Improving your User Experience (UX), online and in person (Part 2)

UU faces taken during registration and other times
UU faces taken during registration and other times, Photo credit © Nancy Pierce/UUA

In part 1 I began to explore how the principles of User Experience (UX) Design can improve people’s experience of our congregations. Attention to the emotional and informational transactions of the “user” has become deeply important to me: not just because I’m a minister, not just because I’m in the UUA’s Outreach staff, but also because I’ve recently been new in a congregation.

 

I spent months last year exploring websites and visiting congregations with my toddler before I settled on the one I attend now. The incredible friendliness of that congregation made a difference. It wasn’t accidental: the congregation had put work in to their welcome.

 

The first time I visited, no one knew I was a minister, just a mom with a two year old. People greeted me warmly even before we’d crossed the street, and someone offered to carry the stroller that my child was refusing to ride in. At the door, a trained greeter met us, helped us create nametags, gave us a mini-tour, and helped my child find and feel comfortable in the nursery. The nursery was staffed by a paid professional, someone who exuded warmth and confidence. The worship was excellent too – but I was already deciding this was a good place to be before I even set foot in the sanctuary. I had a good user experience.

 

“User Experience design… is about giving people a delightful and meaningful experience. A good design is pleasurable, thoughtfully crafted, makes you happy, and gets you immersed.” (From UXMyths.com)

Let’s get new people immersed in Unitarian Universalism! But how do we know what will delight them? What they’ll find meaningful?

 

When we’re trying to attract new “users,” we can try to get there by thinking about what we like, but we are often not good judges of what a new user is looking for. Especially since many of the things that members like are things that come with time (like community, or ministry through life changes.) In order to design for new users, we need to talk with some of our relatively new users. While we get curious about who they are and we get to know them, we can also get curious about their experience, asking questions like:

  • How did you learn about our congregation? Why did you decide to interact with/visit us?
  • What were your goals when you started interacting with us (online or in person)? Did our congregation meet your expectations related to these goals?
  • What are the most frequent tasks you do on our website? (For example, finding out what’s happening this week.) Is it easy or difficult to accomplish those tasks?
  • What are the most frequent tasks you do when you attend? (For example, get a cup of coffee after the service.) Are there frequent tasks that don’t feel easy to accomplish? If so, why? (For example, having to wait in line for a long time for coffee.)
  • When you are interacting with us online, do you find anything frustrating that you wish was easier/different?
  • When you are interacting with us in person, do you find anything frustrating that you wish was easier/different?
  • What else would you like to tell us about your experience getting involved?
    (The first six bullets are from stackexchange.com, adapted for congregational use.)

 

What we learn from their answers can help us improve the experience of people who interact with us in the future.

 

We can also do some of this work without talking with new users: we can just try to see things with new eyes, as my old congregation did with the parking lot entrance in Improving Your User Experience (Part I). And we can do through the use of personas – another powerful methodology from web development that helps us design for particular audiences. I’ll discuss those in the third part of this series.

 

Even though we can’t control every element of a new user’s experience with a congregation, there is much we can learn, and much we can change, when we make the effort to understand the emotions we’re evoking in the people we’re hoping to serve. A “delightful and meaningful experience” at the front end can lead users to a faith that changes their lives profoundly. Let’s not let a clunky website or confusing signage get in the way. Unitarian Universalism saves lives: may a positive user experience make it so, all the more.

 

_________________________________

SarahRev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.

Improving your User Experience (UX), online and in person (Part 1)

Entrance
Photo by Curtis Cronn, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the spring, I blogged here about our websites being our front doors. Our websites, our social media presence, and our events that involve the broad community are all important entry-points for prospective Unitarian Universalists. This season, as many congregations return to full all-ages programs and worship, we would do well to think about our actual front doors, as part of our consideration of the overall user experience (UX) of the congregation.

