Monthly Archives: October 2013

Two Paradigm Busters: Frequency of Ministry Presence & being a Minister led Church

Let’s start with the idea of the role of the “campus minister.”

Invariably, there is some confusion when we use the phrase “campus minister,” because folks thinks it means a community minister doing outreach at a local college or university.

However, we haven’t found a good substitute (yet) and so we should be clear about what we mean in the multi-site context of how we define a campus minister.

In our church, we have 3 campuses, identified by their geographic location within the greater Houston area metroplex: Copperfield, Museum District, and Thoreau / Stafford.

Each has a campus minister. The campus minister is the face with the place. They are physically present on their campus almost every Sunday, even if they are just part time. This is part of the magic of multi-site ministry.

In the older way of thinking, a quarter time minister would preach about once a month, meet with leaders periodically, maybe go to board meetings, and not much else. Typically, the minister does not reside in the same town, and frequently has other employment– either with another church or something else.

This means that when newcomers arrive, the minister is “never” there, and there are clear doubts as to the long term viability of the church. Often, the pool of available ministerial talent is much smaller for part time ministry as for full time ministry.

It is a classic no-growth situation and is part of the catch-22 nature of small congregations– they don’t have the resources bring on staff that can grow the church to the size where it can afford those resources– and even if they did– it seems like it would take waaaayyyy to long to bring about the desired reality.

How to get around this conundrum? Well, what if the quarter time minister only had to preach “live” once a month, but acted as a liturgist– became the face with the place– and was there almost every Sunday, while the other 3 Sundays, a preacher from a larger campus had their sermon up on a projected video screen?

Suddenly, the quality of the sermons have probably gone up. More importantly, the consistency has been established. There is a minister physically present to lead worship almost every Sunday, and the church now seems viable in a new way that it had not seemed before.

How do we make this magic happen? What is the nature then, of the Campus Minister’s time breakout?

Here is the Campus Minister Weekly Time Breakout–

12 hours per week = Quarter Time.

  • 3 hours Sunday morning, 1 hour prep, 1 hour service, 1 coffee hour
  • 2 hour weekly staff interaction (local & senior minister)
  • 2 hours supervision: Team Leaders (1 weekly meeting, 4x month)3 hours creative prep
  • 2 hours flex time

20 hours per week = Half Time.

  • 3 hours Sunday morning, 1 hour prep, 1 hour service, 1 coffee hour
  • 2 hours weekly staff interaction (local & senior minister)
  • 4 hours supervision: Team Leaders (1 weekly meeting, 4x month)3 hours creative prep
  • 6 hours flex time

40+ hours per week = Full Time.

  • 3 hours Sunday morning, 1 hour prep, 1 hour service, 1 coffee hour
  • 4 hours weekly staff interaction (local & senior minister)
  • 2 hours Team Leaders (1 weekly meeting, 4x month: ½ hour prep, 1 ½ hour mtg)2 hours counseling, rites of passage prep
  • 2 hours service prep: offering partners, liturgical considerations
  • 8 hours creative prep
  • 19 hours flex time

Several things must be noted. First, this is an early draft of the time breakout– recent events will modify this draft breakout.

“Flex time” usually means administrative projects of one kind or another. For example, all 4 ministers worked on developing a leadership retreat for the end of September: we each had different roles with different amount of time responsibilities.

Two Paradigm Busters: Frequency of Ministry Presence & being a Minister led Church.

The key thing to note here is that we have broke out of the paradigm of a quarter time minister only being physically present once per month. Now, it is almost every Sunday– and this has led to another key difference: even a small campus can be a minister led church, which is different than a lay led church. This is a huge mental shift in thinking about how the church campus gets run.


UU Religious Education: Immigrants Teaching the Natives

Tim Atkins, a UU religious educator in New Jersey, recently (10/18/2013) did a Facebook post on the six sources and our religious mission. In it he mentions that some religious education programs over-emphasize the first source over the other five.

As a refresher, here are shortened versions of the 6 sources of UU-ism (the full set can be found here):

  1. Direct experience of …transcending mystery and wonder,
  2. Words and deeds of prophetic women and men…
  3. Wisdom from the world’s religions…
  4. Jewish and Christian teachings…
  5. Humanist teachings…
  6. Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions…

He further comments–

…It’s too easy to slide down to community being the goal in of itself. What’s the mission of the church and how does that related to the mission of Religious Education?

