Finding Your Governance “Sweet Spot”

governance_and_ministryCongregational governance is an art. Church leaders need to learn how to navigate the line between governance and ministry.  In other non-profits, there are different parties to consider:

  • The Board sets mission & vision, makes policy and assures fiduciary responsibility
  • The CEO and staff carry out the mission
  • The Donors help support the mission with their financial gifts
  • The Beneficiaries are the “object” of the non-profit’s mission

In the congregational world, members of the board don’t just govern, they are also donors and beneficiaries and–at times–staff (when they are also serving as part of a ministry such as being a worship associate or being a pastoral visitor). In other words, church governance is a little bit messy.

There is no one-size-fits-all kind of governance for congregations, but there are resources to help UU congregations navigate a governance change. One is the consultants at Unity Consulting, who have adapted John Carver’s Policy Governance® for congregations.

Another is Dan Hotchkiss, former Alban Institute consultant and UUA staff member, and the author of Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership.  Rev. Hotchkiss has just released a second edition of Governance and Ministry.  I had the opportunity to interview him about what he learned since writing the first edition, and about the significant changes compared to the first edition:

 

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, UUA Congregational Life Consultant

Additional resources mentioned in this blog and interview:

Books:

Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Second Edition by Dan Hotchkiss

Mobilizing Congregations: How Teams Can Motivate Members and Get Things Done by John W. Wimberly Jr.

When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations by Rev. Susan Beaumont and Gil Rendle

Consultants:

Your UUA Regional Staff

Congregational Consulting Group

Unity Consulting

Are Your Church’s Retirement Benefits “Legal?”

January is always a good time for a church to take stock of its fiduciary responsibilities. Rev. Richard Nugent, the UUA Church Staff Finances Director, has some important advice for UU congregations, in particular about how congregations administer their retirement plans:


Congregations are legal entities required to comply with all sorts of legal requirements. While religious institutions

Rev. Richard Nugent, Church Staff Finances Director
Rev. Richard Nugent, Church Staff Finances Director

might be exempt from a FEW legal requirements, churches are NOT exempt from most. This includes many requirements stemming from being an employer.

Today’s post pertains to the UU Organizations Retirement Plan. Our plan is a 401(a)/401(k) non-electing church plan. It is governed by IRS and US Labor Department rules. It is also governed by a plan document that every participating congregation has adopted/re-adopted in 2014 or 2015. In adopting our plan, by motion of your governing board, your congregation committed to abide by the rules of the plan (and hopefully federal regulations).

What does this mean:

1) All employees (and all means all) must be offered enrollment in the plan for purposes of making their own employee contributions toward their retirement.

2) All new employees, who never worked for a UUA-related organization before, MUST receive employer contributions after meeting the requirement of 12 months of employment during which they worked 1,000 hours or more. If someone previously worked for a UUA-related organization and was enrolled in our plan, then they must receive employer contributions from day one of employment. New ministers who completed a UUA-related internship are also eligible immediately. After meeting the 1,000 hour/12 month requirement, if anyone’s hours are reduced, they still receive employer contributions. Essentially, once in our plan, always in our plan.

3) Personnel policies that limit eligibility for retirement benefits to certain employees DO NOT TRUMP THE UUA REQUIREMENTS. Our requirements rule, and congregations agreed to that when they signed on to our plan. .

4 All employees eligible for employer contributions must receive the SAME percentage contribution. THE MINISTER CAN NOT RECEIVE 10% OR MORE WHILE EVERYONE ELSE RECEIVES 5%. This is not allowed by our plan and in violation of IRS regulations. I am happy to discuss this with anyone who finds their congregation in this situation.

5) The minimum employer contribution is 5%. 86% of congregations contribute 10% or more. Fair Compensation requires an offer of 10% or more. People need to put away 14% of their salary to ensure the possibility of retirement.

6) If you believe your congregation might be in violation of these policies, please contact me to discuss how you can legally come into compliance.