User Experience is a new way of looking at online development: one that has incredible relevance to congregations, online and in person. It’s a holistic way of examining and evaluating the process of getting to know a congregation. The user – in this case, the person who’s exploring your congregation – is going to make decisions about participation based on their experience. That may seem obvious – of course they would. But UX offers tools for analyzing that experience, and becoming more intentional about “curating” that experience.

A user experience occurs in touch points. Every time a user interacts with (or touches) your organization, an emotional or information-based transaction is taking place that can positively or negatively impact the user (the person you’re trying to reach). (Josh Neuroth from “Curating Your User’s Experience.”)

What are the touch points the typical user has when they experience your congregation? They may not be obvious to you. Regular participants get used to the way the congregation is and stop noticing what they noticed the first time they walked in the door.

In my first year as a congregation’s minister, we hired a Membership Consultant. She evaluated the experience of a newcomer outside the hundred-year-old building – a building that had an awkward relationship to its parking lot, which was behind the church. She took notes and pictures, and presented these interesting observations to the Newcomers Committee:

  • Someone arrives in the parking lot. They see four doors to the church.
  • One, up a steep cement staircase with only one handrail, looks official but unused. Probably an emergency exit. That must not be the way in.
  • Another, at the end of a long wing of classrooms, is friendly and attractive—but its sign says it’s a preschool. That must not be the way in, either.
  • When you get close to another door, you see it leads to the trash area. Definitely not the way in.
  • Another door, the one that actually works to go in to the building, is a plain gray painted door, hidden in a corner, with no sign.
  • Someone finally makes it through that plain gray painted door, and the first thing they see upon entering are two refrigerators, one with a sign on it saying it’s out of order.
  • Then they find themselves in a rather dark hallway, which is actually just below the sanctuary where worship is about to happen, but that may not be obvious.

What kind of emotional and informational transactions were taking place there? All sorts of frustrating, confusing experiences – before they ever got in the door or heard a single word.

Let that sink in: before even meeting anyone, or hearing the welcome and announcements when we proclaimed “whoever you are, wherever you come from, we welcome you,” people were having a frustrating and confusing time with us. Our newcomers didn’t know how to get where they wanted to be!

The congregation was a great place for people of all ages, with meaningful worship and vibrant programs. But everyone who participated regularly had figured out the ins and outs of that hundred-year-old building. Their user experience was no longer the same as a newcomer’s – they couldn’t see what a newcomer saw.

In response, members and staff set about creating better signage, moving those old refrigerators, developing a small welcoming area where the refrigerators had been, brightening up the dark hallway, and stationing friendly greeters there every Sunday morning. The newcomers’ user experience immediately improved.

We often focus so much on the messages we deliver from the pulpit, the values we embody in the youth group lesson, the stories we tell in the children’s workshop. But those intentional messages are only one part of the user’s experience of our congregations.

The early parts of the user experience are formative. The old adages about first impressions are true: they really stick, and you never get a second chance to make one.

How can you become more intentional about your new users’ experience? We’ll explore this question as our series continues in coming weeks.

 

_____________________________

SarahRev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, the UUA’s Outreach Associate for Digital Ministries, will be blogging regularly on Growing Unitarian Universalism about the connections between outreach, growth, websites, and social media.

 

 

Skinner House Update

Life never stops sending new spiritual challenges our way. How do we, as individuals and communities, find the path forward on crossing cultural borders, grappling with grief and loss, navigating growth and change, striving for justice and action, or questioning conscience and belief? Unafraid to tackle the thorniest issues, we bring you insightful writing for every age and stage. As an imprint of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), we sit at the intersection of your progressive values and life’s biggest questions.

Spiritual, practical, engaged—We are Skinner House Books.

Skinner House

Skinner House Books are available from UUA Bookstore and wherever books are sold. Follow Skinner House Books on FaceBookTumblr Scribd and Twitter

 

New Titles

 

BecomingBecoming: A Spiritual Guide for Navigating AdulthoodKayla

Edited by Kayla Parker

 

This elegant volume offers itself as a spiritual companion for young adults and all who live amid transitions and tensions. Dozens of carefully selected readings address themes that are prominent for people in their twenties and early thirties. The topics include: passion and purpose, identity, community, losing and finding, and justice and creation. Each section features reflections from Unitarian Universalist young adults, as well as poems, prayers, and opening and closing words from contemporary and ancient peoples. This treasury of uplifting and thought-provoking meditations can serve as a guide and provide comfort on our never-ending journey of becoming.

