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.

 

 

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.

Want to Develop Church Leaders? Stop Training Them!

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderferret/
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderferret/

Let me share a fable of two congregations.

Alpha Congregation has several corporate trainers who work in the not-for-profit world.  Three of them were asked to serve on the newly-formed Leadership Development Team (LDT).  They spent a couple of months designing a fabulous in-house training for potential leaders and a couple more months advertising the program and inviting members to participate.  On the day of the event, they were a little disappointed about the low turnout.  There were a couple of attendees who they thought might be good leaders, but several others were missing some key leadership qualities.  When it became time to fill the slate for the board of trustees a few months later, the LDT asked Kris, one of the promising candidates, if Kris would like to be treasurer.  “Oh I’m awful with finances!” exclaimed Kris.  “What made you think that would be a good role for me?”

Delta Congregation has a couple of community organizers who were serving on their newly-formed LDT.  They suggested that they use a One-to-One model of connecting.  They spent their year connecting with those folk in the congregation who seemed to have a strong sense of belonging but were not in yet leadership roles; a manageable 20% of the people who attended church somewhat regularly. In these one-to-one conversations the LDT members shared about their own commitment and sense of passion toward the mission and vision of the congregation. Next, they inquired about the interviewee’s values, passions and gifts.  Then the LDT member just listened–deeply. After a couple of months of these interviews, this LDT compared notes and followed up with their interviewees, connecting about half of them into various leadership roles that everyone found were good fits.

Many of our UU congregations have been moving from having Nominating Committees (which meet for a few months out of the year to help fill the slate of board members and other key positions) to Leadership Development Teams (which work year-around on leadership development).  This is meant to be a holistic approach to growing leaders in a congregational setting.

There are different facets to leadership development, the “Five I’s:”

  • Identify (Pay attention to people who are involved in congregational activities and how they interact with others.)
  • Invite (Help potential leaders discern their gifts.)
  • Inform (Equip your potential leaders with training)
  • Involve (Help potential leaders find a way to serve the ministry that best matches their gifts and calling)
  • Inquire (Check in annually with leaders to assess how well they are serving and how the role is serving them)

It’s tempting — especially if you have expertise “in house” — to put too much energy into training (i.e. “Inform“), at the expense of the relationship-building activities that–in the long run–results in committed leaders matched to fitting roles.  There are many ways to collaborate to spread the tasks of offering trainings so that your congregation’s Leadership Development Teams can concentrate on the relational one-to-one work that can have the most impact:

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

Avoid a Disappearing Act

First UU of San Francisco
Photo by Justin Ennis https://www.flickr.com/x/t/0095009/photos/averain/

Imagine if your church sign was only visible to half of people driving by your building.  What if only half of the local phone books or half of the local newspapers listed your congregation?   If your congregation’s website is out of date, it can’t be easily accessed by half of the people who are looking for you!

We have reached the tipping point where 80% of internet users have a smart phone, and over half of Google searches are performed on a mobile device (including tablets). In response, Google is changing their search protocol beginning April 21, 2015 to use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.

This means that if your website it not mobile-friendly, it will be practically invisible to more than half of your potential visitors.

What you can do:

  1. Check to see if your website is mobile-friendly.
  2. Share this blog post with your “webmaster” or congregational leaders.

 

Resources:

Updating Your Web Presence: Tools and Tips

A free, mobile-friendly UU WordPress Theme (updated 4/19/2015)

 

Thinking about our thinking

 

elephant
Photo by Brittany H. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thelivelygirl/

In dealing with adaptive challenges (e.g. changing demographics or attitudes toward religious institutions) congregational leaders can learn some wisdom from the old folktale about the 7 Blind Men and the Elephant.  Each of the men could feel a part of the creature, and each came up with his own interpretation of what he was experiencing:  The man touching the tail thought it was a rope, the man touching the ear thought it was a large leaf, the man touching the leg thought it was a tree, and so on.

There is a term in Adaptive Leadership called “getting on the balcony.”  It’s a metaphor for the practice of shifting your point of view from the “dance floor” where you can only see what is happening close to you, to a point of view that looks at the whole “dance floor.” In our case, it’s the practice of looking at a congregational system as a whole.

