Emerging and Experimental Partnership Formats

Experimental partnerships are not necessarily considered to be multisite, but many UU experimental efforts are in such deep relationship that thinking of them as a form of multisite can be useful.

Experimental partnerships are bound by shared space and/or financial support that often leads to members participating in the life of both partnership communities. There is a spiritual connection that goes far beyond “loaning you our money or space.”

An Experimental Partnership Model is

  • supported by a gift of money or space

  • motivated by “a spirit of help” and a “hunger for innovation”

  • hoping to enable and offer the world new forms of UU community

The crucial point is that entrepreneurial ministries and “beyond communities” flourish with the aid of deep connection with existing congregations. It is a connection that offers gifts both ways. The 'beyond' community gets needed material support and spiritual encouragement. Never underestimate the power of someone telling you, “We believe in you!” The supporting congregation also receives gifts. Their investment leads them to care. Their care leads them to connect. Their connection changes they way they see the world and understand their mission. In partnerships, both sites grow!

You Might Be Ready to Experiment With a New Format If

  • You are excited about the new forms of Unitarian Universalist (UU) community bubbling up (as in, “congregations & beyond”).

  • You want to see these entrepreneurial efforts happen, but don’t feel all that entrepreneurial yourself.

  • Your congregation has gifts of space, or money to offer, or volunteers eager to share their talent.

  • Generosity and spreading Unitarian Universalism is in your church mission or culture.

If these ring true, you might be ready for a Experimental Partnership relationship!

Covenanted Communities

An existing congregation partners with or may help create a distinct UU Covenanted Community. The motivation of the congregation is expanded mission. New populations are reached and innovative ministries are developed.

Examples of such Communities include


Microsites are an innovative approach to congregational outreach that may be described as a cross between multisites and house churches and fellowships. This is not a throwback to the fellowship movement of the past, but it more about building on some key learnings about Partnerships and outreach to take church out into the communities faster, cheaper and further than the typical multisite branch strategy.

Microsites meet in homes, retirement centers, homeless shelters, bars, gyms, coffee shops…..any place a small group can gather. The gathering is more than a small group but less than a congregation.

Microsites are in their initial state of experimentation, but they tend to be video-based, small groups that are centrally organized. Often, they are on the path to become a full-blown multi-site campus or a separate congregation. But not necessarily.



Conversation Cafes

Conversation Cafes are a form of microsite where people gather weekly to experience each others’ stories and discuss thought-provoking topics relating to life, ethics and faith. These take place at times other than Sunday morning -- often on a weekday evening or Sunday night.

Conversation Café North was an experimental microsite of the North Unitarian Univesalist Church, Lewis Center, OH and the First Unitarian Universalist Church, Columbus, OH. The Cafe was a 90 minute experience that offers stories on a broad variety of topics, often social justice oriented, combined with guided conversation designed to increase relationships and feed the soul. Participants sat in small groups of four and video resources are often used to provide initial material for conversations. A cafe ambience, with small tables and coffee or tea, is essential to the experience. This experiment is currently looking for a new meeting site and is on hold until a new site is found.

The pioneering example of a Conversation Cafe is Lifetree Cafe based in Loveland, CO. The Lifetree Cafe material says that it is: “a time and place where people gather to hear inspiring stories and engage in conversation on a different topic every week. On film and in person, you’ll hear stories that will make you think, spice your conversation, help you make sense of the world, and inspire you. And in the fun, casual, safe environment of Lifetree Café, you may share your story, too.”



Networked Congregations

Networked Congregations are groups of congregations in a single geographic cluster or area who have decided to take their relationships and sharing to new levels of mutual collaboration. They might share programming or back-office functions or a common justice ministry or all of the above. At the same time, they might each retain their own boards, budgets, and programs. Sometimes they develop a new mission together; and other times they keep their individual missions but expand them to include their collaboration and mutual support efforts.

Unitarian Universalist Network of Greater Houston, TX
The Unitarian Universalist Network of Houston is comprised of the UU Congregations and Fellowships in the Greater Houston Area. Together, they have a common 501c3 entity to support their joint efforts. The Network promotes communication between member societies; strengthens the commitment to Unitarian Universalism in the Greater Houston area; and promotes and coordinates activities which can be better accomplished by mutual effort.

CityReach Network
An example of another form of church networking is “CityReach Network”, which has initiated over 73 new congregations since 2009 out of their central offices in Pittsburgh PA. “City Reach” is a network of small churches all connected by a central home office, - “CityReach Central” - with common mission, training of ministry teams, common communications, and a number of other centralized support functions.

If innovation excites you and blazing new paths is not daunting, yours might be fertile ground for ministries that take you beyond your walls!

About the Author

Joan Van Becelaere

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere is the Executive Director of UU Justice Ohio. She served as a Congregational Life Consultant for the Central East Region from 2007-2018. Previously, Rev. Van Becelaere was Vice President for Student Services at Iliff Theological School in Denver, CO where she also taught...

For more information contact .

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, CER program manager for Multi-site, partnerships and microsite congregations

Microsites: What Are They?

Lifetree Cafe