7) For any questions about our plan, the very helpful and informative Linda Rose directs our retirement plan. As a spouse of a UU minister, Linda understands congregational dynamics. Linda can be reached at retirement@uua.org.

We at the UUA are appreciative of all the hard work you do, and the challenge of keeping up with administrative details.

Reverend Richard Nugent, UUA Church Staff Finances Director

 

Sprucing Up Your Spiritual Hospitality

Photo Copyright Brad Bolton.
Photo Copyright Brad Bolton.

I’m a “stealth greeter” in my home congregation. I go up to newcomers after a service and strike up a conversation about what brought them to church that day, and then I listen. What are they looking for? Community, meaning, direction and connection to a purpose greater than themselves.

Most of our congregations are pretty good at the first two. We provide community in our social events and meaning in the Sunday worship service. I think it’s because community and meaning are what our older adults are looking for and our older adults run the show and can make sure those are happening.

But the young adults that I talk to are looking for direction and connection to a purpose greater than themselves. A recent article in the Atlantic starts out telling the story of the young adult ramblings of our venerable Henry David Thoreau and how today’s millennials need to find their way into adulthood, not with predetermined markers (job, marriage, house, children) but within their sense of self.

Congregational leaders who want to create a culture that is welcoming to young adult seekers are facing the adaptive challenge of being a community that not only serves the existing members, but also provides spiritual hospitality. This kind of hospitality is based on the Platinum Rule–an intercultural version of the Golden Rule–of doing unto others what they would have done for themselves.

My congregation uses monthly themes and has different ways for people to connect and engage with them. We also strive to offer life-stage groups (single young adult, parents of young children, parents of adolescents, retiree) and other kinds of groups to help people connect and find their own direction. As I share these concrete possibilities with the visitor, I can see their delight as they see the possibility of this becoming their spiritual home.

What might your congregation do to provide spiritual hospitality?

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Consultant

Resources:
Theme-Based Ministry
Adaptive Leadership

One Bad Apple CAN Spoil the Whole Bunch

Photo by Jimmy Poon https://www.flickr.com/photos/jk_poon/2991423132/
Photo by Jimmy Poon https://www.flickr.com/photos/jk_poon/2991423132/

The 1970’s heart-throb boy band The Osmonds provided a disservice with their ear-worm hit song “One Bad Apple.” They sang,

“One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl,
Oh, I don’t care what they say, I don’t care what you heard now”

when it fact it really can and will, especially in our congregations.

By saying “bad apples” I’m referring to behaviors of people in our congregations that can act like the ethylene that rotting fruit emits that will eventually rot the fruit nearby. But instead of causing rot, the human version of the bad apple breaks the bonds of community.

Let me be clear that it’s behaviors that I am talking about, not the people themselves. As creatures of free will, we can make choices about our behavior. As communities, we can set standards of behavior to encourage people to be their best selves, at least at church.  As I’ve heard many parents express, “Going to church helps to remind ourselves that “the world does not revolve around me.”

Congregations that are unable to grow, or that are declining in numbers and enthusiasm often have ignored the bad apples among their midst and yet are puzzled about why visitors don’t return or why new members drift away without saying why.  (Even if they did, it’s a rare congregation who would take such feedback to heart.)

I am passionate about this because–every week–someone walks through the doors of a UU congregation who needs the saving message of liberal religion (you are not inherently sinful!) and the saving community of covenant (we pledge to support and encourage one another to spiritual growth). It breaks my heart when anyone is repelled from “the bunch” of healthy, vibrant community by the “bad apple” of an individual or two.

Why do we tolerate behaviors that repel not just visitors but healthy and contributing members? I think it’s because our leaders exhibit a failure of nerve to stand up to such destructive behaviors and sometimes even enable them with excuses or explanations like:

“Oh, that’s just Jack.  He’s always been like that.  Lot’s of people are huggers.  Jack just doesn’t know when to stop.”

