Congregational Board Member Training

High-functioning congregational boards have committed members who understand their governance, who understand their roles, who work as a trust-based team, who understand their fiduciary duties and who still take time to attend to the spiritual dimension of their leadership. Here, you can find resources that will help you lead with both skill and grace.

This training is divided into twelve sections, so that you can use each one as a shared learning experience as part of your board meetings. (Each section takes around 45 minutes.)

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

1. Call of Duty: Governance Basics

a. Duties of a Board
b. Bylaws, Policies and Procedures
c. Time and Money
d. Being a Learning Community

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2. In the Room Where It Happens: Why We Have Meetings

a. Effective Meetings
b. Setting the Agenda
c. Making Room for Multiple Viewpoints
d. Whole Congregation Discernment

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3. Finding Your Center: Spiritual Grounding as Leaders

a. Covenant
b. Minister as Partner
c. Serving with Grace
d. Culture and Identity
e. Self-Care

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4. Knowing Your Purpose: Leading in Alignment with Your Mission

a. Understanding Mission and Vision
b. Leading from Mission to Action
c. Seeking Alignment with the Mission
d. Finding Your Prophetic Voice

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5. The Myth of Rationality: Understanding Human Nature

a. Anxiety and the Brain
b. The Self-Differentiated Leader
​c. The Temptation of Triangulation

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6. In the Wilderness: Change is Hard, Even if it's the Promised Land

a. Emotional Responses to Change
b. Resistance to Change
c. Technical vs. Adaptive Challenges
d. Adaptive Change

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7. Good Boundaries: Balancing Transparency and Confidentiality

a. Confidentiality and Healthy Disclosures
b. Creating Healthy Communication Channels
c. Avoiding "Parking Lot" Conversations
d. The Peril of Anonymous Feedback

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8. From "Me" to "We": Healthy Communications

a. Speaking with One Voice
b. Team Players: Interpersonal Dynamics
c. Minutes and Records

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9. Who's the Boss? Board as Employer

a. Our Values, Our Staff 
b. Compensation Guidelines
c. The Unique Finances of Your Minister
d. Personnel Policies and Best Practices

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10. Guarding the Institution: Balancing Stability and Vision

a. Monitoring Policies and Guiding Documents
b. Goals, Dashboard reports & Accountability
c. Safety
d. Systems of Trust and Accountability

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11. A Strange Partnership: Governance and Ministry

a. Authority and Accountability
b. The Mission-Based Board
c. Ministry as Partnership
d. There's Enough Ministry to Go Around!

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12. Staying in My Lane: Governance Roles and Responsibilities

a. Officers and Executive Committees
b. Standing Committees
c. Open vs. Executive Session
d. Understanding Boundaries

What is the Purpose of a Board?

1. Call of Duty: Governance Basics

Any system of governance must have the goodwill of the congregation. It is important that the board develop good policies, processes and procedures that allow for congregational input at appropriate levels of decision-making. But it is even more important that the leadership, especially the board of trustees, serve as faithful Unitarian Universalists, practicing deep listening to the concerns of the congregation as they lead prophetically in ways that might move the congregation outside its comfort zone.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Duties of a Board

Congregational boards hold the authority and responsibility for the congregation as an institution, as designated in the bylaws. Though comprised of individuals, the board must operate as a single entity in service of the mission of the congregation.

More on Duties of a Board

3 Parts of Effective Governance

When you understand the purpose of governance and what it needs to be effective, your work as a board becomes much clearer. (A series of videos by Dan Hotchkiss)

More on Effective Governance

Congregational Bylaws

Bylaws are important in laying the groundwork for any organization. They encapsulate the self-understanding of the congregation and are also a last resort in cases of disagreement on legal matters. They help the congregation govern day-to-day functions such as committees and board structure, as well as deal with infrequent situations such as the calling of a minister and the purchasing of real estate.

More on Bylaws

Policies and Procedures

Congregational bylaws, which lay the foundation for the congregation as a legal entity, are augmented by other documents that guide the day-to-day operations and decisions of the leaders and members of the congregation.

More on Policies and Procedures

Being a Learning Community

Congregational boards today are facing challenges that have no easy answers or quick fixes. Developing practices that enable the congregation to use its collective wisdom to experiment with different ideas and approaches.

More on Learning Together

Being Good Stewards of Time and Money

Members and friends of today's congregations are under much more time and financial stress than ever before. It it especially important for boards to be good stewards of the precious gifts of time and money.


