s experience, by Cindy

Part 3: A mid-sized congregation’s experience, by Dawn

Part 4: Ideas on how to remove barriers, by Dawn and Cindy


show me the money!

1 Jun

money-tree-images-Image-Money-Tree-IllustrationMoney. In particular, managing it. Like many congregations, this is something with which the congregation I serve struggles. We utilize a large regional bank for our multiple savings and checking accounts, a different service to manage our endowment, a payroll service for staff paychecks, etc.

When we needed to make some necessary repairs on our paid-off building, no local bank or credit union would give us a loan unless our board members ponied up their homes as collateral – we chose to borrow from our endowment instead, but how many congregations have the capability to do that?

And we try to keep track of it all with a complex church database that this former database programmer finds unwieldy and virtually incomprehensible.

Wouldn’t it be great if some organization with similar values could step up and provide our congregations with these types of resources, all in one place?

UUALogoThe UUA has the Common Endowment fund (which I love and wish my congregation would move it’s money into). I can also imagine the UUA creating a credit union that could perform many of these other functions, too! It could provide checking and savings accounts for congregations, as well as mortgages. We could even set up an unified account with a payroll service.

The UUA could also support one centralized church database software program which congregations would be given access to. Due to the large number of users, we would get premium support when our congregations had issues or needed training in how to use the program. Plus, this would provide a more accurate number of unique members of our congregations because it would not count Jane Doe as 4 different people, even though she is a member of 4 different UU congregations (those of you in urban areas where people hop from church to church know what I mean!).

We are stronger together, and centralization has its perks. We have seen this with the Common Endowment, and with the UUA Health Plan. Why not expand the resources that the UUA provides to our congregations? Of course, due to our polity, no congregation would be required to use any of these resources, but I bet many would!

people are not hot potatoes.

28 May

Last week, I officiated at the memorial service for a 99+ year old woman. Though raised Methodist, she and her first husband found the Unitarian faith when they were young adults, and they immersed themselves in the life of the church. Prior to a devastating fire in 1985 at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, there was a room in the building named after them.

Her husband died, too young, and she remarried. She ended up being the mother of 5 children. Her new husband would not come to church, so when she could she would schlep her brood to Sunday School all by herself. She spent her spare time in the churchyard, weeding and tending it.

Very few of her contemporaries are still alive, even fewer attend church regularly. When I was talking to her children, they talked about how important the church was to her.

“When, and why, did she resign her membership?” I asked, curious to understand how someone who had been so involved and cared so much was not on my radar at all after 6 years of being the minister of the church.

“Oh, she never resigned,” her kids told me. “Some years ago, they took her off the roles so they wouldn’t have to pay the Association for her to be a member.”


How many people have our congregations done this to? People who have dedicated their lives to a congregation, loved it, nurtured it, but when, due to age and financial constraints, they are no longer able to pledge or show up, are dropped from the membership role like hot potatoes so that we don’t have to count them when our Fair Share contribution to the Unitarian Universalist Association is tallied?

This is no way to treat our co-religionists. Our financial stewardship Fair Share amount to our Association should not be based on membership because that encourages us to not count those who are unable to contribute at a particular level. And, after time, these folks who are not counted become unseen as well. They fall off our radar as leadership changes. And we don’t even realize what we have lost.

The Southern Region of the UUA utilizes G.I.F.T. to calculate Fair Share for UUA Stewardship.

So what are some alternatives? In the Southern Region of the UUA, they are trying out a new program that bases a congregation’s Fair Share contribution on a fixed percentage (7%) of a congregation’s certified expenses. These expenses are based on a congregation’s general operating expenses, but the calculation does not include things like mortgage principal payments (mortgage interest payments are included) and some other capital expenses. There is more detailed information available online.

Reports are that about 40% of congregations have seen their contributions go higher, some but a bit but others substantially. This means that approximately 60% of congregations have seen their Fair Share amount lowered or remain the same. And there is the added benefit that utilizing GIFT combines into one amount a congregation’s district/regional contribution with the national contribution, meaning one less thing for congregations to keep track of.