 

Pamphlets

 

Justice pamphletUU Justice Partnerships

Susan Leslie (Unitarian Universalist Association)

An introduction to the dynamic new wave of interfaith and community partnerships that UU congregations are joining for social justice. Includes information on congregation-based community organizations and the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. Plus a helpful list of best practices for successful congregational justice ministries.

Susan Leslie is Congregational Advo­cacy & Witness Director for the UUA. She has worked in the UUA’s national social jus­tice and multicultural staff teams since 1991. Prior to her service at the UUA’s national office, she worked as a research associate for the New England Municipal Center, a community organizer with the New Hampshire People’s Alliance, and as a Boston-based freelance organizer.

 

 

family prayersFamily Prayers (redesigned)

Edited by Irene Praeger (Unitarian Universalist Association)

A lovely collection of multigenerational chalice lightings, graces, and prayers for the home. Contributors include Eva M. Ceskava, Mary Ann Moore, Betsy Darr, Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, David Herndon, Gary Kowalski, John S. Mackey, Joyce Poley, Richard Fewkes, Rikkity, Percival Chubb, Edwin C. Lynn, and Susan Maginn and Peter Campbell.

 

Irene Praeger serves as the director of religious education at First Parish in Needham, Massachusetts.

 

 

Recent News and Reviews

 

We’re pleased to announce a newly created web page for the inSpirit series, formerly known as the meditation manual series. Visit the page for a complete list of the titles in the series, some historical background, and links to purchase your favorite inSpirit books. We hope that the series continues to enrich your lives!

 review

Check out this great review of Landscapes of Aging and Spirituality in Spirituality & Practice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trending in the UUA Bookstore

The following have been particularly popular in the month of July:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Learned About Worship by Watching the Food Network: the art of worship planning

worship blogProfessional chefs and bakers adhere to a strict commandment: mise en place. (If you want to sound especially authentic, it’s pronounced “meese on ploss.”) Mise en place, which means “putting in place,” is the ritual of arranging and organizing ingredients before any actual cooking begins: you chop the chocolate into uniform bits, measure out the flour and brown sugar, line your pans with parchment paper… all before you put on your imaginary chef’s toque and start mixing ingredients together.

 

Personal experience has taught me that this is a Very Sensible Plan. Without practicing mise en place, you’ll discover at highly inopportune moments that your hands are too sticky to use a knife safely, or your cookie sheet needs to be washed, or your brown sugar supply ran out last week. (There are two kinds of people in the world: those who prepare the bake sale goodies, and those who purchase them. I’m the latter.)

 

In the cooking world, mise en place is the secret sauce. It eliminates rookie errors, streamlines the cooking process, and results in better food, but — this is key — all of this preparation is rendered invisible by how effortless the meal appears. In other words, the more energy and thought that go into planning, the more tantalizing the final product.

 

The same principle applies to worship, my honey-loves. Much like preparing a meal for guests, worship-planning and worship-leading are acts of hospitality.

 

Our people — our beloved guests — are giving up the gift of a weekend morning to bring their hunger, their numbness, or their broken hearts into our sanctuaries. They deserve a worship experience in which leaders hold the vessel mindfully, having walked through each transition (verbally or physically) before worship begins.

 

The mise en place of worship goes beyond setting out matches for the chalice, testing the microphone, and placing hymnals on the chancel (although you get a donut with sprinkles as reward for doing so). We worship leaders are responsible for planning and preparing every ingredient of the feast that we offer to those who hunger. Our guests can’t relish the worship experience if we leaders heap our figurative dirty pots on the Welcome Table.

