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Governance in Small Congregations
Small congregations need a governance system that is "right sized" for the unique needs and challenges generated by their size.
Much of the decision-making in small congregations happens at the board level.
- Create and live by a board covenant.
- Have a clear congregational mission and learn how to use it to exercise the "strategic no." Do a few things well—don't stretch your members too thin.
- Run tight board meetings.
- Send out the agenda and reports ahead of time.
- Used a timed agenda and appoint a time-keeper.
- Stick to "board work," i.e. policy making, budget monitoring, fiduciary responsibility, etc.
- Appoint a process observer and make time for a report at the end of the meeting
- Create a policy manual for important fiscal and organizational matters and communicate them to your members. Topics to include (but not limited to):
- Avoid micro-managing committees and task forces. Create policies in alignment with your mission so that your committees have clear direction. Let committees spend their budget line items without interference.
- Empower an executive committee to make timely decisions between board meetings.
- Schedule at least one or two meetings a year where you focus on mission and vision and not daily operations.
One of most challenging aspects of being fiduciary stewards in a small congregation is relying on volunteers for bookkeeping, pledge tracking, paying bills, creating budgets and overseeing payroll. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has created a Handbook for Congregation Treasurers & Financial Leaders (PDF) to guide you through best practices.
Understand the difference between researching/discerning/planning and doing. Committees make sure that the ministry that they are in charge of is operating in alignment with the mission of the congregation. Consider creating task forces for people who don't want to attend committee meetings, but do want be empowered to do some of the church's ministry.
Committee members can lead the task forces to make sure there is alignment, but with a sense of permission-giving to allow people to contribute from their gifts and passions.
Small Talk Newsletter
- Although this resource is no longer being published, you can still view past issues.
While You're Growing: Strategies and Resources for Small
Religious Education Programs by Betty Jo Middleton
- Small Congregations Resources from the Northern New England District
- Vision, Mission and Covenant (PDF, 98 pages): Creating a Future Together
- Growth Resources Reading List for the Small Congregation (PDF, 23 pages)
- 5 Tensions Every Small & Mid-Size Church Encounters by Carey Nieuwhof
- Crunch Time in Smaller Congregations by Alice Mann
- Being Faithful: The Importance of Small Congregations (8-session UU Leadership Institute course. $30 fee)
- Welcome to the Wonderful World of the Small Congregation, by Rev. Jane Dwinell and Ellen Germann-Melosh (podcast and article)
- The Sizes of the Small Congregation: Group-Centered and Leader-Centered, by Rev. Jane Dwinell and Ellen Germann-Melosh (podcast and article)
- Drive Time Essays Volume 3: Small Congregations