Today’s post was written by the Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson, Senior Minister of the UU Church in Rockford, IL.
Given the increasing shortage of UU ministers, congregations might wish for a simple
way to evaluate their own fitness for ministry. Ministers, likewise, might find an objective scale helpful in discerning whether a congregation is ready for them. This scale is similar to the hoped for outcomes of interim ministry, though not identical. This is not a scale of comprehensive congregational health – that would look at things like theological maturity, generosity, anti-oppression, and more. (More about that, below). This is simpler.
How do you use this? A board, search committee, and/or committee on ministry might do a self-assessment, with their minister. Do folks agree on where they are placed? If not, why not? Where can you move up easily, and what will be harder?
Ministers in search can assess a potential match — though what is presented from the outside might not be what’s true on the inside – in either direction. A low score doesn’t mean that a congregation is unhealthy and a high score doesn’t mean they are. A minister might choose a congregation that seems less ready for a variety of reasons — including a sense that helping such a place is part of their call.
There are five categories, with a 1-4 rating. A score of 10 or below probably means developmental ministry. A score of 15 or more is very ready. I would not choose a church that didn’t have at least two “4’s” or had more than two “2’s” or less.
4. The church has a strong sense of mission, to change lives in and out of the church.
3. The church is a beacon for liberal values, and many people are engaged in outward ministry.
2. The church is a refuge for liberal people, and some work in the community for good.
1. The church is a club-house and resists any effort to change the world, let alone the
4. Many people joyfully participate in worship, leadership, and social activities. The minister has strong partners in the ministry.
3. There is a core of active leaders in many areas.
2. Though there are some good leaders, the minister is expected to drive most of the ministry.
1. Members see themselves as consumers of the ministry, not co-creators or owners of the church. (Unless there is conflict with the minister.)
Respect for Authority
4. The church values the minister’s expertise and authority in theology, leadership, worship, and care. The minister is the clear chief of staff.
3. Most members respect the minister most of the time, but an undercurrent of suspicion may be present.
2. Members often question the minister’s authority and judgement. Some act out, and leaders let it go unchallenged.
1. The minister is seen as a service provider whose job is to make people happy. They are regularly critiqued and attacked. They are not consulted about important decisions.
4. The congregation is joyfully fair-compensation.
3. Though some members grumble about it, the congregation is fair-compensation and committed to remaining so.
2. Many leaders want to be fair-compensation, but the congregation isn’t there yet.
1. The congregation is not fair-compensation and doesn’t really see why they should be.
4. The congregation insists that the minister maintains a healthy work-life balance, and joyfully welcomes the minister’s family, if any, at the level they wish to be engaged.
3. The congregation respects the minister’s boundaries and need for time off.
2. Though most members respect the minister’s time off, some do not, and the congregation sees this as the minister’s problem to solve.
1. The congregation regularly invades the minister’s time off, privacy, and family life.
Your total score__________.
Note: Again, this is not a comprehensive scale of health.
A minister and a congregation might look at other key factors as well, for example (not a complete list):
- Anti-racism and anti-oppression: A “4” would have commitments to intercultural competency and a systemic understanding of oppression. A “1” wouldn’t want their minister to talk about it too much and an implicit commitment to minimization.
- UU identity: A “4” might mean they embrace their UU identity and relationships whilea “1” would mean little to no understanding of, or connection to, Unitarian Universalism. [Thanks to Rev. Erika Hewitt for this one!]
- Financial Health: A “4” would have clear policies, transparency and inclusion of the minister in financial affairs (including full access to pledging data) and so forth.
- Theological maturity: A “4” would embrace mystery and metaphor with grace, a “1” would be excessively literalistic and reactive to any religious language.
Generally speaking, if a congregation scores well on the basic measure they can make progress together on these things. But a congregation that isn’t very “fit for ministry” will have a hard time making sustained progress on other measures of health and vitality.
One last note: A congregation that gets a lower score might really need a good minister. Indeed, they might be more “in need” than one who scores well. If a congregation that has a lower score can be honest and self-reflective about how they need to grow, a minister will be much more likely to work with them. So, if you’ve got a score under 12, but the congregation knows that it needs to change and is on the right path, give yourself a few bonus points. You can do it! Congregations become healthier all the time. The shortage of ministers just gives you one more reason to do so.