It’s a really great question. At First Church, Houston, we are one church in 3 locations. We want to do the religious education program that can be replicable and scalable at all 3 locations.

What is unique to each campus, and what is shared among us?

We decided we have 9 core ministry areas. I go through this in my last post here. The 2nd and 3rd areas are Faith formation for children, and faith formation for adults.

Unitarian Universalist religious education is tricky because unlike most churches, we face an unusual situation with our teachers. Most of them did not grow up in the UU faith.

This means immigrants are teaching the natives.

More context:

  1. Newcomer adults often get into teaching fairly early on:
  2. Our children’s faith formation program always needs volunteers;
  3. parents are eager to integrate their families into their new church; and,
  4. church becomes more of a family activity, rather than an individual one.

These are all good things. But they come with an inherent problem. You might imagine the problem this way. You are just beginning to learn Spanish, and you are trying to teach what you know to someone who knows even less than you do. At least with Spanish, there’s a book you can go to.

What authoritative texts can newcomers to Unitarian Universalism turn to? Well, probably the greatest single repository of UU thought is in our hymnals. You can find out what UUs “believe” by reading through them. If you pay attention to when they were written, you can also pick up an evolving theology.

But with no creed, the only other– and shorter– options are the Principles & Purposes and the Six Sources. Some colleagues don’t like these, but their chief complaint is that they personally don’t like them. However, they are still useful to newcomers– who want clarity, and not waffling, or overly definitive obfuscatory verbosity.

 If we’re going to do UU faith formation– we have to ask– what’s the point?

The frame I like to use is– if we take a child all the way through our program , from nursery through high school graduation–

  • what experiences do we want them to have had?
  • what do we want them to know about each of the six sources above?
  • what constitutes a spiritually mature young adult UU?

If we know the answers to these (and similar questions), then we can design a faith formation program for the immigrants (teachers) and the natives (students) taking their context and stage level into account.

Another similar question is:

what does a spiritually mature adult UU look like? Sound like? How do they behave? How do they model UU elderhood?

For me, these are the questions that adult faith formation have to answer in order to come up with an excellent faith formation ‘program.’

But I hesitate to say faith formation program. Why? Because really, our faith formation isn’t a program, it’s a step.

When we think of programs, they can have a life of their own, their own agenda, ideology, mission statement, angel investors, and constituency: in other words the classic toddler’s parallel play (that’s when toddlers play in the same room, but my not interact with each other much). And the problem with that is that you end up with a lot of separate programs that don’t interact with each other very much: they can end up being focused on their own program needs, to the exclusion of integrating into the overall church mission.

What’s an alternative? Our Creative Team approach is one example. We combine

  1. Sunday service monthly themes, with
  2. writing/ interpreting children’s faith formation materials (some from the UUA), and
  3. our only adult faith formation program / step: Growth Groups.

I’ll explain how we do that in a future post. Suffice it to say, that all 3 areas are integrated. We have 4 UU ministers and 3 UU religious educators all working on the three things above together.

For now, I’d like to leave you with the idea that when thinking about UU faith formation, consider the following:

  1. The six sources are the most powerful and easily understood template for what undergirds UU-ism to newcomers.
  2. Our faith formation relies on the unusual setting of immigrants teaching the natives.
  3. If we can name what a spiritually mature UU is, then we can design a series of steps (a program, if you will).
  4. Our faith formation ought to move a person along this path, and we ought to be able to measure the results.
  5. If we find out our ‘steps’ aren’t getting the desired results, we change them.

What do you think?

The Core Curriculum in Becoming a UU of Spiritual Depth

common-core-image1UU Core Curricula & Electives

I have identified 9 core ministry areas for our church. What does that mean?

We asked the question– if we were going to replicate & scale the programs we use at one location, which ones would we absolutely HAVE to include at the other locations? What is necessary and what is extra?

For example, an adult discussion group is a fine thing, as are yoga classes, identity groups, and so forth. But they are not essential to a UU church.

What’s an example of something essential? Teaching our faith to our young. No one else can do that for us. It is a core ministry.

We decided on the following Core Ministries for our church– at any campus, no matter the size–

  1.  Sunday Celebration
  2. Faith formation for children
  3. Faith formation for adults
  4. Stewardship
  5. Social Justice
  6. Care of Souls (Pastoral Care)
  7. Care of Congregation (Healthy Communication)
  8. Welcome (hospitality through membership)
  9. Leadership Development (from membership to leadership)

Each of the areas above has a Team appointed by the senior minister. This is where the ministers and staff put most of their energy into.

