A Guide to Leadership Development in Your Congregation

We on your UUA Congregational Life Staff want you to spend your leadership development energy on relationship-building and connecting individuals to meaningful service (see the Leadership Development Team Training below), so we offer affordable leadership development courses that your potential and seasoned leaders can take take in parallel, then to meet and learn together:

Claiming Our Spiritual Leadership

Claiming and activating Spiritual Leadership and its practices can help shift congregational culture toward greater soulfulness, equity, and liberation. In this training, individuals and teams are introduced to Spiritual Leadership and its five practices for UU congregations. This training is team-led by the staff of the New England region. It is open to all UU congregations in any region.

Syllabus (PDF)  |  Blog

Take the Training Claiming Our Spiritual Leadership


Centered Leadership Part 1

For new leaders and those interested in possible leadership. Covers covenant, healthy communication and boundaries, shared ministry, and stewardship. Also provides and introduction to congregational polity, UU theologies, and the wider UU movement. 
Syllabus (PDF) | Sample Presentation 

Take the Training Centered Leadership Part 1


Centered Leadership Part 2

Includes family and other systems thinking applied to congregations. (Similar to Healthy Congregations®) Learn healthy leadership practices, communication and conflict skills, the importance of being mission-focused and how to communicate across differences. 
Syllabus (PDF) | Sample Presentation

Take the Training Centered Leadership Part 2


Strategic Leadership

Develop a deeper understanding of how to focus your congregation on mission, build trust and develop a cohesive leadership team. Learn about stewardship, strategic planning, annual goal setting and ministry assessment and the basics of congregational governance.
Syllabus (PDF) | Sample Presentation

Take the Training Strategic Leadership


Adaptive Leadership

Develop advanced leadership skills that will help identify challenges. Learn how to help others see challenges in new ways, empower others and find creative solutions together. This course includes working on a case study with other participants. 
Syllabus (PDF) | Sample Presentation

Take the Training Adaptive Leadership


Leadership Development Team Training

Many congregations only think about developing new leaders around the time that the nominating committee is looking for potential board members. Instead, we recommend that congregations see leadership development as part of an arc of faith development that includes not just leadership skills, but also leadership sensibilities and faith development. 

Below is a self-guided training that your Leadership Development Team can use to design your own internal program. 

Introduction to Leadership Development Teams

Hand clicking on a "go" button

Healthy, wise leadership is essential to the growth and vitality of our congregations, yet leadership development can easily become an afterthought. Here is a brief overview of where we come from and where we are going.

Nominating Committees

After being elected at an annual congregational meeting, nominating committees tend to start their work as the next annual meeting approaches. They spend a couple of meetings going through the directory and making calls to fill the empty positions designated in the congregation's bylaws. 

Nominating committees exist for a variety of reasons: to reducing self-perpetuation of current leaders, to scout out potential new members, and to keep “the wrong people” off the board.

Shifting to a New Paradigm

Our old model of leadership recruitment did not account for realties in today's congregations:

  • Few people belong to voluntary organizations (see Bowling Alone) where they develop leadership skills. In fact, our congregations may be serving as one of the few training grounds for leaders.
  • The ethos of leadership in the corporate world is often grounded in top-down leadership that is in conflict with our Congregational Polity.
  • Leading in a diverse covenantal community requires many more "soft skills" and sensibilities around identity and culture.
  • In our post-modern world, there are fewer conventions about what is healthy behavior and relationship.
  • Today's leaders want to serve something greater than themselves while growing and learning. They are much less likely to serve out of a sense of duty.
3 apples on a pile of notebooks

Create Your New Paradigm

We recommend you use the resources in this section as a study resource, then plan a day-long retreat to re-magine how you might shift your own congregation's culture toward leadership development as an ongoing part of faith development. Here are some things to consider:

  • Your purpose is to develop leaders who can faithfully serve the mission and vision of the congregation.
  • You want managers who can keep the congregation running and leaders that will help move your congregation forward.
  • Your leaders need to good partners with your minister(s) and staff as well as other leaders.
  • You can start your work alongside your membership folks, at the earliest stages of belonging.
  • You can create an expectation of ongoing education and training for all leaders.
  • Your leaders will have a strong sense of shared ministry by working in teams.
  • You will want to find ways to assess how well the shared ministry is progressing.