 

“We know that Mary is always criticizing the minister and board, but she is one of our major donors.  We wouldn’t want to risk losing her.”

 

“We’re the only community that Greg has. He may have some incidents of aggressive behavior, but they’ve never happened at church so it’s none of our business.”

 

“It’s too bad that we’ve gone through eight administrators in five years because of Pat pointing our every little mistake. Pat used to be our volunteer administrator and is a member of one of our founding families.  They have too much power for the board to do anything.”

 

“Letting someone like Bill talk for 5 minutes during Joys and Sorrows shows newcomers that we are welcoming and supportive of everyone.”

 

“A lot of our older members had bad experiences with Christian churches in their childhoods.  People should understand when they condemn Christianity they only mean certain kinds of Christians.”

 

“If people aren’t sticking around after a few bad experiences with some of our crankier members, it just means there weren’t all that committed to our church in the first place.”

If you currently have a similar “bad apple” situation in your congregation, don’t despair!  There are many resources to help your leadership team (and it takes a team!) to stand up “to bad apple” behaviors:

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Consultant, Central East Region.

 

Resources:

 

 

Keeping Your Laundry Out of the Living Room

house sideBelonging to and being a part of a community is an important aspect of congregational life. Many of our members think of their congregations as a second home and think of the other members as part of their extended family. The relationships that we create and nurture by sharing the details of our lives are an important part of the glue that binds us.

The problem is that the existing, integrated members’ needs for intimacy is in tension with providing hospitality for those who are newer or even visiting for the first time.  How do we balance that tension?  We can still take our cues from how families operate.

Imagine how a congregation is like an American middle-class house.

Curb Appeal

In a private residence, these are all-access public spaces like the front porch and yard, that are visible to all and should be inviting and clearly marked.

These are the outside parts of our buildings, our parking lots and gardens and our website. We let the world know who we are and what we care about, in language they can understand.

Open House

Then we have inside semi-public spaces where we provide hospitality to non-family such as in an open-house party: the living room and dining room. We provide comfortable seating and make sure people are safe and can participate as they wish. We make sure everyone is included in the conversation without being put on the spot. We refrain from over-sharing. When offering refreshments we make sure that everyone can partake, offering gluten-free, caffeine-free and non-alcoholic choices.

These are our Sunday morning worship and fellowship times. This is where newcomers come to learn about us without being put on the spot. We get a chance to get to know them through engaged–but not too personal–conversation.  This means we try to avoid behaviors that might “creep people out” or make them feel like outsiders.

Dinner with Good Friends

Then we have the close-friends spaces such as the kitchen table and back porch.  These are the spaces for more intimate sharing between people who already have relationships.

These might be covenant groups, chalice circles or cottage meetings in our congregations.

Doing the Laundry

Then there are the family-only spaces (bedrooms, laundry and rumpus room). These are spaces where we can be ourselves, let our hair down, fuss about the neighbors or perhaps whine about whose turn it is to scoop the litter box.

In our congregations, the equivalent spaces might be town hall discussions where we make space to hear one another and meetings of committees, boards and the “congregation in meeting” where decisions are made.

What does this mean for our congregations?

Sunday Mornings

This is your congregation’s “open house” time.  As many of our parents say, “Church is here to remind us that it’s not ‘all about me.'”  Sunday worship is a public expression of who we are (our DNA or core values expressed in our mission) and who we aspire to be (our aspirational values as expressed in our vision and strategic plan).  A competent minister has a finger on this pulse of the congregation.

How we support and care for one another must be expressed in a way that is inclusive and welcoming.  If you have a fellowshipped UU minister who is an active UUMA member, they will have the wisdom to find out the best practices from their colleagues.  (It’s rare that a congregation over 100 members can do this well with an “open mic” Joys & Sorrows format.)

The time of fellowship (often called “coffee hour”) is our opportunity to provide hospitality to the newcomer — not just a chance to connect with dear friends.  Congregations who have a commitment to growth have leaders who covenant (promise) one another to refrain from conducting business and personal conversation until 30-45 minutes after the service ends.

