Adaptive Measures

sustained growthYour congregation is committed to growth and understands that growth in numbers results from other kinds of growth. You also know it is important to set goals and measure how well you are doing.  But you are wise enough to know that it is impossible to link attendance numbers to any one “cause” from your growth initiatives.  What should you measure?

When facing adaptive challenges, it can often be counterproductive to use old measurements.

Instead, brainstorm the kinds of behaviors you want people to have to help you meet your yearly ministry goals:

  • How many first-time visitors received hand-written notes?
  • How many people talked to each visitor at coffee hour?
  • What percentage of adult members participate in small group ministry?
  • What percentage of your youth serve on ministry teams?
  • What percentage of your board members are under 40?
  • How many youth and adults participate in events/initiatives organized by your social action team?
  • What is the ratio of pastoral visits by the minister(s) to those by your lay pastoral visitors?

The only way to help change the culture in our congregations is to figure out how to help the members develop new behaviors that will lead to that culture change.

 -Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

You Talkin’ to Me?

listenAs leaders of a congregation, it may be tempting to assume everyone else has (or should have) the same level of commitment to the institution of the church as we have.

This can have unfortunate results in everything from volunteer recruitment to stewardship conversations–even to mission and vision work.

Let me suggest a different way of framing .

People in congregations have different levels of commitment and belonging, and it’s important to host conversations and frame messages differently for each different level.

Here is an overview of those levels:

  1. Staff  refers to paid staff and lay leaders with “high commitment” who hold themselves accountable to the congregation’s mission. They have a good understanding of the congregation’s history and culture (“DNA”) and are willing to “stay at the table” through thick and thin as the congregation grows and changes.
  2. Committed leaders and volunteers care about the mission or the institution and help keep the church functioning by filling needed roles. They have a general understanding of the history and culture, but may have particular ministries that they feel they need to advocate for.  Committed leaders can become burnt-out if they serve in roles that aren’t a good fit for them.
  3. Those who Belong are members or pledging friends who attenddifferent levels of commitment 1  worship and some programs and volunteer at various levels.  Folks in this group may need some attention and direction around understanding the history, culture and mission of the congregation and in discerning how to serve using their own gifts and passions.
  4. Those who are Interested are occasional attendees to church programs who are still in discernment about whether or not the congregation is a good fit for them.  They may not have much understanding about the history and culture and aren’t really clear about mission.
  5. Those who are Oblivious are people who are in your community, or who may stumble across your website or attend a program held in your building, but don’t really know (or care) much about your congregation.

Using this framing can help you craft different messages for the different groups during your stewardship campaign or when you create volunteer roles and recruit for them.

This framing is also extremely useful when you are crafting and implementing mission and vision work.  There is often a suggestion that everyone who has any connection to the congregation be equally involved in the process.  I suggest that–because the inner circles of leaders have such a deep connection to the history and culture and they come the closest to embodying the DNA of the congregation–it makes sense that they get general input from the congregation (using powerful questions) then take the lead in crafting mission and vision draft statements before having the circles of “belonging” and “interested” folks try them out.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant


Show and “Tells”

tell“Your actions are speaking so loudly, I can hardly hear what you are saying.”  This is a quote from a webinar on the presence of leaders that I took recently.

A leader’s presence reflects their underlying values — it’s how they wear their values.  A leader with integrity embodies the values that they articulate.  We often have inner narratives that help us make sense of and respond to the world around us.  If we believe one thing on the inside and say another thing on the outside, our actions often provide “tells” that point to the discrepancy.

These “tells” may be obvious actions like habitually showing up late for or mentally “checking out” during meetings for a committee we don’t really want to be on.  But they may also be micro-actions that are more subtle, like body language or facial expressions.

Sometime we aren’t even aware of our inner narrative, let alone how that narrative might be showing up in our actions.

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, leadership guru Patrick Lencioni describes a phenomenon called the Fundamental Attribution Error:


We human beings tend to falsely attribute the negative behavior of others to their character, while we attribute our own negative behaviors to our environment.  In other words, we like to believe that we do bad things because of the situations we are in, but somehow we assume that others do bad things because they are predisposed to being bad.

In the same way, we often attribute other people’s success to their environment and our own success to our character.  That’s because we like to believe that we are inherently good and talented, while others are merely luck, beneficiaries of good fortune.

In other words,  if I am late for a meeting, I might blame it on needing to finish helping the kids with homework or that there was an accident causing a traffic back-up.

However, the first time someone else is late for a meeting, I may create an inner narrative explaining their behavior.  I might make the assumption that they are undependable or don’t care. I may make assumptions about lateness related to the person’s culture or identity or mental health.