 

I’ve attended — and squirmed through — services peppered with awkward logistical conversations that disrupt the worship experience and drain spirit of out of the room. Here’s a real-life example: “Which microphone are you going to use? You should come up here.” “Oh. I thought I was going to use the floor mic.” “Well, if that’s what you want.” “Hang on: I left my papers on my seat.”

Dearies, this is like biting down on an olive pit in your salad: painful, unnecessary, and avoidable had more care been taken in the preparation process.

 

The mise en place of worship has little to with perfection — an unrealistic, sterile goal. Even Julia Child reminded her viewers that sometimes the soufflé falls in the oven. As worship leaders, all of us are eventually required to model imperfection, or embody grace in response to an unplanned worship disappointment. (I call this “channeling your inner Julia Child,” but I don’t recommend doing it out loud in the pulpit.)

 

Preparation and planning matter. The soufflé might fall anyway. Still, no chef worth her salt (pun intended) skips mise en place, and neither should worship leaders. We communicate respect and love for the people we serve when we prepare worship as carefully as we would plan a dinner party in our homes.

 

May your worship services be a welcome table, set for all to enjoy;

may you bring reverence to your worship role, as you create space for guests to be fed;

and may you fulfill your worship responsibilities with zest.

 

___________________

ErikaWhen she’s not thinking Grand Thoughts about worship (which is a lot of the time), Rev. Erika Hewitt is usually officiating a wedding in one of Maine’s innumerable seaside villages. You can connect with her through the WorshipWeb Facebook page, where (ahem) Erika is still taking orders for Worship Web stickers.

Emerging Ministries Lab at General Assembly

emerging_ministries_logoImagine walking into a room of experts of various kinds — fundraisers, generosity, membership, faith formation, staff finance, church planting, multi-site, and more, and you have access to them for a whole three hours.

#330 Emerging Ministries Lab

Friday, 6/26/2015     3:00:00 PM — 6:00:00 PM

OCC – Portland Ballroom 256-257

This is how the lab works… As a leader, or group of leaders, you come through the door and a guide greets up and then escorts you through the 3 parts:

  • Part 1. Setting an Intention. A table of tea lights with the invitation for you to name your group’s forming purpose and your intention for the Emerging Ministries Lab.
  • Part 2. Held and Witnessed by Experts. Your guide will walk with you to whatever table of experts you’d like to access.  We’ll have people from outreach (websites, social media and such), church finance, law, membership professionals, LREDA, UUMA entrepreneurs, and more.) It may be that you simply want to sit with a guide at an empty table and tell them your story and receive wondering, going deeper questions.  That’s totally fine, too!
  • Part 3. Adding a Prayer to the Circle. A big hoop loom with strips of paper will invite you to write “What unique way is your group going to change the world?” on one side and “What do you need to make this happen?” on the other side.  You may then weave your prayer into the loom.

What questions will you bring?  We look forward to being part of your Emerging Ministries convoy.

Faithify Tips a Quarter Million

Faithify The following is an interview with the FAITHIFY entrepreneurs Rev. Sue Phillips and Hilary Allen.

 

Over $250,000 has been pledged on faithify.org!  Congratulations, thank you, and did you see that coming?

H: Thanks! We’re jazzed about it! And it probably means the next $250,000 is out there too. Honestly, we didn’t quite know what to expect. We were pretty sure if we built FAITHIFY, the people would come. There’s still more work to do for folks to know that FAITHIFY is an option for them, and for the day when our people no longer have to say to each other, “we don’t have money for that.”

 

Give us the latest stats…

Total pledges ($): $258,315$2500000

Total pledges (#): 2,417

Total people who have pledged: 1,935

Project success rate: 77%

Projects exceeding their goal: 71%

Projects to date: 67

Average $ raised: $5,834

 

How did the idea for FAITHIFY come about?

S: Crowdfunding hit the mainstream about three or four years ago. Around that same time, folks began thinking about how our UUA might act more like an App Store-type platform than the center of a traditional hub-and-spoke denominational model. Starting a crowdfunding site felt like an awesome experiment in carving out a different role for our UUA. As field staff we were uniquely able to access a wide range of resources, and the Mass Bay District board jumped at the chance to help support a movement-wide project.