Though I am sure it has its detractors, utilizing a method such as GIFT seems a much more equitable way of determining what a congregation’s Fair Share contribution to our Association is – with the added benefit of not encouraging the abandonment of longtime members when they are unable to remain connected at previous levels.

I just wish it was available to those of us outside the Southern Region.

removing barriers through getting creative about finances.

10 Apr

money-tree-images-Image-Money-Tree-IllustrationAs we explore what it looks like to remove barriers to participation in brick & mortar congregations in a changing religious landscape, one can’t help but wonder about money. At this point, many of you are probably wondering how on earth we are supposed to do all these things. With the economic downturn finally resolving, congregations are often still struggling to make ends meet.

Some congregations have instituted a fee for service payment method, where activities are broken down and participants pay for them separately. This might look like having fees to participate in RE classes, book groups, CUUPS rituals, possibly even worship. The trouble with this method is that it puts up barriers to participation instead of removing them. Instead, I believe it is time for congregations to get creative.

One way congregations can remove barriers to participation around money is to utilize technology more effectively. This might look like having hardware, such as the Square, available to accept credit cards on site at the church. It might also look like enabling online donations during the service, either though a sharing a website, or through having a QR code on a card in the pew or on the order of service that can quickly take someone to your online donation page (remember, younger people don’t carry checkbooks, or cash!).

No discussion of funding would be complete without a mention of crowd funding. Crowd funding is the use of the internet to attract funding for commercial and nonprofit projects from countless individuals. You have probably donated to some crowd-funding projects through GoFundMe, KickStarter, IndieGoGo or one of the other platforms. And we have our own special Unitarian Universalist crowd-funding platform now: Faithify. From youth group trips, to social justice workshops, to building additions, video projects, and much more, thousands upon thousands of dollars have been donated through Faithify for specifically Unitarian Universalist projects.

Though congregations will likely still rely on your annual pledge as the primary means of support, I also believe we will begin to see more congregations applying for more traditional grants. There are thousands upon thousands of dollars available out there that congregations could be plugging into: from making our building more accessible to funding a new staff position, to a variety of social service and social justice projects that congregations could be taking advantage of. These grants are available from local organizations, state and national organizations, and, if a congregation has been a UUA Fair Share Congregation for two years, from district/regional chalice lighter grants or from the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program. Grant applications are particularly appealing to deciding bodies when congregations partner with other area organizations, including other local congregations.

sharingWhich leads to another way to do more with less: sharing resources with other congregations. It may be that you could share a staff position, such as a bookkeeper or a membership coordinator, with a nearby congregation. Or maybe share a webmaster with a congregation in a different state! Not only does this help lighten the load on an individual congregation, it creates jobs that are more likely to provide both benefits and a livable wage – making the position more appealing to a larger array of candidates!

Congregations need to start getting creative when it comes to finances. The money is out there for compelling projects, it is just a matter of tapping into it.

removing barriers through effectively utilizing technology.

9 Apr

As we explore what it looks like to remove barriers to participation in brick & mortar congregations in a changing religious landscape, the utilization plays a very important role, from streaming services to having welcome videos on their websites, to projecting video, presentations, having google hangouts in the service, and more, during the service. Having a podcast or video-cast of the service allows people to access it whenever it works for their schedule.

technology2But integrating technology into the life of a congregation is not limited to Sunday mornings. Video conferencing can be used for meetings so that people who have difficulty driving at night, or have children at home they need to be with, can participate from the comfort of their own home. Google Docs and DropBox can also be used to share work amongst groups of people – I know they have revolutionized how we get work done at my congregation! For instance, we have a shared google spreadsheet for maintaining the Sunday Services schedule which lists everyone who is involved in any capacity in making each service happen: from speaker to chalice lighter to ushers to board host, sound booth, tech deck and more. We also use DropBox for group editing of the presentations that get shown during the service on Sunday morning. This way, the work is shared amongst a number of people, cutting huge jobs down into more bite-sized ones. We average about 110 adults on Sunday morning, so this is not something just for larger congregations!

