Archive for the ‘effective congregations’ Category

Tools for Moving Beyond the Mono-cultural Congregation

November 15, 2011

The UUA has recently added a new resource to its Web site — a 14-page document called Multicultural Welcome: A Resource for Greeters in Unitarian Universalist Congregations. The resource invites theological reflection on welcoming and hospitality; includes a section for training greeters; gives suggestions on inviting conversation with newcomers; a list of additional resources for reading and reflection; and more. Often, we’ve discussed how we want to move forward on becoming more multicultural, but have decried the lack of resources.  This looks excellent, and I invite you to give this some thought and try out the ideas. You can find it here: 


Sextons in a UU Church? Why not?

November 9, 2011

Here’s a way that one congregation has found to assure that their building is an attractive and safe space during the week.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester MN has a team of 6 – 7 sextons. The sextons sign up for a week at a time through the year. On a daily basis, that week’s sexton goes to the church, walks through the building looking for open windows, unlocked doors, or clutter. The sexton turns off lights that are not in use, straightens up when there is clutter, and makes sure that the rooms are ready for the next group to use. They inspect the restrooms for adequate paper supplies and cleanliness. After checking the church building schedule, they program the thermostats in various rooms where meetings will take place. And on Sunday mornings or at other large events, they assist the staff or person in charge as requested.

The church has regular paid custodial help during the week. Snow removal is also contracted out. During the winter, the sextons put out orange cones in the parking lot on Sundays to guide drivers in parking their cars.

This group of sextons gather periodically for great parties; they make it fun for the team to do this work for the church! [Thanks to Sexton Patty T for sharing this information with me!]

Something New in the World of Church Potlucks!

October 10, 2011

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames IA host potlucks in their homes – at least a couple of dinners every month. To make it easy to sign up, they’ve developed an online sign up process. When people go to the web page, they can see the list of potlucks and hosts, whether the host home is child-friendly or not, and how many spaces are still left at the party! People can also sign up there to host a potluck. The person who developed the online system says they hope to increase participation and reduce the workload.  To find out more about how this works, send an email to   Here’s to more excellent opportunities for sharing food and community!

Think We’re Too Small to Make a Difference?

January 24, 2011

Think we’re too small to make a difference? That we can’t get the attention of those in power? The folks at First Unitarian Church of Omaha have debunked that myth. Read all about it:  

Sorry for the bad link earlier.

So How are You Preparing a Place?

December 14, 2010

From Rev. Thom Belote’s Church Growth Inventory in The Growing Church: Keys to Congregational Vitality [Skinner House Books, 2010]: “The church did not begin the moment a member stepped in the door, and will not cease to exist the moment a member leaves. The church has a past, a present, and a future. When I address my congregation about growth, I say that when you first walked into this church, there was a seat in the sanctuary waiting for you. Before you arrived, somebody made sure that there would be an open seat for a person they hadn’t even met yet. I then say that it is incumbent upon each member of the church to ensure that there will be an open seat for the next person who walks in, and the next person, and the next.”

Another way of saying this is what I have sometimes responded to congregations who were wondering, “Should we grow?”

I remind them of Dag Hammarskjold’s saying, “Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and give back.” We come to a religious community and we find a welcome there — we receive. For awhile, it’s our turn to carry that community — to give of our time and our resources to sustain the community for ourselves and for others who are there. And then, at some point and due to some circumstance, we move on. It’s our responsibility to assure that our religious community will be there, strong and healthy, for others who will come in the future, just as we did. We receive, carry, and give back.

So what are you doing to prepare a place, to assure an empty seat, to give back, for the person who is seeking what you have found in your religious community? Tell me about it.

14 out of 88? Wow!

March 17, 2010

I heard this week that 14 of the 88 members of the Bismarck-Mandan Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will be attending General Assembly in June. Wow! 14 out of 88! That’s terrific!

Then I heard that the congregation has set aside $5,000 to pay their expenses. Wow again!

The congregation’s president reported, “We saw this year’s General Assembly in Minneapolis as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and felt that supporting the attendance of those who wished to go was an important investment in our long term leadership development strategy. We are asking participants to attend at least one pre-GA planning session and a series of post-GA sessions to result in programming and other appropriate follow up.”

Rev. Lyn Burton, the congregation’s Consulting Minister, commented: “By financially supporting participation in GA by 14 of its 88 members, the congregation plans to strengthen lay leadership, broaden access to resources, deepen connections within the UUA, and build on the shared diverse experiences of those who attend. It is a punctuation mark by the board of trustees that affirms commitment to and momentum toward realizing the congregation’s vision for transforming the church and nurturing its growth.”

Making this investment in its members and their connection to the larger world of Unitarian Universalism, especially in this time of scarcity, is exemplary. I thought you’d want to know about it. So if you’re at GA this summer, watch for the folks from Bismarck! They’ll be the ones soaking it all in and smiling all the while!