 

H: Crowdfunding puts people directly in touch with each other. They don’t need an institution to disburse resources. They don’t have to wait until a funding cycle is announced. What FAITHIFY provides is the structure for people to be in relationship, and then it gets out of the way for us to do what we naturally do, which is support each other.

 

What has surprised you?

S: I’ve been surprised that crowdfunding sites don’t actually have crowds. The vast majority of traffic to all crowdfunding sites is driven there by project owners. The FAITHIFY crowd — the people who browse the site without arriving with a specific project in mind — is growing. But slowly.

 

What has challenged you?

H: Turns out, it’s incredibly challenging to have a great website that is easy to use. We have had a heck of a time finding a good technical partner for site design and development. I have a lot more respect for amazon.com and even my local library’s website than I did before FAITHIFY. It takes a lot.

 

What has been most satisfying?

S: Seeing the boldness and aspiration of 66 projects, most of whom have raised a lot of money to see their ideas come to life. The videos, the pictures, and the stories on the site are so cool. Those people and projects just knock my socks off. Also, working with Hilary. We have a great time thinking, planning, dreaming, and laughing together. This whole project has been a blast except for the (rare) moments when we have to breathe into paper bags because we think the site is going explode.

 

H: People frequently convey their gratitude that FAITHIFY exists and that they can be a part of it. I find it satisfying when I can help people connect to something larger than themselves.

 

What makes this platform uniquely UU?

H: When people post their projects on FAITHIFY, they have to speak to how they claimed and are claimed by Unitarian Universalism. This includes things like reflecting UU values or being affiliated with a congregation or UU organization. It’s exciting that this way of talking about associational and covenantal relationship has caught on within Unitarian Universalism – showing up most recently in the new Covenanting Communities status.

 

What is next? What can people expect at General Assembly? How can people get involved if they aren’t going to General Assembly?

S: FAITHIFY will be all over General Assembly.  Our goal for GA is to keep spreading the word that this marvelous platform exists where folks can go check out creative, interesting, and fun ideas in the world of Unitarian Universalism. Plus we’ve got major swag, people!

 

H: Though, being in Portland is not essential because most of the FAITHIFY action will be happening right on faithify.org, so folks can stay informed them about how projects are doing on their goals. We’ll also be sharing highlights through our Facebook and Twitter accounts (like/follow us!).

 

 

Sue & Hilary SelfieYou two have other jobs besides Faithify — what are they?

Rev. Sue Phillips is always dreaming and scheming about architectures of interdependence. She is also our UUA’s New England Regional Lead.

 

When she’s not working on FAITHIFY, singing sea-shanties, or rooting for the last remnants of House Stark, Hilary serves as staff of the New England Region with a focus on Innovation and Growth.

 

UUA/Regional Staff Dedicated to Emerging Ministries

emerging_ministries_logoHave you caught the Emerging Ministries buzz?  Did you pass on the links to the most recent blog posts on to your congregational leadership teammates?  You know the posts —  the announcement Emerging Ministries support and the other blog post of the Emerging Ministries website overview. And now are you wondering “What’s next?!”

 

It may be time to call your Regional Emerging Ministries Coach.  These are Congregational Life staff dedicated helping coach, connect, and co-learn with you and your teammates. They meet regularly as their own learning community in order to better serve you, and they facilitate Innovative Learning Circles with leaders pioneering these powerful and emerging forms of innovative impact and community. Additionally they are available to help you discern your community’s path and help connect you to other resources, including other congregations.