It was not that long ago that congregations could get by without having a website, but that is absolutely not the case anymore. And a website is just the beginning. A congregation may have many more “likes” on Facebook or followers on Twitter than they do members – my congregation has 3x as many “likes” as the membership number, 6x as many “likes” as the number that shows up on Sunday morning. These are people whose lives the congregation touches in some capacity. Congregations need to be on social media, and they need to know how to use it. For instance, on social media information is processed differently than it is in print, or even in email. Chunks of data have to be smaller, discrete. They have to grab the viewer immediately with relevant details in case they don’t read past the first sentence. The use of imagery is important, too, not just because it will appeal to those of us who are more visually oriented but because the facebook algorithm will also show a post to more people if there is an image attached. The ubiquitous use of social media necessitates a shift in how we share information, as we maintain the old era ways of the newsletter and printed orders of service while moving to the new era ways of using social media.

Congregations can also use technology to see what people are interested in at the church or how people are finding the church. Using customer relationship management software like Constant Contact to distribute the newsletter and then tracking which links get clicked on and which don’t allows us to see who is reading the newsletter and what parts of it people are most interested in. Google analytics can track what search terms bring up a congregation’s website, as well as where the majority of the clicks come from. This is important data that can then be used when deciding what to promote, as well as how and where to spend advertising or marketing money. Which leads to the final changing aspect of congregational life I want to explore in this series: getting creative about finances.

removing barriers through transitioning away from a membership model.

8 Apr

As we explore what it looks like to remove barriers to participation in brick & mortar congregations in a changing religious landscape, we are seeing a shift in our dominant operating paradigm. In times past, a congregation would look at how many members it has as a measure of health and “success”. But with declining membership numbers, congregations are now shifting to looking instead at how the reimagine participation in the congregation.

The Old WayIn the old model, the vast majority of the congregation would worship together on Sunday morning. After a certain amount of time, visitors would become members, and then they would be invited to participate in the structure of the church by joining one committee or another. If someone came into the church via one of the church groups, such as a book-group or a CUUPS group or a meditation group, they would be encouraged to come to worship and eventually join the church. People who did not participate in the communal worship of the church frustrated leaders who wanted these people to “count” as members and to then support the church through their volunteer efforts and financial contributions.

The New WayThe new model turns this old way on its head. Instead of a pathway to membership, there is a new focus on multiple avenues of participation. Perhaps someone wants to come to a particular Adult Religious Education class, or they are interested in the book club. Or they want to volunteer for the soup kitchen or they turn out for the public witness march. These are people who may be involved in the church in several different ways but who may only rarely (if ever) show up at Sunday morning worship.

Until now, we would try to get these folks to come to worship, with the goal being to get on that pathway to membership. Today, we recognize that these ways of participating are valid and valuable as the church can (and should!) touch lives outside of worship as well as inside.

This new focus on multiple avenues of participation has an impact on how we do things: Faith development should not only happen in worship, it should happen at the church group level as well, whether that group is the soup-kitchen servers, the book group, an RE class, or beyond. Stewardship is the same – we can’t just “hit up” the people who are in worship but must approach the whole of the congregation.

Churches are removing barriers to participation by considering folks who engage in these other avenues and groups as community members because they are, whether or not they participate in worship or have formally signed the book. Besides, they may have very good reasons for not attending on Sunday morning. For instance, they may have to work! This leads to the issue I will discuss in the next post: utilizing technology effectively.

removing barriers through diversifying worship.

7 Apr

As we explore what it looks like to remove barriers to participation in brick & mortar congregations in a changing religious landscape, one question that quickly comes to mind centers on worship: In a world where people can easily find exhilarating TED talks, stirring UpWorthy videos, what does a congregation have to offer that makes worship unique?

People come to experience in community something that we cannot get by ourselves – whether it is joy of joining together in communal song, or the shared experience of reflecting on an inspiring sermon, or the struggle to understand how we should live knowing that we will die – whatever the reason, we come to experience something we cannot get by ourselves. Millennials, in particular, come to our congregations seeking authentic emotional connection. If a church is not giving the shared experience people crave, then the spiritual needs of the people are not being met.