And if this is happening internally, you can be pretty sure that there is something in my actions, especially my micro-actions, that will reveal a “tell” about this internal narrative.  And if you participate in “complaint-fests” with other leaders, you can be pretty sure that the folks you are “complaining” about will pick up on that vibe.  (Habitual tardiness, on the other hand, should be reason for a direct conversation with the person about commitment and whether this particular service is a good fit.)

A good guiding rule to is to remember that an important part of being a faithful, self-differentiated leader is to resist diagnosing or pre-judging others.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Consultant

Hide it under a Bushel? No!

Are all of the members and friends of your church aware of all of the outreach ministries of your church?  Is the wider community aware of who you are serving and how?  Churches need to tell their stories, advises a recent article in the Christian Century. Author George Mitrovich explains

When my liberal friends dismiss church and people of faith, I realize that part of what is going on is that they are just ignorant about all that churches do.  They are ignorant in part because churches are silent about what they are doing.

Here are some tips and examples of how to share your good works with your members, friends and community.

  • Have a page on your website that mentions your outreach efforts.  Include items such as:
    • A list of “Share the Plate” recipients and amounts donated
    • Community affiliations (NAACP, Interfaith Groups, Social Services, Community Organizing groups, legislative groups, LGBTQ groupsBushel
    • Donated/discounted space for other groups (12-step, scouts, homeschoolers, concerts, plays)
    • Participation in community events (CROP Walk, arts events, county fairs, farmers markets)
  • Regularly send press releases to your local news outlets sharing your stories.  (See the Public Relations Resource page on
  • Write stories about your members’ experiences with your outreach ministries and publish them in your newsletter and on a blog linked to your website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
  • Post stories on your Facebook page and encourage your members to share the stories on their own pages

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Leadership Development Consultant
Central East Regional Group

One Voice

One of the most important keys to congregational health and vitality–along with a clear purpose–is a cohesive leadership team.  Many of our UU congregations struggle with power and authority to a point where they don’t empower leaders to lead, i.e. to make decisions in the best interest of the congregation’s mission and shared vision.

Front view portrait of four business executives sitting in a lineHow well does  your congregation do?  One indicator is how your board (and other committees) operate.  Are you able to speak with one voice even when there is some disagreement among committee members when making a decision?  Or do you always try to reach consensus?

“Speaking with one voice” means that everyone around the table can say “All of my concerns been heard and considered in this decision. I can support the process and decisions that have been made by the group and can represent the decisions that the group has come to as my own outside this room.”

If someone on a committee cannot agree ahead of time to speak with one voice after everyone has been heard and a decision is made, then that person should not serve on that committee.  There is an assumption that good, visionary leaders come in not with an agenda ahead of time, but a willingness to make a decision that will help move the congregation forward in alignment with their mission toward their shared vision.

This is different than consensus, which requires everyone to be in agreement with the decision.  Consensus tends to keep an institution in homeostasis because it is next to impossible to be visionary or innovative when you need 100% buy-in before making a decision.

Patrick Lencioni offers a great on-demand webinar on the inter-related topics of organizational health, purpose and cohesive leadership:

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Vision: Make sure it “tastes good”

Congregational leaders are often tempted to go through the motions of creating mission, vision, planning and covenant documents without taking a holistic view of the process.  Do the congregations systems support the process?  How do we reflect the core values and personality of the congregation as well as invite them into articulating their aspirations of who they want to be as a faith community?

I was recently reminded of the story of Crystal Pepsi, a product from the early 1990’s that received a large marketing launch, including a Superbowl ad, but that flopped. In a 2007 interview, the Pepsi executive whose idea it was reflected:

It was a tremendous learning experience. I still think it’s the best idea I ever had, and the worst executed. A lot of times as a leader you think, “They don’t get it; they don’t see my vision.” People were saying we should stop and address some issues along the way, and they were right. It would have been nice if I’d made sure the product tasted good. Once you have a great idea and you blow it, you don’t get a chance to resurrect it.

There is only one chance for a person to make a good first impression.  Similarly, we leaders have once chance to introduce a change or a process in a way that will give it a high probability of success. Here are some suggestions to make the processes of creating mission statements, shared visions, strategic plans and covenants “tasty.”