Your Semi-Public Space

Once people walk through your doors, you will want to make sure you have a clear, consistent message, from your signage (where are the restrooms), to your greeters (where should one sit), to how new parents can know how their children will be kept safe.

If your congregation provides gender-neutral bathrooms or accommodations for people with hearing disabilities (such as a loop system) or other initiatives that may be unfamiliar to newcomers, be sure to have trained greeters, ushers and other welcoming volunteers to help new people acclimate.

Tend to the Laundry

If there is an active conflict in your congregation, do not give in to the temptation to process it in the public and semi-public spaces. In fact, any active conflict affects visitors, who can feel the tension when they walk through your doors.

Instead, make sure that you have opportunities to “do the laundry” in your congregation with town hall and cottage meetings when ever there is an issue that is eliciting conflict.

The world need our saving message of rational thought and universal love.  Let’s be sure to open our doors and set our tables so we can invite people to hear that message.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, UUA Congregational Life Staff

Social Media Hygiene

lori
Lori Stone Sirtosky

Social media is a great outreach tool for today’s congregations, but congregational leaders need to be savvy about how to balance the open-source nature of today’s interactive internet with the need to articulate a consistent message in alignment  with your congregation’s mission and vision (and — dare I say — “brand”).

Social media expert Lori Stone Sirtosky offers some tips on best practices for congregations to ensure consistency for your congregational Twitter and Facebook accounts during times of transition:

For Facebook

  • If your congregation has paid staff, make sure at least one staff member has the manager role on your congregation’s page. They can then remove and add volunteers as new people relinquish/assume this role.
  • For congregations with no paid staff, make sure more than one volunteer has the manager role for your Facebook page (and provide training to all managers on how to avoid posting “as the page” accidentally, especially from their phone).

For Twitter

  • To ensure continuity, the email address (e.g., email@yourchurchdomain.org) associated with the organization’s twitter account should be controlled by church staff (if you have them). Then even if the social media person walks, the domain admin can reset the password to the email account. This will allow you to use the Twitter lost password feature to get in.
  • For groups that rely on volunteers, building redundancy can be more of a challenge, but it is possible! You can set up the email address as an alias and redirect it to more than one person. This way multiple people are notified when a password reset attempt is made. This builds in a measure of security. It also allows more than one person to reset the password and regain access to the account if needed.

Building redundancy into the system before someone vacates these key tech and social media roles for your congregation is vital.

Good planning now will save you a lot of headache later.

 

 

Covenantal Faith in a Transactional World

Photo credit:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/zizzy/89696604/
Photo credit:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/zizzy/89696604/

Because our congregations run on money, it’s tempting to bring–along with it–assumptions about how money operates in other parts of our lives.  We go to work and we get a paycheck.  We pay the electric bill and the power company keeps our lights on. We pay at the first window and pick up at the second.

But when we fill out a pledge card, or put together the annual operating budget, the numbers represent more than goods and services.  The numbers represent the ministry that our congregation is called to do in the world, and the numbers represent our financial commitment and accountability to that ministry.

Our covenants are our promises to one another about how we are going to walk together as we do that ministry.

Our pledge cards are promises about how we will help fund that ministry.
Letters of agreement are promises that paid staff and church leaders make to one another about how they will do ministry together and expectations around how they will be accountable to one another.

When we are under financial stress, we are tempted to slip into transactional mode.  The budget looks like any other set of numbers.  The simplest places to cut are the largest line items: staff salaries and benefits.

The financial stress is real, but our responses to the stress can be covenantal instead of transactional.  As you begin a meeting where budget cuts are needed:

  • Remind yourselves of who you are and the good that your congregation is already doing in the world.
  • Remind yourselves of your vision of what more you hope to do to build the beloved community.
  • Remind yourselves of the promises that you have made with one another to support your congregation’s ministry.