Items 1-3 are served by the Creative Team, which is the ministers, a religious educator, and occasionally, a music person. That team now meets every Tuesday for 2 hours.

Items 4-6 are served by the Administrative Team (A Team), which is the ministers, administrator, and facilities manager. This team also handles facilities, logistics, and governance compliance. This team meets every Thursday for 90 minutes.

All the information in the Core Ministry areas is kept in the church Information Guide. It gets updated at least twice a year. It also includes floor plans, organization charts for staff and teams, membership and joining information– all the things we want EVERYONE in the church to pay attention to. It is our priority.

Everything else at church is extra. For adults, we call these “enrichment groups.” Typically, these are:

  • concerts
  • adult discussion group
  • tai chi class
  • yoga
  • women’s circle
  • men’s group
  • and many, more.

Consider the Core Ministries as the core curricula for developing UU elders. Consider the enrichment groups as “electives.” It gets it’s own paper and electronic publication that is separate from the Core Ministry areas. It’s called the Enrichment Guide.

This means it will be fairly easy to see how staff time, publicity, and other resources will be allocated: primarily to the core ministries. However, people want access to the electives, so we will put forth an Enrichment Group catalog twice per year.

And because we do so many social justice activities (monthly projects, multi-year Signature Project, &c), we also publish an all-3-campus Social Justice Guide.

The Guides are usually published twice per year. Since information doesn’t move that slowly, we also have weekly electronic communications with the latest updates.

This is how we provide focus to our ministry areas, while making sure information about everything we do is easily available to folks.

If you had to list just 10 areas of essential ministry– meaning you could give up other things, if you had to, in order to ensure the success of the essential– what would they be?




Getting Started With the Merger Model


Teams – How to Get Started with the Merger Model?

Lots of questions to consider. First, we have to set some definitions, and some guidelines about nomenclature.

First UU Church of Houston was the Adopting Church, at 360 members. Northwest Community UU Church, at 50 members and Henry David Thoreau UU Congregation of Fort Bend County, at 70 members were the Joining Churches.

Combined, we’re now at about 480 members.

We look at everything through the eyes of simplification and context for newcomers. This meant changing the informal name of the church and the names of the campuses.

Some people wanted First UU to be called “Main” or Main Street or another nearby street name. But Main Street in Houston, runs more than 50 miles long, so you’re not really helping. And “Northwest” doesn’t really help  in a city the size of Houston, and there is no Thoreau, TX.

So, we are Copperfield Campus, Museum District Campus, and the Thoreau/Stafford campus.

Copperfield had just lost their 1/4 time minister. And while Thoreau/Stafford had a couple of full time interims, that did not look to be financially viable going forward. Why is that important? Because it made the leadership more open to radical ideas about their future.

What is merger about for the Joining Churches? It’s about giving up control for a new chance at success that has previously been out of reach.

It’s frequently about a significant jump in ministry quality. And it is especially about long term thriving.

What is merger about for the Adopting Church? It’s about creative collaboration, economy of scale, better use of resources, and expanding Unitarian Universalism in their geographic area.

As you might imagine, as the first senior minister of a 3 campus UU church, I have been approached by colleagues who are wondering if times are ripe in their neck of the woods to consider a massive change to “How We Do Church Now.”

Let’s say you are a minister or a lay leader at a potential Adopting or Joining church. How should you even begin your journey of inquiry?

Read “Better Together,” have your leadership read it. Meet to discuss. It is an eye opener. And it is extraordinarily helpful to set the context. It puts everyone on the same page.

Now, let’s consider a typical scenario for an Adopting Church and 2 Joining Churches and just ONE of the many advantages, which can best be described as:

A quarter time minister is there (almost) every Sunday of the year, and becomes the “face with the place.”

Let’s say each of the potential joining churches  can each afford a quarter time minister. Normally, that would mean they’d get a live preacher once a month. That preacher probably wouldn’t be on the same level as the senior minister of an Adopting Church, and newcomers would “never” see the quarter time minister because they’d usually come on a day the minister wasn’t there.

If those quarter time ministers worked with the senior on sermon development, they could be the ‘campus minister,’ the face-with-the-place, and be there almost every Sunday, conducting the liturgy, doing each part of the service, except the sermon. The quarter time minister would preach live once a month, and the video recorded sermon would be on screen the other Sundays (lots of people fear video sermons, but research– and our own experience– doesn’t bear that out).