For the New Paradigm: Understanding Governance and Ministry

Because the focus of Nominating Committees was mainly on governance, it helpful to widen the context to include both governance (committees making reports, accountable to the board) and ministry (action teams doing ministry).

Note:

If you have a hard time finding volunteers, look at how many people are on the board and on committees of the board, and consider reducing that number.

Train Your Leadership Development Team

3 apples on a pile of notebooks

Learn the kinds of leadership best practices that you want to instill in the rest of the congregation. Learn about the difference between Leadership and Management (we need both), how Leadership Development is an important part of Faith Formation, and how thinking in terms of teams and not just individuals can make all the difference!

Management vs. Leadership (We Need Both!)

This short video from @ScottWilliams provides 10 clear distinctions showing the difference between a manager and a leader.

Book cover

Congregational Management: A Holy Calling

Adapted from The Business of the Church: The Uncomfortable Truth that Faithful Ministry Requires Effective Management by John W. Wimberly, Jr., copyright © 2010 by the Alban Institute.   

Like all systems, congregations are filled with anxiety. Unlike most systems, they also are filled with an ideal vision the world cannot provide. To fully maximize the vision ..., managers need to pay close attention to the systemic inputs of people, facilities, and money that support the ministry. To that end, there are six key practices for effective congregational management:

Thinking Systemically.  Reactive managing is more time-consuming than proactive attention to the system as a whole. When a major personnel, facilities, or financial subsystem malfunctions, it can bring the entire congregation to a grinding halt. It is far easier to keep a system maintained and running properly than to restore one that has failed. But such care requires that managers recognize and understand the systems of which they are stewards. 

Understanding the Difference between Management and Leadership. Effective organizations are run by people who know when they are leading and when they are managing. The two require very different but complementary ways of thinking. Leadership thinks long-term, management short-term; leadership focuses on strategic issues, management on implementation; leadership inspires people, management brings people together into a cohesive, efficient group. 

Lubricating the System. Managers "grease the gears" of a system to keep it running smoothly. Before friction (such as facilities issues, personnel problems, or financial surprises) reaches the point where it can limit ministry, managers apply the needed lubrication (usually involving more people, space, or money) to keep the parts running smoothly. If the system lacks effective management, the parts will begin to work against themselves in ways that damage the productivity of the whole. ...

Maximizing the Possibilities of the Parts. When working with personnel, effective managers seek to bring out the best in those they manage while limiting the impact of a person's weaknesses on the system. Managers make the most of the limited facilities and maximize dollars by ensuring that finances are handled with care.

Limiting Risks. Congregational leaders are supposed to take appropriate risks to expand the ministry. Congregational managers are supposed to identify and reduce risks. They ask the questions the dreamers sometimes ignore: "How are we going to pay for this?" 

Aligning the Parts. Productive managers have a clear understanding of the vision and goals a congregation is attempting to implement. When the inputs of facilities, finance, and people are aligned with a well thought out strategic plan grounded in the vision.

The best managers learn as they manage. Sometimes, we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. However, learning what works and doesn't work with our given inputs and our own individual strengths and weaknesses as managers is key to growing into the practice of management.  

Screen shot of the book cover.

Committees are for Discernment, Teams are for Action

Adapted from Mobilizing Congregations: How Teams Can Motivate Members and Get Things Done by John Wimberly.

After understanding the difference between leadership and management, it's easier to see the different kind of leadership needed on board committees and ministry teams.