  • Communicate how the end product will enable the congregation’s leaders to lead with purpose in a shared Healthy Snackdirection
  • Avoid the bitterness and shame of bringing up old conflicts as a reason to do this work
  • Make sure that the leaders who are facilitating the process have integrity and trust of the congregation
  • Set up a reasonable timeline and stick to it — your people will be willing to provide input along the way, but don’t want to feel like they’re mired in an unending process
  • Once the guiding documents are created and approved, communicate regularly how they are guiding the leadership of the congregation

 -Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Late Summer Reading for UU Leaders

20130822_094043How Not to Stay on Top, a recent article by Joe Nocera in the New York Times, outlines how Blackberry and Wang both went from dominating their markets to being irrelevant.  Why?  They both “stubbornly clung to what they thought they were instead of what they needed to be.”

Keeping our faith communities what they need to be–healthy, relevant and sustainable–is one of the most important roles of congregational leaders.  Forward-thinking boards are also learning communities.  They pay attention to the changing context of the society around them and respond faithfully and strategically. They study trends and strategies as a group and then implement them as a team.

Here are some of my favorite titles that I’ve encountered over the past  year that your board may find useful:

Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

(Berrett-Koehler, 2008)

Although Block doesn’t use the language of covenant, he describes the idea of how communal commitment and accountability can help organizations–such as our faith communities–invite people to serve our of a sense of possibility, generosity and gifts.   This book helped to inspire the standing-room-only workshop at the 2013 General Assembly: Beyond Contentment: Motivating Members to Do More by Mark Bernstein.

Connect: How to Double Your Number of Volunteers by Nelson Searcy

(Baker Books, 2012)

This book is helping me to re-think how we set up leadership development programs in our congregations.  The current wisdom is to catch someone early in the membership process, work with them to assess their gifts and passions, then match them to a ministry.

Searcy recommends that–instead–you create a “ladders and lakes” system where congregants can swim in different “lakes” of ministry opportunities to discern their passions.  You do this by creating many different low-responsibility points of entry with time-limited commitments.  The next part of the process is developing “ladders” where congregants are given opportunities for roles of increasing responsibility and commitment.


The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else By Patrick M. Lencioni

(Jossey-Bass, 2012)

This is–hands down–my favorite organizational health and development book (so far).  Lencioni (author of Five Dysfunctions of the Team, Death by Meeting and Getting Naked) is clear, pragmatic and directive.   This book has two key points:

  • Build a cohesive team
  • Create and communicate clarity of mission and vision

The rest of the book provides the “how.”

The Power of Stories: A Guide for Leading Multi-Racial and Multi-Cultural Congregations by Jacqueline J. Lewis

(Abdingdon Press, 2008)

Lewis is a former Alban Institute Consultant and currently the Senior Minister at the Middle Collegiate Church in lower Manhattan–an intentional and successful liberal multicultural faith community.  This book reinforces that notion that the method and the message of leadership need to be in alignment.  If you want to be a congregation that is inclusive of other cultures, we need to learn how to lead using the communication styles of those cultures.  In this case, Rev. Lewis shares that she spends 25% of her time mentoring the other leaders in her congregation, and encourages them to do likewise with the next tier of leaders.

Open Source Church: Making Room for the Wisdom of All by Landon Whitsitt

(Alban, 2011)

This is another book that has offered a game-changing model of how we may want to structure our congregations in the future.   You can read an early draft of chapter 2The Church as Wikipedia.  (I have this as an e-book so it’s not in the picture above.)

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Leadership Development Consultant

Your Trash, Another’s Treasure

trashHow do we find volunteers for the different jobs in our congregation?  How do we fire a volunteer who doesn’t perform?  How do we renew a committee stuck in stale ideas and that repels any new committee members and their potential energy?

Volunteer recruitment and dealing with volunteers who don’t follow through was the topic of an “Open Space” time during last week’s Midwest Leadership School in Beloit, WI.  There, Bonnie Blosser, the Director of Lifelong Learning at The Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, shared her framing of how she works with volunteers, and what follows is from that conversation.

One of the not-so-secret secrets of volunteer recruitment is to find out what each member’s gifts and passions are and help them find a role that feeds them.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that you match them with something they are already good at (recruiting a grade school teacher to teach RE for example).  It may be something that they are interested in pursuing that might seem to be a bit of a stretch (e.g. asking the engineer about serving on the membership committee).  If someone is being fed–i.e. being energized by what they are doing–they are less likely to burn out or disappoint.

The flip side of this is that if someone is filling a volunteer role out of a sense of duty or as a favor, and that role or task drains their energy, they are likely to disappoint or burn out.  This is where Bonnie’s framing comes in.