Like the men in the folk tale, congregational leaders need each other to get on the balcony and to help see the big picture and clarify their own thinking.  In other words, each member of a leadership team has a line of sight into the congregation and their own personal history that colors their perception.  When leaders trust one another, they can ask one another to help check their own biases that might be influencing their perception of an issue.

2015-01-19 09.53.22One useful tool is this simple exercise that will assist you in taking an adaptive challenge and sort out what are your observations, your interpretations and your judgments.  On a sheet of paper or newsprint, create 3 columns, one for each kind of thinking.

Observations:

These are items of observable fact.  This list may include data that you’ve gathered or compiled, or anecdotal information from surveys, interviews, etc.

In the example I’ve listed some facts related to a church that is declining in membership.

Interpretations:

These are different ways to interpret the observations.  This is where it is helpful to have a diversity of ages, cultures and other experiences in leadership.  If you have only one interpretation or “story” implied by the interpretations, it may be time to bring some new and different kinds of people into leadership.

In the example I list a couple of different interpretations of what might be happening.  In a group, I would hope to have many more.

Judgments:

These include the opinions of how you feel or judge the situation.  This will help you to sort out your feelings and biases about different interpretations.  How are you judging those involved? Do you see them as good or bad, right or wrong? Does a different interpretation lead to a different judgment?


 

When faced by an adaptive challenge, it’s often tempting to blame a group of the people involved.  It’s important to name what our judgments are (and all of us have judgments!) so that we can focus on the interpretations and use them to help design “interventions” to address the adaptive challenge.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

Additional resources:

 

If the Buddha Was “In Search…”

It’s the beginning of the year, and Ministerial Search Committees have just received a list of names of ministers who are interested in learning more about their congregation.  Savvy Search Committees know that they are

Photo by Jan Kunst
Photo by Jan Kunst

looking for a good match, not a perfect candidate, and the best way to find a good match is to present the congregation as mindfully and authentically as possible.  Taking a cue from the Charlotte Kasl book If the Buddha Dated, here are some suggestions for all leaders of congregations to help them frame themselves while in search:

  • Be guided by Spirit, not Ego:
    • Does the congregation have a sense of mission and connection that extends beyond its walls?
    • Have you discerned a strong forward-looking sense of purpose that enables you to “retire” programs and practices that no longer serve the mission?
    • Do your leaders feel a sense of call that enables them to partner with the new minister to lead the congregation outside of its comfort zone?

 

  • Know thyself as a system: both your strengths and your growing edges
    • Can you articulate what is at your center?  i.e. What are the core, defining values make up your congregation’s DNA?
    • What does it take to “fit in” with your faith community?  Are there barriers around class, education, culture?
    • How do you handle conflict?  Do people communicate directly, or do they tend to triangulate?
    • Do you set annual congregational ministry goals and assess how the ministries did at the end of the year? Where is the accountability (both for lay and/or professional people)?
    • Are you able to address your growing edges with humility and/or a sense of humor?

 

  • Be mindful of “unfinished business” from your congregation’s recent (and not-so-recent) history
    • Can you talk openly about uncomfortable parts of your congregation’s history?  Can you articulate how that history might have affected the congregation and what might be done to move it forward?
    • Are there areas of the congregation that operate outside of the official lines of authority? (website/Facebook, ministry programs, social justice, endowment, etc.?)
    • Where are the past presidents?  Are they still active, or burned out?
    • How did your previous ministries end? If there was conflict involved, what part did your congregation play?  How have the leaders responded to conflict since then?

 

  • Understand your relationship with power and authority, covenant and stewardship
    • Do the lines of accountability align with lines of authority?  (e.g. Is the minister head of program staff? Is the board fulfilling its fiduciary duties? Does the board trust and treat the minister as a covenantal partner?  Are staff who are also members clear about their boundaries?)
    • Do you have well-established policies and procedures to deal with members who are disruptive or just out of covenant that include strong lay leadership involvement?
    • What is your relationship to money?  Do members and friends pledge generously?  Does the congregation compensate staff and contribute to the region and UUA at suggested levels?
    • What is your relationship to the wider UU movement?  Do your leaders interact with other UU leaders? Do you seek out “best practices” of other congregations shared by the UUA?

