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Leader Shortage? Change the Culture

Q. My congregation had a very difficult time last spring finding anyone to serve on the governing board and an even harder time getting someone to agree to be president. It also seems to be a perennial struggle to keep our committee chairs filled. People just don't seem willing to serve here. Can anyone offer advice?

A. "I confess to being a systems thinker," says Qiyamah Rahman, district executive of the Thomas Jefferson district. "Ask yourself, 'what is going on in the larger system that we are not bringing in new members who then get nurtured and mentored into leadership roles in our congregation?'

"Peter Steinke, author of two books on systems thinking, How Your Church Family Works and Healthy Congregations, encourages a focus on your strengths rather than on your deficits. A healthy congregation develops and nurtures leadership. One of the ways this can be accomplished is expressed in Jean Morris Trumbauer's book, Sharing the Ministry. She encourages setting up systems and processes that help everyone to find their passions. When our congregations needs meet our members' passions they become participants in shared ministry.

"Merton Strommen, in his book Innovative Church, characterizes the innovative church as one that is committed to needed change, possesses an affirming attitude toward its members, and encourages an openness to experimentation and new ideas."

A culture change might be necessary, requiring a deliberate shift in the board's and the congregation's way of doing things. Are you ready to change? When we are facing change we often have to remind ourselves that what we are doing is not working, and furthermore, if we keep doing what we have always done we will get what we have always gotten! The choice is yours. Good luck!"

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

For more information contact interconnections@uua.org.

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