Then you will be ready for your discernment as leaders grounded in our covenantal faith.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

 

 

 

Worst Case Scenarios…and How to Be Prepared

Operation_Upshot-Knothole_-_Badger_001The phone rings.  There is an anxious board president on the phone with a crisis on their hands.  Perhaps their minister has fallen seriously ill, or there is a member who is regularly disrupting the Sunday worship service, or a registered sex offender has expressed interest in attending the church.  Some situations cannot be anticipated or prevented.  But there are many situations where having the right policies, procedures and safeguards in place will help a congregation get through a crisis.

Here is a checklist for your board to use to determine your congregation’s preparedness:

1. Make sure your staff members have adequate insurance.

Having your minister fall ill and not be able to perform their duties would be hard on the congregation.  Having your minister not be able to perform their duties–with no financial safety net–would be devastating.  Make sure that, along with your health plan, you include group insurance plans that include term life and long-term disability insurance.  These are relatively inexpensive add-ons to insurance policies.

2. Make sure your congregation has adequate insurance.

Call your insurance agent for an insurance check-up. Many UU congregations use Church Mutual, because they have an understanding of the needs of liberal religious communities.  Insurance can help your congregation recover financially after a fire, embezzlement or other harmful event.

3. Set up clear expectations about behaviors.

Even if you recite a traditional covenant on Sunday morning (i.e. Love is the Spirit of this church….) you will want to have a behavioral covenant or a covenant of right relations that spells out how members promise to treat one another.  In addition to this, you will want a disruptive behavior policy so that you give your leaders the authority to set limits on particularly damaging behaviors, and a process for restoring right relationship if the disruptive person is willing to abide by the limits.

4. Make sure your congregation has well-communicated “Safer Congregations” policies.

The Religious Institute has well-defined “best practices” for congregations to prevent sexual abuse, sexual harassment and professional sexual misconduct.  They also provide resources on how to include known sex offenders in your community while still protecting your other members and children. Your congregational commitment to sexual safety should be known to every member.

5. Establish and practice emergency evacuation procedures.

In case of a fire, tornado, live shooter or other immediate emergency, you will want to have your staff, greeters/ushers and teachers know what to do and where to go. It’s especially important to practice evacuating once or twice a year so that if — heaven forbid — the real thing happens, everyone knows what to do.  Also make sure your leaders are familiar with the post-trauma response resources from the UUA.

 

Other resources:

www.uua.org/safe/response/120488.shtml (video: 44:53)

www.buildingsguide.com/buildingsguidecom-presents-emergency-preparedness-guide

www.churchmutual.com/index.php/choice/risk/page/intro/id/21

www.cerguua.org/emergmanage.html

Sunrise, Sunset: Generational Trends in Stewardship

Photo copyright: https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson/
Photo copyright: https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson/

Many of our “solid” congregations noticed a drop-off in giving that was not a result of a drop-off of membership during the past two or three years.  We don’t have much data (the trend is too new) but we do have some anecdotal information that seems to align with greater generational shifts.

The Baby Boomers Are Retiring

With the recovery of the stock market, many baby boomers–who were holding off on retiring–are now ready to retire.  Nationally, the Baby Boomers are the largest source of charity gifts.

The good news is that most hold steady on their pledges and have more time to serve in volunteer roles.  The bad news that many of them are moving away from their congregations to be near their grandchildren, resulting in the congregation losing substantial (1st quartile–see below) donors.

There also seems to be a trend where Boomers are not dipping into their nest eggs for their daily living expenses, but instead use that money to splurge on big ticket items or vacations with their children and grandchildren.  This may mean they might be more likely to give to a capital campaign rather than raise their pledge to the yearly operating budget.

Generation X Can’t Possibly Fill the Gap

Nationally, the 76 million Baby Boom was followed by only 55 million babies born who are known as Generation X.  That means that there are around 1/3 fewer Gen Xers than there are Baby boomers.  We don’t have hard data, but I suspect that the ratio of Gen X (roughly age 40-54) to Baby Boomers (55-70) is even smaller in our congregations, if we reflect national trends.