One challenge is how board schedule congregational meetings. Younger generations tend to be more protective and pragmatic when it comes to demands on their time, where other members like extra time and opportunity to share their opinions and to listen to everyone else share theirs. Some congregations have found it helpful to separate the voting meetings (where a quorum is required) and the meetings with more detailed presentations and discussion.


Different congregations have different cultures when it comes to money. Ideally, board members see money as one of the resources that help the congregation achieve its mission. People give money to transform lives and want to feel like their financial gifts are making a difference. Being too stingy can be just problematic as being too reckless.

More on Time and Money

2. In the Room Where It Happens: Why We Have Meetings

Although boards are comprised of several board members, they operate as a cohesive entity. They bring different points of view, experiences and cultures to help the congregation serve its mission in the world. This happens through the creative and wise discussions that happen in board meetings.

Good meetings have lively discussions about topics that make a difference. Everyone gets a chance to speak, and everyone listens deeply to what they have to say. Board members appreciate and enjoy one another as they discern what is best for the congregation, its mission and its vision.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Effective Meetings

Smooth and efficient meetings require planning, structure, transparency... and practice! It takes a lot of practice to be a good facilitator. Even more importantly, good facilitators don't go it alone--they ask other leaders to take on different roles to keep the meeting on schedule and on topic.

More on Effective Meetings

Setting the Agenda

As leaders, we know that our time is valuable. We hold a shared value as Unitarian Universalists that implicitly and explicitly calls us to honor the worth and dignity–and I would add time–of others, in a way where we honor the value of their time spent in meetings.

More About Engaging Agendas

Making Room for Multiple Viewpoints

Having a board with diverse perspectives is critically important. Each person will bring his or her own personal and professional contacts and life experiences to their service on a nonprofit board. With a diversity of experience, expertise, and perspectives, a congregation is in a stronger position to plan for the future, manage risk, make prudent decisions, and take full advantage of opportunities. A diverse board that is also sensitive to cultural differences is usually one that has a stronger capacity to attract and retain talented board members - as well as to be in touch with community needs.

More on Multiple Viewpoints

Whole Congregation Decisions

Congregational boards are entrusted with many of the operational and sometimes programmatic decisions. But in our congregational polity, certain decisions should be made by the "congregation in meeting" as a "committee of the whole" via a congregational vote. Examples are calling and ordaining a minister, electing the governing board and approving bylaws changes.

More on Decisions

Whole Congregation Discernment

There are times when the congregation as a system needs to engage in a process that will enable the congregation to reflect on its future in an organic, open and creative way -- as a system. In recent years, there have been many processes and methods that are based on the notion that there is collective wisdom that can be gleaned from the whole.

More on Discernment

Boards As Spiritual Leaders

3. Finding Your Center: Spiritual Grounding as Leaders

Serving on a congregational board can be a transformative experience, especially if you are grounded in your faith in Unitarian Universalism and its potential to share its message of love and grace in the world (or however you might articulate the mission of liberal religion in your context).
Here you will find some resources to find your own center and grounding while serving on your board.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Covenant is Foundational to Unitarian Universalism

Covenant is the silk that joins Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations, communities, and individuals together in a web of interconnection. The practice of promising to walk together is the precious core of our creedless faith. “Covenant” is both a noun and a verb. It can be a written agreement among individual community members promising to behave in certain ways, and it can mean to engage in mutual promises with Spirit, with other people and communities.

More on Covenant

Shared Ministry

Being in covenant together is a lot like a dance. There is give and take. Occasionally you step on someone else’s feet or they step on yours. Some of the steps may be familiar, even habitual, but other steps might feel awkward at first. But when you are able to step into the flow of give and take, of awareness and adjustment, the dance of ministry becomes fluid and organic.

More on Shared Ministry

Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice

There is virtually nothing that you can do in your congregation that is more exciting or enlivening as serving as a lay leader. Moving from receiving to giving back to your community can be a rewarding experience of growth and deepening.

More on Spiritual Practice

Practicing Intercultural Agility

In order for a congregation to reflect the global majority in its membership, its leaders must learn to model how to de-center the culture of the congregation from White identity and culture. Here are some practices to get you started.

More on Intercultural Agility


Serving on a congregational board can be both rewarding and stressful. Some stress is natural, but certain kinds of stress can lead to burn-out. It's important for board to develop a culture that supports board members in their work as well as in their own growth and development.