 

  • Practice “beginner’s mind” as part of your own living tradition
    • Do you have youth and young adults in leadership?
    • Do you have active leaders with different identities (race, class, culture, ability, gender) who are appreciated for the different perspectives that they bring?
    • Do you have examples of how you tried something, failed, but no one resigned their leadership position or left the congregation as a result?

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff, Central East Region of the UUA

 

Let Me Sleep on It…

The congregational meeting was held right after the Sunday service to guarantee a quorum.  There were a couple of important issues to discuss, including passing a deficit budget to help fund a part time membership coordinator in service of their desire for growth. Standard reports were given by the board, the minister, the religious educator and various committee chairs. Bellies were starting to feel hunger and eyes were starting to glaze over.  The last report was from the finance committee, presenting the deficit budget and opening up the discussion.

The first member to speak explained that she was retired, debt free, and on a fixed income and couldn’t possibly pledge any more.  TheWoman Sleeping next member accused the finance committee of “dropping this bomb” on the congregation at the last minute.  The next threatened to withhold their pledge if the congregation passed a deficit budget.  Tempers continued to flare until the budget was revised to take out the additional spending.  The leaders felt that the congregation’s vision was sabotaged, and that affected their ability to serve with joy for the rest of the year.

We know from brain science that when humans feel that they are threatened, the amygdala become engaged and the higher brain functions such as reason and creativity are overshadowed by flight or fight responses. When the brain has experienced this sort of amygdala hijack, it takes three or four hours to regain full cognitive functioning!

Some congregations understand this and have separated out the presentation and discussion parts from the voting parts of their congregational meetings so that the discussion can happen without the time-pressure of an immediate pending vote.  This way members can share their concerns, leaders can listen deeply and decisions can be made with our creative and rational neo-cortex and not our emotionally reactive cerebellum.  It turns out that “sleeping on it” does help us make better decisions!

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff, Central East Regional Group

 

Reflections on Right Relationship

Photo by Paul Barfoot
Photo by Paul Barfoot

I often hear the question, “Is there a spiritual practice that is particularly Unitarian Universalist?”  I believe that there is–living into our covenantal relationships.   Being in community can be challenging. But being in a faith community can give us the opportunity to explore our edges and test our assumptions.  Covenant offers us an invitation to be curious and humble, to make room for mistakes by pre-promising that–when we fail–we are willing to forgive and try again.

Recently, the Rev. David A. Miller offered his “Reflections on Right Relationship” in a Facebook post and agreed to let me share it here.

I thought these eighteen questions could be helpful for congregational leaders as a reminder of how we might–as a spiritual practice–remain true to our covenants:

1. Am I assuming the good intentions of the other?

2. Am I communicating directly with the person with whom I am having an issue?

3. Am I resolving issues or am I spreading them through gossip, anger and/or frustration?

4. Am I reflecting on what personal wounds, issues, and tendencies of mine that are contributing to the issue?

5. Am I willing to be an active participant and to work in good faith to clear up issues?

6. Am I projecting on to someone else through my own framework what they are thinking or doing vs. engaging them and asking them to share their thoughts and story?

7. Am I actually trying to live the principles and values of Unitarian Universalism by acting with compassion, respect and a high value of our interdependence?

8. Am I actively listening to what others are saying and not formulating a response or the next comment or question while they are talking?

9. Can I let go of my need to control the situation?

Rev. David Miller
Rev. David Miller

10. Can I graciously leave space for others by letting someone else speak first or by not speaking my mind if the point has been raised or made already?

11. Can I help lift up the life of another or the group in my words and actions?

12. Can I have disagreements with an individual or group, do so in love and respect, and continue to stay in community?

13. Can I take into account the importance of the task in relation to the importance of the relationship?

14. Can I reflect on how my attitude and actions contribute to the tone of our community?

15. Am I willing not to have to be right?

16. Am I being the change I wish to see in the world, and that means really acting the way I would like others to act??

17. Am I willing to be changed?

18. And finally, can I remember to ask the question, “What is the most loving thing I can do or say right now?”