When she has a volunteer who she suspects is in a role or has a task that is draining, she has a conversation with them that goes somewhat like this:

I notice that doing “A” seems to make you light up, while doing “B” seems to feel like a real burden to you.  I know that “A” is not everyone’s cup of tea, so your doing it and loving doing it is a great gift.
I know of a couple of people who would find great joy in doing “B” similar to what you feel doing “A.”  Would you be willing to let go of “B” so that someone else who might love it could pick it up?


If we left “B” undone for a while, it’s likely that someone who might enjoy doing it would offer to pick it up and bring their own creativity to it, similar to what you are experiencing with “A.”

Like the old saying goes:  One person’s trash is another one’s treasure.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

Leadership Development Consultant

Central East Regional Group



The Path Taken

conflict resolution“Conflict”, philosopher John Dewey wrote, “is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheep like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving.”

All too many leaders in our congregations, however, see conflict or resistance as inherently evil.  In this way of thinking, the goal is to deny the conflict or suppress it in an effort to maintain the illusion of harmony.  Savvy leaders know that conflict in a healthy congregation is to be welcomed and cultivated; that out of conflict comes creativity and new ideas and energy.  The key is how the leader meets and responds to the resistance that is causing the conflict.

Belgian Luc Galoppin,, a wonderfully inventive organizational change manager, says that we have a choice when our goals or ideas are met with resistance.  We can respond with revenge or we can respond with respect.  Taking the revenge path means pushing harder to get your way when there is resistance.  The result of this tactic is usually greater resistance.  So, in order to meet this increased resistance, one has to push even harder.  Eventually, you reach a state of indifference on the part of the resister.  “Fine, have it your way”, they may say.  “I don’t care anymore.”  “Whatever.”   In this scenario, the leader has created what Galoppin calls an energy drain.  Game over.  Resistance has been defeated.  Congregational life goes on, albeit less inspired, less motivated, and less energized.

The other path that leaders can take when faced with resistance is one of respect.  It begins with remembering that everyone we meet is facing a great battle and everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and kindness.  It means listening for why they care about the issue; taking the time to understand the underlying meaning, intentions, hopes and dreams of the other.  It means not taking it personally, even if the reaction of the other was clearly intended to hurt you.  In taking the path of respect, the leader strives for open communication and collaboration in negotiating a solution that will resolve the conflict and move the congregation forward.  The leader commits to staying “at the table” until this work is done.  This process, says Galoppin, is the source of our energy and keeps us in the ballgame.

Following the path of revenge stems from the need to be right.  Following the path of respect stems from the need to be in relationship.

As a Unitarian Universalist, which path makes more sense to you?

Mark Bernstein, Consultant, Central East Regional Group

If You Build What?

field of dreamsIn a scene from the movie, Field of Dreams, the protagonist Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner and the fictional writer and social activist, Thomas Mann, played by James Earl Jones, are at Fenway Park in Boston.  They’re talking about the reasons why Mann dropped out of mainstream society when Kinsella asks him, “What do you want?” “ I want them to stop looking to me for answers”, Mann responds. “Begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves. And I want my privacy!”

Pointing to the concession stand, Kinsella hesitantly says, “No, I meant… what do you want?”

“Oh!”, Mann laughs, “A dog and a beer.”

Similarly, when congregations contact me asking for assistance in growing, now my first response is “What do you want?”  Do you want to grow in numbers?  Do you want to be free from conflict?  Do you want to make a difference in your local community?  Do you want members to be more involved in congregational life?  Do you want a greater sense of spirituality in your worship services and in your interactions with each other?  What do you want?

Often, looking to their mission as a guide for determining what a congregation wants is ineffective.   Many mission statements try to say so much that they wind up saying virtually nothing about what the congregation wants.  Here’s one of my favorite samples: The mission of name withheld to avoid possible lawsuit or at least having that congregation angry with me  is to build and sustain a welcoming, caring, inclusive community for all ages that nurtures each person’s lifelong journey of faith informed by reason.  Dedicated to peace and celebration, our sacred space provides a supportive environment in which we can create lives of integrity, service, and joy.  We call upon ourselves and one another to live our Unitarian Universalist principles in our communities and in the larger world, striving for social justice and caring for our planet Earth.

Huh?  I’m sorry. What is it you want???

The concept of congregational polity as a Unitarian Universalist concept doesn’t just mean that congregations have the right to govern themselves as they see fit.  It also means that they can be whatever they want to be.  That’s why there is no pat answer to the question, “How can we grow?”  The question that congregations must wrestle with is, “What do you want?”

The answer may not be as simple as “a dog and a beer”, but it doesn’t have to be much more complicated.