More on Self Care

4. Knowing Your Purpose: Leading in Alignment with Your Mission

A congregational board isn't accountable just to the members of your congregation. Instead, you are accountable to something greater. You are leading the congregation toward its purpose or mission of sharing the Love and Grace of Unitarian Universalism in your location and context and its vision of how it can become closer to embodying the Beloved Community.

The words, theology and details of each congregation's mission and vision will vary, but the role of the board remains the same: Leading in alignment with that mission and vision.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Understanding Mission and Vision

To the left you will find a mental model that describes the scope and purpose of mission and vision. The heart in the center is the core purpose of your congregation. Who are you called to be in the world, and in your context? What is it about your community that resonates in the hearts of its members and is invitational to those who enter through your doors?

More about Mission, Vision and Covenant

Leading from Mission to Action

Mission and Vision statements are only useful when they are living documents, used by congregational leaders to make decisions and to communicate to the congregation. Your members should feel sense of connection and ownership. Make sure you find inspirational words, using active rather than passive verbs. Read the mission, vision and covenant liturgically (as part of your worship service) regularly and post them on your website.

More on Mission to Action

Seeking Alignment with the Mission

It's important for every board member, every committee chair and every ministry team leader to feel a sense of ownership and connection to the mission. To do this, integrate the mission and vision into your congregational systems. Encourage committees and teams to use the mission and vision to set their annual goals and to report on how they served the mission and vision in their annual reports. Create a mission-based budget and base your stewardship campaign on how you spend your resources on mission. Look to see where your congregational systems might have "accidental values" imbedded in them an are working at cross-purposes to your mission and vision.

More on Alignment

Finding Your Prophetic Voice

Sometimes, as leaders, you may need to lead during a time of anxiety beyond the comfort zone of members of the congregation. You may even need to lead beyond your own comfort zone. It's at times like these that connecting to your mission and vision become especially important. Take time as a board to pause, to revisit your mission, vision and covenant in depth and discernment to help you find your prophetic voice and perhaps make a courageous rather than a comfortable choice.

More on the Prophetic Voice

Boards as Change Agents

5. The Myth of Rationality: Understanding Human Nature

Developing and understanding of systems thinking and sensibility enables congregational leaders to lead strategically. Understanding the dynamics of congregations as emotional systems is a key part of leadership training offered by the UUA at both our online an in-person leadership schools.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Anxiety and the Brain

Our human brains are amazing organs. Along with our rational abilities, our brains enable us to pick on on the emotions of others, and to react immediately when we are in danger. Alas, the flight/fight/freeze anxious response can be triggered by all sorts of other stimuli. As a leader, the important thing to understand is that in order to keep people's reasoning capabilities functioning, you want to keep anxiety as low as possible.

More on reducing Anxiety

The Self-Differentiated Leader

Self-differentiated Leaders know who they are well enough that they also know where they stand, and what they will and will not do; they understand the necessity of boundaries, and work within the congregation to ensure that healthy boundaries are in place and are supported; they can be clear in who they are, without requiring others to join them in that same place, but instead to be true to their own self.

More on Self-Differentiation

The Temptation of Triangulation

If you find yourself in the middle of someone else’s squabble, you are being triangulated. If you find someone else wants you to take responsibility for their communication, you are being triangulated. Those who most habitually take the role of the responsible ones—and this is most of our congregational leaders—are most susceptible to being triangulated. From a systemic point of view, triangulation is a means of reducing anxiety. The more anxious a system, the greater the tendency to triangulation. Those who are most anxious will have the greatest tendency to triangulate.

More on Triangulation

6. In the Wilderness: Change is Hard, Even if it's the Promised Land

In order for congregations to thrive, they must be responsive to a changing world and resilient in the face of such change. Here are some tools and sensibilities for leaders to help their congregations be adaptable to change.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Emotional Responses to Change

One key insight for leaders is to understanding how responses to change are not just intellectual, but emotional. This presentation provides a mental model using a rollercoaster to help you lead through change.

The Roller Coaster of Change

Resistance to Change

Organizations, like all systems seek a well-ordered status. If a congregation is thrown out of balance by the prospect of change, it will seek to restore order. If there is too much anxiety, conflict can flare up. But leaders can help create a culture that learns to welcome resistance.

Overcoming the Resistance to Change

Technical vs. Adaptive Challenges

As leaders, sometimes we encounter problems that happen where the solution is not a technical fix. This story will help you to identify such "adaptive" challenges!

