Developing a Behavioral Covenant

By Connie Goodbread

A pen pointing to the words "I agree" with an empty check box.

Covenant: A deep abiding promise, grounded in my deepest values, that I hold myself accountable to.

Does your congregation suffer from constant, divisive conflict? Is your congregation looking to develop its first covenant to help members with healthier behavior? Here is a quick guide:

Brainstorm & Discuss (using newsprint)

  • What are words that make us feel brave enough to take risks?
  • What are words that encourage us to be our best selves?
  • Discuss “Why do we need to create brave space?”

Create a Behavioral Covenant

Write a behavioral covenant describing what you will hold yourself accountable to.

Sample Board Covenant

  • We will agree when the meeting will start and begin at the agreed upon time.
  • We will honor leadership.
  • I will take responsibility for myself.
  • I will practice deep listening.
  • I will answer kindly.
  • We will act for the common good in service to the mission.
  • When we come to a decision we will speak with one voice.
  • We will agree on an ending time and end on time.

Sample Congregational Behavioral Covenant

  • I promise to honor our leaders.
  • To be responsible for myself,
  • Honor the right, thoughts and feelings of others,
  • Uphold our Unitarian Universalist principles
  • And support my congregation with my time talents and treasures.

Practice the Behavioral Covenant

  • Say these covenants out loud to each other, often.
  • As new groups form or are voted in go through them line for line and talk about what each statement means
  • Share these covenants with new members
  • Start every meeting with the covenants
  • Publish them in the newsletter, website and other communications

Prepare for the Worst in Behavior

There are some people in your community who may not want to (or are unable to) agree to a behavioral covenant.

Create a Meaningful Covenant

Write a meaningful covenant describing what you promise to one another as a faith community

  • After some time is spent with the behavioral covenant plan to create a more aspirational and poetic covenant
  • Hold several congregational meeting to rewrite the covenant into a more aspirational and poetic covenant in service of the congregation’s mission and vision.
  • Give all of the ideas to a congregational poet who creates a version that can be used
  • After it is written let everyone hear the words and give the congregation an opportunity to make suggestions.
  • Poet reworks and presents the covenant to the congregation. Tweak during the meeting if necessary. Try it on and see how it fits. Practice it.

Practice the Meaningful Covenant

  • Say the aspirational and poetic covenant out loud and often.
  • Hold yourself to these words.
  • When the covenant is broken look to yourself first, take responsibility for your role and behavior and then ask others to lean into a deeper relationship with you and a discussion about what the problem is from every point of view.
  • If an individual is harmful to the community follow the safety policy.
  • Revisit the covenant often to make sure these are the values based promises you wish to hold yourself accountable to and make to each other.
  • Include new members is the process and the promise.

About the Author

Connie Goodbread

Connie Goodbread is serving Unitarian Universalism as HOPE for Us Conflict Engagement Team Director. Connie served as Co-Lead of UUA Southern Region for three years.

For more information contact .