Our model– one church in 3 locations– means we really are just ONE church. It meant the Joining Churches gave up their non-profit state charter, and all joined the Adopting Church. That’s pretty radical, but it also– almost guarantees– their survival and thriving.

Can the multisite model be done with out that? Maybe. But I wouldn’t want to try it. Because we commit to that campus’ thriving. We don’t just provide sermons.

We provide children, youth, and adult RE, which is tied into sermon content. Plus, we have taken over all operations, administration– everything.

Our two satellites dissolved their non-profit corporate charters and are now officially part of us. That’s going ALL the way.

Needless to say, this whole thing is made possible by policy governance, which is often a shock to leaders in small congregations– usually a welcome shock, but a shock nevertheless.

If you’re interested in exploring the idea of UU church mergers in order to become a multisite church, then

The number one thing you should do right away is get the book “Better Together” from Amazon or wherever and read the whole thing, as fast as you can.

It will provide some context for the next steps. If I were you, I’d also get a few copies for the leaders at the two congregations you are talking to, so you all can be on the same page.

I suppose at some point– probably not this GA in Providence, we should think about putting together something like a 4 day midweek boot camp to thoroughly soak folks into “How We Do Church Now.” I have no doubt that this model is going to take off.

Seriously, read “Better Together,” but don’t be put off by the evangelical credentials of the authors. It is ground breaking work.

Resistance to Simplification

Resistance to Simplification

One of they keys to the daunting complexity of becoming One church in Three locations (and for church growth in general), is to try and simplify everything.

I explain our thinking in a previous post here.

What is transient? What is permanent? What is it that only we can do?

For example, faith formation for our children, youth, and adults is permanent. It is essential. We can’t contract it out to anyone else.

Discussion groups, tai chi, yoga, identity groups, activity groups– these are– for the most part, non-essential. The folks who are active in those things might disagree, of course.

What that means is that we must make sure we do the essential things, and let the non-essential things take care of themselves. If folks want an adult discussion group, fine. Let them set one up. If it begins to falter due to lack of participation, then let it die.

Religious Education? It’s a given. The ministers and staff will drive the content and be responsible for its success and failure. If the program begins to falter due to lack of participation, then the program needs to be evaluated and adjusted. Trial and error.

And what is the purpose of church programs anyway? They are not necessarily useful in and of themselves. I prefer to think of them as “steps.”

Our faith formation for children, youth, and adults, are steps– to what? Toward spiritual depth as a Unitarian Universalist.

Then, of course, you have to define what a spiritually deep UU looks like 😉

What else is essential? We have identified 9 Core Ministries. Everything else is an Enrichment Activity (it gets its own publication).

I like to think of this as the core curriculum (majoring in become a UU with spiritual depth), and elective classes (the enrichment activities, e.g., tai chi, yoga, identity groups, activity groups).

So, I am not proposing we drop enrichment activities or electives– just that we put them in their proper place.

I am also proposing that in a minister led church (as  opposed to a lay led church), the minister(s) and staff be responsible for the Core Ministries.

What are these Core Ministry Teams?

  1. Worship / Celebration
  2. Faith formation (children & youth)
  3. Faith formation (adults)
  4. Social Justice
  5. Stewardship
  6. Welcome
  7. Leadership Development
  8. Care of Souls (pastoral care)
  9. Healthy Communications

In future posts I can outline how we do each of those teams. We also have two primary staff teams:

Creative Team. 4 ministers, 1 intern, and a religious educator meet weekly on a 42 day cycle to plan out our monthly sermon themes, the arc, and the religious education components (we adapt some for children, but primarily write our own for adults).

Administrative Team (A Team). We discuss & decide logistics of the 3 campuses and how to do team development.

Have we faced resistance to the simple church concept? Of course we have. What did we do about it?

  1. My whole board of trustees read the book and then dedicated most of a board meeting (with me gone on vacation) to discussing it.
  2. The staff and I prepared a workshop on it for 45 leaders of our 3 campuses.
  3. We discuss it wherever and whenever people in our church bring it up.

This means we are on the same page. Of course, some people are uneasy– does this mean the senior minister is going to get rid of the choir? Of course not– it’s an essential component of our Celebration Ministry (#1 above).

But we trust each other– the ministers and leaders– and that means everything.