More about Adaptive Challenges

Adaptive Challenges

What do you do when a challenge is so new or puzzling that your experienced leaders are stumped and there are no “best practices” to turn to? Instead, help your congregation work together to find a solution. This resource (part of the UU Leadership Institute course "Adaptive Leadership 401") gives you the basic framework for thinking adaptively.

6 Key Concepts of Adaptive Leadership

Healthy Communication

7. Good Boundaries: Balancing Transparency and Confidentiality

Communication done poorly is one of the most common causes of congregational conflict. Here are some practices to help your board avoid common pitfalls.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Confidentiality and Healthy Disclosures

Balancing transparency and confidentiality can be challenging for congregational board members, staff and other leaders who have access to sensitive information. Healthy, vibrant systems need as much open communication as possible.

Confidentiality and Healthy Disclosure

Creating Healthy Communication Channels

The flow of information in an organization is a bit like the flow of water after a rain. Ideally, the information is shared evenly, and the members are able to absorb it like loamy soil. But information that triggers anxiety can be like a heavy rain. Without established channels, information will create its own channels, possible eroding trust or creating other damage.

Healthy Communication Channels

Avoiding "Parking Lot" Conversations

Healthy and transparent communications happen in accountable settings. Many local governments have "Sunshine Laws" that prevent government officials from meeting, to prevent "backroom dealing" and other covert communications the undermine transparency. In a healthy congregation, it's essential to keep communication flowing where everyone is at the table and "in covenant." Thoughts, ideas and feelings about a topic of concern should be shared in the meeting among all of the people on the board, committee or team -- not among a subset of folks who might gossip in the parking lot after the meeting. 
In the 21st Century, we have email and social media that sometimes provide a platform for similar unhealthy conversations. The board can set a tone for how healthy communications happen.

More on Unhealthy Email Communicaiton

The Peril of Anonymous Feedback

Healthy and transparent communication needs to be mutual, with all parties taking responsibility for their words. Leaders should have firm policies against accepting anonymous feedback. And yet, there are times when cultural differences or power differentials require a nuanced understanding of healthy communication.

More on Anonymous Feedback

8. From "Me" to "We": Healthy Communications

Developing a culture and habits of healthy communication will set the tone for the rest of the congregation.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Speaking with One Voice

“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.

More on One Voice

Team Players: Interpersonal Dynamics

Congregational boards are intended to provide collective discernment rather than be a forum for competing interests or agendas. Faithful boards are in alignment with and accountable to the mission and vision of the congregation. Effective boards trust each other enough to listen deeply to one another, and to admit to one another when they don't have an answer.

More on Team Alignment

Minutes and Records

The meeting minutes from board meetings and congregational meetings create the official, legal record of the actions of the board or congregation. Usually, the secretary or recording secretary takes the minutes. For the congregation, they are important as an accurate historical record. They may also used by outside parties for legal purposes.

More on Minutes and Records

Fiduciary Responsibilities

9. Who's the Boss? Boards as Employers

One of the best ways to demonstrate how a congregation lives its values is in how it treats its staff.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Our Values, Our Staff

Congregations have the opportunity and the obligation to live their mission not only out in the world, but within their walls. One way a congregation expresses its values internally is through its selection and treatment of staff.

Consider Hiring Practices that enable your congregation to staff for diversity.

More on Our Values, Our Staff

Compensation Guidelines

The Office of Church Staff Finances provides guidance to congregations about salaries and benefits for congregational staff. Our Compensation Guidelines offer a consistent and professionally endorsed approach to compensating staff within and across congregations.

Compensation is as much an art as a science. With respect to salaries, in particular, it is more than looking up numbers on charts. We suggest the webinar slides Strategies for Setting Staff Salaries (PDF)  as well as the Guide to Salary Recommendations (PDF) to help you make appropriate use of our salary charts. You also have regional volunteer Compensation Consultants available to guide you.

More on Compensation Guidelines

The Unique Finances of Your Minister

You’ve probably heard that there are special tax rules for ministers. Most church leaders don’t need to be experts on ministerial compensation, but it’s important to understand the basics of how payroll and taxes for the minister differ from other employees.

More on Ministerial Finances

Personnel Policies and Best Practices

From The Alban Institute's Susan Beaumont: Policies, Performance, and Personnel

An effective personnel committee recommends policy on human resource (HR) management to the governing board. The board adopts or amends the recommended policies as it sees fit. A personnel committee should recommend policies and expectations related to: the creation of job descriptions, performance feedback practices (including the annual performance review), salary administration practices, benefits, professional development, leave and sabbatical taking, equal employment opportunity, professional misconduct, conflicts of interest, record keeping and any other miscellaneous employment policies needed to comply with applicable state employment law. Read more...