6TyopBbkcTo prepare effective worship that meets today’s needs, it is important pay attention to vast array of people coming to us, knowing we are going to attempt to minister to someone who is walking in the door for the first time as well as to someone who has been coming for their whole life. We try to meet the needs of the person who has never sung a song communally before and really likes popular music, as well as the needs of the person who thirsts for more traditional hymnody. Utilizing Gardner’s multiple intelligences, we understand and try to meet the needs of the visual learner, the interpersonal learner, the intrapersonal learner, the linguistic learning, the bodily learner, the musical learner, the logical mathematical learner and more!

A challenge arises in congregations with only one worship service a week: creating an experience that can touch such diverse varieties of people in only one hour is difficult. This is why so many congregations have added a contemporary or innovative worship service to their offerings – to try to meet the needs of a greater variety of people. The Faith Communities Today study from 2010 indicated that having innovative worship is a marker of spiritual vitality in a congregation because it removes barriers to participation. But in 2010 only 3% of our Unitarian Universalist congregations reported having such a service!

There is another reason congregations are diversifying their worship portfolio- not only can a congregation offer different types of services, but they can offer them at different times of the week and through various formats. This allows a congregation to connect with those who are not able to attend a Sunday morning service. This diversification of worship allows the church to touch more lives effectively, which I will cover in the next blog.

removing barriers to participation in congregational life.

7 Apr

As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We accept one another and encourage each other on our spiritual journeys. These two statements combined mean that we strive to meet people where they are. Not where we wish they would be, not where we think they should be. It means meeting people in the lived reality of where they are.

The more we understand this, the more we realize that it is our calling to confront and seek to do away with whatever it is that prevents people from feeling as though they have a place at the table. This means intentionally looking at what accommodations a congregation can make to remove barriers to participation for all those who might find a home with us.

removing barriersThough we cannot, and should not, try to be all things to all people, through being intentional about our worship, through providing multiple avenues for participation in the life of the congregation, through the use of technology, and through thinking creatively about finances, congregations can remove barriers to participation and thus walk the talk on living our first principle (affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of each person), our third principle (acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations) and other core values.

But what does this look like in practice, particularly in today’s changing congregational landscape? Traditional brick and mortar congregations are in transition. The previous era is behind us – the old ways of doing church no longer work the way they used to, with worship being the central function (sometimes the only function!) and committees populated by volunteers doing the brunt of the church work. People are busier than they have ever been. There are fewer families with only one spouse employed, leaving the other the freedom to be a professional volunteer. There are fewer people going to church than ever before (fewer than 20% of the US population on any given Sunday), and there as been a rise of what are called the “nones” – the people who claim to be spiritual but not affiliated with any religious tradition.

In the next four posts, I am going to examine what these changes might look like in practice in traditional congregations as we work to remove barriers to participation by:

Certainly, there is no way that I can summarize all the possibilities, but hopefully this is enough to get your creative juices flowing as you figure out how to navigate your congregation into a new era.

Direct Democracy and UUA “citizenship” – part 3

1 Apr


My final (I think) post in a series on exploring what direct democracy might look like if we implemented it at the UUA is now available over on the Lively Tradition.

I am thinking it would be worthwhile to set up a few google hangouts on this topic, so if you are interested in having future conversations about this topic, please let me know!



bragging, just a bit.

27 Jan

The congregation I serve is so cool. Here are some short videos they made about what they did, and how they did things, while I was on sabbatical. It almost makes me wish I had stuck around! I am so glad to be back with them now.

First Unitarian On The Loose
This video is about a group of adventurous people on an amazing journey exploring new ways of doing the same things while I was on sabbatical.

To Speak The Truth In Love
This video describes the way they worshiped together while I was gone.

Sharing Our Time, Talent And Treasure
And this video describes some of the ways they shared their time, talent and treasures.

Aren’t they amazing?


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