Board Committees

  • Does part of the work of the governing board
  • Meets regularly with an agenda, keeps minutes
  • Gathers information, discerns, makes recommendations back to the board

Ministry Teams

  • Leaders communicate a sense of purpose to give direction
  • Autonomous, work within a sense of covenant with the congregation and its mission
  • Team have a high level of trust, belonging and mutual accountability
  • Expectations are based on action and impact of the work/ministry

Webinar: From New Member to Committed Leader

Identifying Potential Leaders for Your Congregation

Your Leadership Development Team should have several practices and strategies that enable them to identify potential leaders, especially from groups that may be at the margins (young adults, people of color).

Places to Look For Potential Leaders

  • Attend newcomer classes. Ask for people's stories and see who is showing leadership in other areas of their life.
  • Talk to small group ministry leaders about who is showing leadership qualities.
  • Hold a ministry fair in the congregation. Enable people to learn more about ways to serve in a fun and festive atmosphere. This provides a transparent, low-risk way for people to explore service.
  • Host special in-person training events that include lots of interaction so you can see potential leaders "in action."
  • Ask the "connectors" in the congregation to act as scouts for potential leaders.
  • Have members take the Centered Leadership series from the UU Leadership Institute. Schedule workshops to discuss the case studies and participate in the activities provided.

Qualities to Look for in Potential Leaders

  • Have already demonstrated leadership qualities and not just qualities that make them a good follower or doer. Read this article: How to Tell if a New Volunteer is Truly a Leader (Or Simply a Doerby Carey Nieuwhof.
  • An understanding and  loyalty to the congregation's mission and vision
  • An understanding and practice of covenantal relationship
  • Some understanding that faith leadership is different than corporate or non-profit leadership
  • A generally positive attitude -- not known for complaining
  • Open to learning and growing, including challenging their own assumptions
  • A commitment to diversity and inclusion
  • Integrity—they do what they promise or let others know if they can't follow through
  • Gratitude and a generosity of spirit to the others they work with
  • Grounded and Centered—spiritually, ethically and emotionally
  • Seen as a leader that others follow—has influence
  • Loves people in practice, not just in principle

For a humorous counterpoint to this list, see Top Ten People Who Should NOT Be On Your Board

Inviting Potential Leaders to Discern Their Gifts

Anxiety about lack of volunteers and leaders can often lead to treating them as human capital, objects to be managed. Ironically, this anxiety-fueled approach tend to produce disappointing results. Instead, creating a program based on an I-Thou relationship of mutuality, generosity and gratitude can create a culture where people desire to find ways to serve.

Relational Discernment Strategies

  • Schedule one-on-ones with members of the congregation to ask them about their passions and how they might be engaged with the mission and vision of the congregation. (see example below)
  • Have members take the Centered Leadership series from the UU Leadership Institute. Schedule workshops to discuss the case studies and participate in the activities provided.
  • Encourage each leader and potential leaders to develop a personal leadership inventory and learning/serving plan.
  • Create leadership study groups where members create relationships of accountability around their learning and serving.

Sample Program: Cultivating a Culture of Service in Your Congreation

How the GTS Program Works

Service is a cornerstone of Unitarian Universalist identity, and of UUCDC membership. Through service, not only do we play our part in healing our broken world, but we also find the opportunity to grow our own faith and spirituality, and to enhance our relationships with others.  

The Growth through Service (GTS) program enables UUCDC to better bring service opportunities to you, our members, that are fulfilling, feed your passion, and grow your soul. We hope you can joyfully serve, gaining a deeper connection to your faith and our church.  

  1. Attend a Conversation with a GTS team member, one-to-one, as a couple or with a group, to explore your spiritual journey and the role of service in your life. 
  2. Consider service opportunities that match your interests, skills and available time, using the Open Service Opportunities online list or suggestions by the GTS team.
  3. Take on an exciting service opportunity helping others, for personal and spiritual growth and share our experiences with the GTS team. 