UUA Resources on Personnel Policies

10. Guarding the Institution: Balancing Stability and Vision

Board members are often referred to as "trustees," meaning that they have fiduciary responsibilities to the congregation. They owe the congregation the duties of good faith and trust and are bound ethically to act in the best interest of not the congregation's membership, but to its mission in the world.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Annual Planning

Many congregations start the church year with a retreat for the Board of Trustees (including the Minister). Ideally, this retreat is held Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, at a site away from the place you usually meet. Why do a Board retreat? Three reasons come to mind: getting acquainted, setting norms, and setting the Board's priorities for the church year.

More on Board Retreats

Goals and Reporting

To keep the congregation focused on its mission and vision, it's helpful to have a strategic plan or direction to help set annual goals. But even if you don't have a strategic plan, it's helpful to set annual goals and check in on how you are meeting those goals during board meetings.

More on Goals and Assessment


Our congregations strive to be safe and welcoming places to all. It is impossible to make a congregation 100% safe; however, there are steps that you can take to make your congregation safer while still creating a supportive space for learning, growth, and challenge as well as actively working for the inclusion and safety of all people.

More on Safe Congregations

Systems of Trust and Accountability

To create a culture of trust among board members, it is important to pay attention to leadership qualities that promote trust: Competence, Authenticity and Reliability.

More on Trust

Who's on First: Clarifying Board Roles

11. A Strange Partnership: Governance and Ministry

Congregations are very different than traditional non-profit corporations. Congregations are also the donors that support the institution, staff/volunteers that do the work of the institution, and the beneficiaries of part of that work. Board members tend to have roles in all three of these aspects.

A board needs to do its work deeply, minding the corporate aspects through its governance. This enables the other aspects--the ministry--to focus on the work of the congregation with known (if limited) resources.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Styles of Governing Boards

In each of our congregations, the expectations, assumptions, and structure about the role and functioning of the Governing Board in the congregation and community are different. In some cases, the Governing Board is called upon to lead. In others, they function more to coordinate and represent the leadership of the members.

More on Styles of Boards

The Mission-Based Board

Even if your board doesn't operate fully as a strategic board, it is still important to take time in board meeting to thing strategically. One way to do this is to engage with Powerful Questions.

More on Being Mission-Based

Ministry as Partnership

The relationship between the governance of the congregation and the programs or ministry of the congregation works well when both parts are in partnership in service to the mission.

More on Partnership

There's Enough Ministry to Go Around!

Shared ministry creates a congregational culture in which each member is invited to participate in ministry and helped to do so through proven systems and processes. It brings new life and energy to the congregation. Members learn that all people have gifts and all are called to use them in building the reign of God. Shared ministry creates the environment in which this can actually happen. -Ryn Nasser (Alban Institute)

More on Shared Ministry

12. Staying in My Lane: Governance Roles and Responsibilities

Congregational boards also operate in ways similar to other non-profit boards. Here are some basic understandings of the basic duties of non-profit boards.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

Officers and Executive Committees

Congregations, like most non-profits, must have officers that hold the key fiduciary responsibilities. A president/moderator (or similar position) presides over meetings. A secretary records meetings and keeps accurate copies of all congregational governing documents and records. A treasurer keeps and shares accurate financial records. Practice and some state laws also have a vice-president/vice-moderator and/or an assistant secretary. These officers usually comprise an Executive Committee that makes some decisions between board meetings.

More on Executive Committeees

Standing Committees

A board can't do all of its work by itself so it delegates (or "commits") research and preparation to other groups, which then report back to the board so the board can make the decision. You may have standing committees (finance, safety, personnel, etc.) to help with ongoing fiduciary work. There are also limited-time select committees (bylaws, staff search, strategic planning, etc.) that disband after they complete the charge given to them by the board. Some congregations refer to non-board committees as "teams."

More on Committees vs. Teams

Open vs. Executive Session

Open process and transparent communication are essential to self-governing institutions like congregations. Board meetings are usually open to any of the members. If this happens, good hospitality and boundaries can make it a positive experience for all. But there are also times when a board may need to discuss something in private (e.g. personnel issues) in an Executive Session.

More About Executive Sessions