 

Co-Coordinators

 

GonzalezMilliken_AnnieRev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken is a lifelong UU from the midwest and serves our faith as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association.  She has lived in 7 different states and been part of 8 different UU communities throughout her life. A firm believer in both established and new ministries, she is a member of First Parish Dorchester, founded in 1630, and The Sanctuary Boston, created a few years ago.  Supporting the emerging ministries initiative at the UUA has already been one of the best learning experiences of her life and she is so thrilled to be working with our people all over the country to help spread, grow and deepen our faith through new groups and projects. agonzalez@uua.org 

 

Rev Tandi clappingRev. Tandi Rogers currently serves as the Innovation and Network Specialist.  Prior to that she was the Growth Specialist and before that the Program Specialist serving congregations in the Pacific Northwest. She finds congregations and UU groups collaborating together very exciting and promising (that was a covenant pun, get it?) Helping leaders see abundance and possibilities is what gets her up in the morning. trogers@uua.org

 

New England Region

 

HilaryAllen-newHilary Allen’s focus on the New England Regional Staff is Innovation & Growth. She’s continuously fascinated by the way emergent ministries in Unitarian Universalism tend to organize around ancient needs for community. She brings patience and awe to emergence and innovation work, and is also glad to think strategically with folks about their structures and systems – and their funding! hallen@uua.org

 

neil-barron_seanSean Neil-Barron is the Ministerial Intern at the New England Region of the UUA. Sean loves emerging ministries because they reflect our faith adapting to our context and sowing seeds of love. SNeil-Barron@uua.org

 

 

 

Central East Regional Group

 

Raziq-BrownRaziq Brown newly joined the CERG team to support the youth ministry portfolio and in addition emerging with young adult ministries. He hasn’t even started work yet, so we’ll hold off on publishing contact information.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

EvinThe Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer is the Congregational Life Consultant for the St. Lawrence District and part-time program coordinator for the Ohio-Meadville District. She is well-known for her passion around youth and young adult ministries, especially GoldMine Leadership School. eziemer@uua.org

 

 

Southern Region

 

Kathy this oneKathy McGowan, Congregational Life Staff, is one of seven field staff on the Southern Region team. She lives in the triangle area of North Carolina with her son and two cats. She has been a Unitarian Universalist since the mid-eighties and has a deep love of this faith tradition. In addition to her work with new and emerging congregations, she focuses on intercultural sensitivity and is the primary contact for the congregations in Virginia and North Carolina in the Southern Region of the UUA. She is excited to be coaching groups on how to live out their Unitarian Universalist faith in a deep and covenantal way. KMcGowan@uua.org

 

MidAmerica Region

 

Phil LundThe Rev. Phil Lund is a Congregational Life Consultant working with new and emerging ministries in the MidAmerica Region of the UUA. He’s excited about engaging with UUs who are exploring creative and innovative ways of being in religious community. In addition to focusing on digital ministry, he’s also interested in is helping groups bring a spiritual formation focus to the work they do. PLund@uua.org

 

DoriDori Thexton has been serving Unitarian Universalism for over 30 years – in two congregations before becoming part of the field staff team. She is passionate about growing our faith and anything that will help congregations do that.  dthexton@uua.org

 

 

 

Pacific West Region

 

JeanelyseThe Rev. Jeanelyse Doran Adams serves the Pacific Western Region as Congregational Life Staff.  Jeanelyse believes new expressions of Unitarian Universalist emerging ministries offer hope in a fractured world, provide opportunities to liberate our faith, and invite shared ministry at its best. JAdams@uua.org

 

 

jonipher thisThe Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kwong just joined the Congregational Life staff team in the Pacific Western Region. He brings with him a wealth of experience from planting a new congregation for the Metropolitan Community Churches and new UU religious communities that turned into a multi-site partnership. He is an innovative entrepreneur and we’re grateful to have his spark on our team. JKwong@uua.org

 

Call them early, and call them often.  This team is here for you, wherever you are on your Emerging Ministry journey!