For More Information on Growth through Service

Inform and Equip Your Leaders with Training

Horned Owl

Our living tradition calls us to be lifelong learners, and this is especially true for our leaders. There are many skills and sensibilities that today's leaders need to help our congregations be ready for the 21st century, which your UUA Congregational Life Staff uses to design programming.

21st Century Leadership

As we are moving from the modern into the post-modern era, and from white male centered notions of leadership to a more inclusive model, different understandings of leadership are emerging.

Join the conversation by identifying your own congregation's core leadership qualities to assist your leaders and potential leaders in developing their own learning plans. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What skill do leaders need to proclaim liberal religious values in the wider community?
  • What skills do leaders need to help our congregations live in covenant?
  • How can our leaders help our congregations live out their mission and vision?
  • How can we help our leaders practice self-differentiation?

Sample Leadership Competencies

Online Leadership Development Courses

We on your UUA Congregational Life Staff want you to spend your leadership development energy on relationship-building and connecting individuals to meaningful service, so we offer affordable leadership development courses that your potential and seasoned leaders can take take in parallel, then to meet and learn together:

  •  

  • Centered Leadership Part 1: For new leaders and those interested in possible leadership. Covers covenant, healthy communication and boundaries, shared ministry, and stewardship. Also provides and introduction to congregational polity, UU theologies, and the wider UU movement. syllabus    sample 

  • Centered Leadership Part 2: Includes family and other systems thinking applied to congregations. (Similar to Healthy Congregations®) Learn healthy leadership practices, communication and conflict skills, the importance of being mission-focused and how to communicate across differences. syllabus    sample

  • Strategic Leadership: Develop a deeper understanding of how to focus your congregation on mission, build trust and develop a cohesive leadership team. Learn about stewardship, strategic planning, annual goal setting and ministry assessment and the basics of congregational governance. syllabus    sample

  • Adaptive LeadershipDevelop advanced leadership skills that will help identify challenges. Learn how to help others see challenges in new ways, empower others and find creative solutions together. This course includes working on a case study with other participants. syllabus    sample

Involve People into Roles that Best Match Their Gifts and Calling

Every one-to-one recruitment invitation should include these four major components which are based on paying attention to the individual and building authentic relationship. 

Connect the Volunteer Role to the Ministry Goals or Vision

  • Explain how the particular position relates to the MISSION or purpose of the congregation.
  • Expand on why this work is important.
  • How is this part of the ministry of the congregation?
  • What difference would the potential volunteer's contributions make?

Why You Are Inviting This Particular Person

  • Explaining specifically why you are inviting this special, unique person to this particular position.
  • Identify the skills, interests, vision, personality, attitude, values or experiences this member has that make him or her just right for this position.

Benefits to the Potential Volunteer

  • Describe some benefits the volunteer might receive from accepting this position.
  • How will serving in this way help in their own enrichment? These may relate to the specific gifts of the person involved or an area where they would like to grow.
  • The more personal you can be, the better.

Accurately Describe the Position or Role

  • Explain briefly the elements of the position, including major responsibilities, expected amount of time involved and length of commitment.
  • If there are expectations for training, explain them.
  • Including a printed position description with the letter is an effective way to communicate expectations.

Adapted from Sharing the Ministry: A Practical Guide for Transforming Volunteers into Ministers
Jean Morris Trumbauer  (Augsburg Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1995)  Out of Print

Inquire: Develop Feedback Loops for Leaders

A feedback loop saying plan, feedback, deploy, operate, integration, build, back to plan

All systems need feedback loops and organizations like congregations are no different. Your Leadership Development program will be more responsive if you develop assessments and other tools to help you learn and adjust as needed.

Things you might include in your assessments:

  • How is the ministry/team/committee serving the mission?
  • Are people in roles that feed them rather than drain them?
  • Are there people who would like a different role?
  • Is anyone ready for a "leadership sabbatical?"
  • Has the training offered to people been effective in helping them grow and learn?
  • Are current leaders actively growing new leaders?
  • How is the ministry/team/committee increasing its diversity? What do they need to improve?