Gen Xers also did not have the financial advantages of previous generations.  Those who went to college often graduated with high levels of student debt. Limited job opportunities, cost-saving employment practices, the reduction of employer benefits, the volatility of the stock market, and the bursting of the housing bubble have all contributed to a sense of financial insecurity that is not always acknowledged in our congregations.

Also, Gen Xers are known as a generation of hackers and slackers (stay with me!).  Their small numbers kept them from having an impact on “stuck” institutions–including our congregations–so they either gave up on the institution (which labeled them as slackers) or found work-arounds within the system (acting as hackers). Their experiences probably affected their sense of loyalty to the institutions.  (Again, this observation is anecdotal.)

 Millennials Have a Different Mindset About Giving

The number of Millennials is eclipsing the number Baby Boomers.  Their job opportunities are a mixed bag, with some Millennials finding great jobs and others struggling.

They are suspicious of institutions, but–at the same time–they appreciate that institutions can be used “for good.”  And yet–they can be generous givers.  They want to know where the money that they donate is going, and that it is changing lives.  If your congregation’s message and actions reflect solid core values, you can invite Millennials to support your work with integrity.

Healthy Pledge Distribution ChartWhat you can do:

  • If possible, do an analysis of the distribution of pledges by quartile (i.e. look at your total amount pledged, divide it by 4, and see how many of your pledge units are in each quartile.   According to Wayne Clark:

The first 25% of total dollars should be coming from the first 10% of the household donors
The second 25% of total dollars should be coming from 15% of the donors
The third 25%of total dollars should be coming from 35% of the donors
The final 25% of total dollars should be coming from the last 40% of household donors

 If you have less than 30% of your members in the top two quartiles, you may be at risk.

  • Make sure your leaders are transparent, trustworthy and act with integrity.  Your donors want to know that your congregation will be a good steward of their financial gifts.
  • Be crystal clear when it comes to your mission and vision.  Let people know how your congregation makes the world a better places and transform lives.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

Resources:

Committee, Team or Task Force?

many ways to participateAs we reimagine how to do the work of a congregation, we need to take into account that younger folks (and by “younger” I mean people under 50) are wary of making commitments without fully understanding the implications.  These people want to feel like they are making  a contribution that makes a difference.  Expecting members to attend meetings out of a sense of duty (with no pragmatic objectives) will repel the next generation of leaders.

How should we pragmatically organize the groups that do the work of the congregation? The Rev, Marian Stewart offers this framework:

Committee:

Long-term groups that have legal and structural responsibilities. In some models, these are referred to as Standing Committees.

For example: Endowment, Finance, Human Resources, Rentals.

Team:

Ongoing responsibilities but membership terms/commitments may be informal or formal and can vary from short to long-term. Mostly these  groups are responsible for the church programs and activities. In some  models, this group forms a Program Council that meets several times a year  to do calendaring, find partner groups to sponsor events, etc.

For example: Communications, Membership, Religious Education, Social Justice, Worship.

Task Force:

A group of people who gather around an identified need that  has a defined goal or time-limit.

For example: Bylaws revision, policy creation,  insurance coverage change.

Despite its name, a Search Committee might also  be defined as a Task Force, although it has a much longer impact and  involvement in the life of the congregation.

Event Organizers:

A group of people responsible for one-time or short series of activities.

For example: anniversary party, social gathering, ordination service.

All of these groups have a defined mission and purpose. Each fits into the overriding Long Range Plan, which has very distinct and accountable short, medium, and long term goals.

While the above structures and defined purposes are extremely useful, the real purpose of almost all groups is to learn to work together, build relationships, find meaning or experience spiritual growth, and do something to make this world a little better – even if that world is helping the church operate more smoothly as its fulfills its larger mission and vision.