#Sustainministry in St. Louis

sustainability roomLast week I had attended a summit on the Economic Sustainability of Ministry, and my thoughts are still swirling from the conversation. I was one of three panelists laying out the possibilities and challenges in finding sustainable models for
professional religious leadership, given the changes going on in American religion (Rev. Tom Schade and Rev. Lisa Greenwood were my fellow panelists). Twitter posts with #sustainministry were flying fast with interesting quotes shared by attendees. And though clergy often have the worst financial stresses because of the cost of seminary and training, the understanding of “ministry” as inclusive of all religious leaders enriched the group’s conversation.

 

For a day and half, we gave a hard-nosed look at the realities religious leaders face. Paralleling the trend towards a “none of the above” religious identity and away from traditional religious communities, we noted that donations to churches and religious institutions have fallen from over 50% of US charitable giving in 1956 to barely 30% today. Lisa helped us see that, across the board, religious groups are relying on fewer and fewer people giving more and more money, and these folks are getting older and older. This is clearly NOT a sustainable model.

 

But, of course, with every challenge comes an opportunity. Since the meeting was held in St. Louis, we were joined by local ministers who had been deeply involved in grassroots responses to the shooting of Michael Brown and the #blacklivesmatter movement. It was so inspiring to hear Rev. Barbara Gadon tell us that, though the past year’s reactions and conversations had been hard, members of Eliot Unitarian Chapel were on fire with passion for the issue. This, I thought, is what it looks like when we fulfill our potential to be a truly transformative spiritual community. Tom reminded us that St. Louis is just one example of an emerging social movement that UUs are called to join to make our nation a more just and compassionate place. Could we use this time of transition to help us refocus on what’s most important?

 

In fact, the sense of calling to the wider world and to a greater purpose was found throughout the meeting. Even though we started by talking about financial pressure, we kept turning to the need to be clear about why we exist at all: to help people lead better lives and create a better world. Institutional maintenance, while always necessary, hardly inspires the kind of stewardship and commitment that is required for achieving our core purpose.

 

Everyone in the room seemed to grasp the scale of the challenge and opportunity we face, recognizing that we all have a role to play. It was a institutional sort of meeting with senior leadership from UU organizations including the UUA staff, both UU seminaries, professional groups, major UUA boards and committees, and more. As such, discussions were grounded in the day-to-day realities of leading and managing institutions. But I also saw the spark of imagination that allows people to dream of a different way forward. Break-out groups honed in on projects to pursue in the coming months, which ranged from fundraising training to shared services to peer support for innovative ministry projects.

 

The summit was only the latest round of a conversation that needs to continue. I hope more and more UUs find a way to join this conversation, since harnessing the creativity and inspiration of our thousands of committed leaders is the key for finding our way to a new and sustainable way of doing church.

________________________

Sustainabiliy CareyCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach, total data geek and trend-spotter, as seen his presentation Future of Faith.

 

Covenanting Communities

cropped-lucy-stone-0077-copy
Lucy Stone welcome table, a Covenanting Community

 

During the last year, the UUA Board of Trustees and UUA staff have been up to something pretty cool. Though historically the only way to become an official part of the UUA is through a congregation, we’ve been working on a new way for independent groups of Unitarian Universalists to be in relationship with the wider movement. In March, the Board created a flexible new status for those groups called “covenanting communities.”

What is a “covenanting community?” It’s a community that claims and is claimed by Unitarian Universalism, borrowing a turn of phrase from our friends at Faithify. A covenanting community is NOT a member congregation of the UUA, nor is it an interest or affinity group of UUs who are already members of congregations. Covenanting communities are the primary ways that their members or participants connect to Unitarian Universalism.

Covenanting communities can look and feel very different. That’s actually the point. We want people to imagine new ways of living out their UU faith and values, and to feel like they can do that while still being a recognized part of the UU family. Covenanting communities may look like Sacred Path, which used to be an emerging congregation before deciding that the covenanting community status suited them better.  Or they could look like Lucy Stone Cooperative, an intentional living community grounded in UU values that is exploring the covenanting community status to see if it fits with their mission.

The development of the covenanting community status started out with a pilot project last fall. This pilot project reached out to UU groups who might be interested in the covenanting communities status see what might be a good way of structuring this relationship. Through those conversations, we learned what’s really important to uphold (connection to UU principles and the wider movement) and what’s ok to leave to full-fledged congregations (bylaws, voting at General Assembly, size requirements).