Why I Put $$ in the Collection Plate, Even Though I Pledge to the Church

November 24, 2009

Nothing distresses me more than to visit a congregation, sit a third of the way back, and see that the collection plate is nearly empty when it reaches me. Now I know that most members pledge to the church and dutifully mail their checks to the church each month. And that’s why the collection plates in those churches look pretty empty as they are passed from pew to pew.

But imagine that you’re a visitor to that church. What message are we giving to the visitor, to see that hardly anyone is putting money into the plate? Perhaps that the church doesn’t need the money? Perhaps that the people here are really stingy and just don’t give? What message are we giving?

I’ve even suggested to some church leaders that it would be a good idea for someone in the front row [or an usher] to “salt” the collection plate by putting in a twenty. Do you think it would be dishonest if the church treasurer put a twenty dollar bill of the church’s own money into each collection plate on Sundays, to get things rolling, and then removed those bills to be used again the next week? Would it improve giving?

Is there a way to suggest to pledging members that they give additional money to the church on Sundays, if they have it? Many people wouldn’t miss the additional $5 or $10 [or more!] that they would put in the plate, and if it caught on, it could make a big difference to the church’s budget.

In the church where I’m a member, the offering money is divided, with a large percentage of the offering going to a charitable organization suggested by a congregation member who is involved with that group. Giving away the offering is a way of contributing to the good work being done in the community. A small percentage goes toward the church budget. When I attend services there, I always put cash into the collection plate. I know some of it will go to a community group and some will stay at the church for the church’s own work. And I don’t reduce our pledge knowing that I’ll be giving Sunday-to-Sunday, either. Consider it gravy — or perhaps a better word would be “gratitude” that the church is there for me, and others, every day of every week, every year. I consider it a real bargain!

Report from Multi-Site Congregations Workshop

November 12, 2009

Just a quick update on my last post, about the Multi-Site Congregations Workshop we held on November 7. [See previous post for details.]

Rev. Christine Robinson of First Unitarian in Albuquerque did an excellent job of introducing the topic and sharing the evolution of their project from the “idea” stage to now — they are a congregation meeting in several locations, as well as multiple venues at the Albuquerque site. We added information about the San Diego project and some learnings from evangelical congregations, courtesy of Pacific Southwest District Executive Ken Brown.

So, how was it? Well, in Kansas City, teams from two congregations participated, along with a couple of people who live 50 miles away from their home church. In Saint Paul, there were teams from four congregations.

All who were there felt that their time was well spent, and that the information presented was worth considering in their future planning. While we didn’t ask for commitments from those present, we do hope to hear more from the congregations as they begin to think about how they might use the Multi-Site Congregation concept to serve people in their areas and beyond.

The workshop was recorded, and we’re looking for ways to make it available to other congregations in our district, and perhaps in other districts. More to come!

They Call Themselves Multi-Site Congregations

October 19, 2009

We’ve been promoting a new idea in our district, and I want you to know about it. It’s an idea that has been around for awhile in evangelical congregations and is starting to catch on among Unitarian Universalists. They call themselves multi-site congregations.

We don’t have any multi-site congregations in Prairie Star District, but we are offering a workshop on November 7 to introduce the idea. We’ll be featuring Rev. Christine Robinson, Senior Minister at First Unitarian — “a UU congregation meeting in Albuquerque, Carlsbad, Edgewood, and Socorro.” That phrase is the heart of the matter — one congregation, with services in multiple locations, sometimes many miles apart. The groups in Edgewood [20 miles from Albuquerque] and Socorro [80 miles from Albuquerque] have been meeting for a couple of years, using videos of the ministers’ sermons, and the Carlsbad group [275 miles from Albuquerque] is new. The church’s web site at has more information. Click on the Branch Ministry Project link.

First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego has started a second site in Chula Vista, to reach out to people living in the south bay area. Hear their minister discuss the reasons for doing this on a video you can see here: And the ministers and staff at Fox Falley UU Fellowship in Appleton, Wisconsin, are currently meeting with members who live in Oshkosh, thirty miles away, to discuss how they might start a branch in Oshkosh.

Prairie Star District, too, has a large geography, with people living in many places with no access to a UU congregation. We, too, would like to serve those people. This is one way we might be able to do it. The workshop is Saturday, November 7, in two locations — the Twin Cities and Kansas City. Find out more here:

Learning from a Breakthrough Congregation

September 20, 2009

Last winter, First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, IA, was named a Breakthrough Congregation for 2009. The minister, Reverend Mark Stringer, and leaders of the congregation were at General Assembly in June to present a workshop about their extraordinary church. As a service to other congregations, they have posted many helpful resources on their Web site. If you’d like to learn more about the tools they have created as they have grown in numbers, go to their Web site at

When you’re there, click on “Breakthrough Congregation” on the home page. But before you click on that link, be sure to explore the Web site to learn more about the church.