Assessment Resources:

 

Assessment Tools for Lay Ministry

empty clipboard

Congregations become "smarter" as systems as they develop feedback loops that enable the system to learn from its past successes and challenges. Here is a tool that you can use to improve your ministry as well as the experience of your volunteers.

Screen Shot of book cover

Sample Congregational Leadership Assessment Questions

Adapted from Jill M. Hudson’s 
When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st Century

Characteristic 1: The Ability to Maintain Personal Balance

  1. Is my service to the congregation within the number of hours of service agreed upon? 
  2. Do I conduct myself in a professional manner when serving the church in an official capacity? 
  3. Do I honor my status as a member of the congregation by participating fully in its life, not limiting my involvement to the areas in which I serve? 
  4. Do I support my congregation financially at a stewardship level?
  5. Do I maintain a personal spiritual life, such as prayer, meditation and other devotional activities?

Characteristic 2: The Ability to Guide a Transformational Faith Experience

  1. Am I comfortable talking about my faith with others? 
  2. an I direct someone exploring faith for the first time to the programs of my church that might be of assistance? 
  3. Do I seek out new members of our church and find ways to make them feel included?

Characteristic 3: The Ability to Motivate and Develop a Congregation to be a Mission-Focused

  1. Am I aware of the specific population my congregation is trying to reach? 
  2. How have I been hospitable and welcoming to visitors? 
  3. Do I invite people to my church and encourage others to do so? 
  4. How does my area of service help people to be more effective evangelists?

Characteristic 4: The Ability to Develop and Communicate a Vision

  1. Can I articulate the vision of our congregation? 
  2. Do I have a vision for my area of volunteer work? 
  3. Have I communicated this vision to other lay leaders?

Characteristic 5: The Ability to Interpret and Lead Change

  1. Do I seek the information I need to understand the rationale and steps for changes in my congregation? 
  2. Can I interpret the rationale for change to others?

Characteristic 6: The Ability to Promote and Lead Spiritual Formation for Church Members

  1. Do I understand how my work furthers the spiritual development of members? 
  2. Do I recognize the spiritual gifts of others and encourage them to serve in my congregation? 
  3. Do I refer the names of those who may have gifts for service in the church to the appropriate person?

Characteristic 7: The Ability to Provide High-Quality, Relevant Worship Experiences

  1. Am I supportive of the variety of worship services offered in my church? 
  2. Am I familiar enough with each service to make a recommendation to someone inquiring about worship opportunities?

Characteristic 8: The Ability to Identify, Develop, and Support Lay Leaders

  1. Whom have I nurtured into a new leader this year? 
  2. In what ways have I sought out people from marginalized communities (people of color, youth, young adults) as potential leaders? 
  3. How have I encouraged new members to use their gifts in the life of the congregation? 
  4. In what specific ways did I support current leaders? 
  5. How have I contributed to building a healthy congregation? 
  6. Do I attend meetings in the areas of my responsibility? 
  7. Do I comfortably ask questions of others, to better understand their work? 
  8. Have I shared my hopes and dreams for the congregation in the coming year?

Characteristic 10: The Ability to Manage Conflict

  1. Do I understand my own conflict-management style? 
  2. Do I understand my church's process for grievances? 
  3. Do I share conflicts or tensions with my mentor or the person responsible for my area of service? 
  4. Am I willing to ask for help in resolving a conflict?

Characteristic 11: The Ability to Navigate Successfully the World of Technology

  1. Am I proficient in basic computer skills? 
  2. Do I understand the software programs that will help to serve the church’s mission? 
  3. Can I use the Internet for research or communication related to my area of service?

Characteristic 12: The Ability and Desire to Be a Lifelong Learner

  1. Do I have learning goals for myself this year?
  2. Do I contribute to creating a learning community within the staff, leadership team, and congregation?
  3. What workshops or other programs have I attended that enhance the performance of my volunteer service?