It also turned out that, even though some of the groups we approached about the covenanting communities status weren’t interested, just having a conversation with local leaders about their goals and their UU identity was valuable. Some even decided to restart the process to become full member congregations. This just highlights the need for supportive, ongoing relationship between all levels of the UU faith movement.

The best part about the covenanting communities status is that it is a part of an entire system of support for emerging ministries. Not every group connected to Unitarian Universalism will want to become a covenanting community, and that’s ok. What’s important is that there are now more ways than ever for people to express their faith in covenant with the wider UU movement.

The first round of covenanting communities will hopefully be recognized at General Assembly this year, so stay tuned! And check out other articles on emerging ministries on this blog.

 

 Application and more information: Covenanting Communities Fact Sheet.

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cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach and has been working closely with the UU Board on the development of this new status. He is also known as the Future of Faith Guy.

Announcing (new and improved!) UUA Support for Emerging Ministries

emerging_ministries_logoThere are so many ways to be a Unitarian Universalist religious community today! And these diverse communities provide more possibilities than ever to live our faith in the world.

 

Emerging Ministries are any new group or project that is grounded in Unitarian Universalism and brings people together in covenanted and intentional ways.  New congregations are emerging ministries and so are campus ministries, multi-site ministries, intentional housing cooperatives, missional communities, prison ministries, military ministries and more.  They are emerging within congregations, beyond congregations and in between congregations.

 

These new ministries are all moving in the same direction: toward covenanted UU living. These groups and projects are like diverse vehicles – cars, bikes, scooters, vans, and skateboards – moving in different lanes depending on the form and function of their ministry.

 

However, there is no magic road map or GPS that can chart the perfect path for these groups. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) knows we need versatile responsive support systems to get these new endeavors ready for the journey.  A cross-department, cross-regional team of UUA staff is ready to maintain this multi-lane highway toward UU living and is set to staff the tune up stations and rest areas along the way. We can help vehicles figure out which lane is right for them, connect them with experts who have made similar journeys before, and support them in raising the money they need to make this trip.  We’re also working on making it easier to get on this road by adding on-ramps such as contacting your regional staff or checking out our Emerging Ministries webpage.

 

For example, a skateboard might ramp on through the Church of the Larger Fellowship and get into the Meeting Group lane and then through experience with an on-line group coaching webinar realize they want to switch lanes to explore MultiSite options. The highway is about resourcing projects and groups in their early development and getting them the connections, perspective, community of pioneers (convoys, if you will,) and tools the need to realize their vision and answer the call of their wider community.  An integrated, dynamic support system will make it easier for innovators to get what they need. We will live into a refreshed expression of our congregational polity and covenant in the way these ministries will be connected through learning communities and peer support.

 

In the short term, the Congregational Life, Outreach, and Ministries & Faith Development staff groups of the UUA have joined together to inspire, support and sustain emerging ministry efforts.  By mid-fall of 2015, this comprehensive network of support will include programming such as: Innovative Learning Circles, online material sharing systems, a centralized online “hub” for UU emerging ministry efforts, and a Congregational Life Emerging Ministries Coaching Team. In the initiative’s second year a Mentor Program will connect established ministries to emerging ministries to amplify synergistic learning, connection, and sustainability. We will also add lanes to the highway and improve capacity.  In the third year our attention turns to a proactive ministry-planting strategy for the UUA.

 

Over the course of the next couple weeks we will feature different aspects of Emerging Ministries Highway on this blog: overview of preliminary UUA.org resources, introduction to the Emerging Ministries Regional Coaches, preview of the General Assembly Emerging Ministries Laboratory.

 

Support for Emerging Ministries is made possible through generous gifts from UUA President’s Council members and friends like you. Thank you!

Emerging Ministries final
Video about UU Emerging Ministries by Rev. Erik Martinez Resly