Why Start-Ups Are Useful for Your Congregation

drawing of two hands in a hand shake with words such as cooperate and unite written on them.

Ministerial start ups are typically offered in the first year of a new minister’s ministry or for the start of a new staff member like DREs. The workshop may involve an array of lay leaders and congregants, including past and present members of the Board, Committee on Ministry, search committee, and others. While there are common parts to many start ups, there is not a standard outline, because each congregation and minister have slightly different needs and the workshop is tailored for that. Start ups are also tailored for the type of ministry such as settled, part-time, contract or even a congregation moving to being lay-led. Congregations have common needs at the start of a new ministry, whatever the form that ministry might take.

This is a fairly comprehensive list of some possibilities during a start up workshop. (This list contains more than is advisable to do in a single start up!)

  • Help ministers and current leaders learn more about your congregation, its stories, culture, hopes, and dreams.
  • Help surface patterns in the congregation’s relationship with ministers.
  • Explore dimensions and challenges of shared ministry.
  • Clarify the roles and accountabilities of the minister and board - both the explicit formal accountabilities and the ways the informal functioning may differ from what is formally written down.
  • Give an opportunity for the minister and leadership to establish boundaries around time, responsibilities, and communication methods for shared ministry.
  • Help to clarify the type of relationship the minister will have with leadership, particularly when past ministers had unhealthy boundaries.
  • Strengthen the foundation of the working relationship between minister and board/leadership including a Board and Minister covenant.
  • For settled/contract ministries a start-up would welcome the new minister and move more fully into the new stage of congregational life.
  • For interim/developmental ministries a start-up would welcome the new minister, mark that this is a time of transition, and move more fully into the time of interim/developmental ministry, including welcoming change and understanding the role of leadership in change.
  • Strengthen the abilities of leadership and congregation to communicate well with each other and with their minister.
  • Identify priorities for the minister and leadership.
  • Create opportunities for the minister to name their goals and to share areas they need support or partnership from lay leaders.
  • Offer a place to name hard or tender things for both the minister and congregation
  • Focus on leadership development, especially for new board members.Experienced board members are likely also to gain new perspectives and tools for leadership.
  • Space to talk about identity, including leaders’ identities and minister’s identities, and congregational responsibilities. Uncover the ways the minister’s identities may shift the ways congregational members and others respond to the minister’s ministry.
  • Strengthen staff relationship with minister and congregational leaders

Your primary contact has a range of activities designed to meet your identified goals, and can offer you some choices. Overall the total start up time would run about four to six hours. Your primary contact can advise you about how to prioritize your goals to fit into that time commitment.

Guidelines Advice

Traditionally ministerial start ups were done between the late summer and the end of fall. Sometimes this is appropriate, especially for an interim minister. However, waiting four to six months after starting a ministry is often a great choice, especially for part-time ministers or congregations undergoing a lot of change. This additional time for the minister and leadership to get to know each other allows for deeper conversation and more naming of the hard and tender things.

Traditionally start ups were done in one weekend. Friday evening could be a potluck with the congregation. Saturday morning would be with leadership including staff and committee chairs and Saturday afternoon might be just with the Board. This is a very intensive schedule and is often more time and energy than congregational leaders have.
CER staff have found that doing start ups in two sessions can really be a benefit. This gives participants time to absorb and process as well as spreading the time commitment out. We’ve also found start ups can work well virtually. Zoom breakout rooms and report back of small groups is a great way to have conversations and can be more accessible to more of the congregation as well as making it easier to have multiple sessions.

For religious professionals with traditionally marginalized identities (currently includes black, indigenous and people of color, people who identify as trans, and disabled people), start ups can be provided in smaller pieces over the course of 1-2 years to help navigate building relationships, trust and confront any issues that may arise.

We also strongly encourage congregations to consider which conversations should involve the whole congregation, which should involve leadership beyond the Board, and how to include staff. One approach is to have one session with a wider invite focusing on congregational culture, story, and dreams followed by a second session with a smaller group of participants focusing more on roles and responsibilities. There might even be a separate smaller conversation with staff or with particular staff.

Similar workshops are recommended for religious educators and other staff although the focus and participants would be different. Contact your primary contact for information about this.

Logistical Process: or How to Get a Start Up

When a congregation hires or calls a minister, the primary contact is usually in touch with the minister. If you’re hiring a minister please do be sure your primary contact knows! In one of the early conversations the primary contact discusses start-up with the minister to find out what they think would be best. This way if scheduling is needed before the minister arrives the primary contact can work with the Board. CER staff schedules are often fairly full in the fall, so it’s helpful to us to get these on the calendar sooner rather than later.

At this stage of the conversation we’re most interested in questions like: “How long?”, “How many sessions?”, and “Will one session be in person?” The Board often wants to settle who will be invited to each session so they can get the event into people’s calendars.

As the start up approaches the primary contact will ask to speak with both the Minister and some lay leaders such as the Board President and others. Sometimes these conversations are separate, sometimes together. At this point we seek to understand the most important relational needs in the congregation. Usually we know something from the departing minister’s exit interview or things learned during the interim. But we want to know, specifically, how we can best create a start up workshop that will support the conversations that are most needed and wanted. Our goal is to create a space for you to name what most needs naming to best start this new ministry partnership.