Effective Congregational Governance: Organizing for Mission and Ministry

Part of The Congregational Handbook

How members of a congregation make decisions together reflects on who they are and what they believe. Whose voices are heard? Who is included in discussions? Is there room for quieter voices? Is time given for reflection and inclusion?

Governance and Ministry In Congregations

Wood gavel

Dan Hotchkiss's Governance and Ministry Model

Offers congregational leaders a roadmap and tools for changing the way boards and clergy work together to lead congregations. Demonstrates that the right governance model is the one that best enables a congregation to fulfill its mission-to achieve both the outward results and the inward quality of life to which it is called. (For an overview of how Hotchkiss's model differs from the Carver model [below] see his article How I am Different from John Carver.)

The Unity Consulting Approach to Congregational Governance

Unity offers deep questions and commitments for governance within a progressive religious, covenantal context: Whose Are We? What values, mission, and ends belong in our Nested Bowls? What will we promise to one another about how we’ll use power in the system?


Also known as "dynamic governance," this model offers a flattened, responsive, and more inclusive structure. Congregations that wish to dismantle White Supremacy in their institutions are looking into this model.

Carver Model of Policy Governance

Policy Governance is a fundamental redesign of the role of a Board, emphasizing values, vision and the empowerment of both Board and staff through policies, limitations and monitoring reports.

Congregational Bylaws

Bylaws written on parchment.

A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Congregational Bylaws

Bylaws exist to support and enhance the functioning of the congregation. Good bylaws provide good process.

Bylaws are important in laying the groundwork for any organization. Although written in language to satisfy legal requirements, bylaws also encapsulate the vision, hopes, and dreams of the congregation. They help guide the congregational board, as well as deal with infrequent situations such as the calling of a minister and the purchasing of real estate. They are also a last resort in cases of disagreement on legal matters.

For all members, bylaws provide a part of the roadmap for getting involved in key decision making, which is particularly important to groups in historically marginalized communities.

Bylaws Task Forces

Working on Bylaws means learning together, designing a transparent process with input, and building consent before congregational voting.

grouping of six file binderd

Policies: For Nimble and Effective Governance

This section is under construction.

The word committee spelled out in Scrabble tiles

Committees and Task Forces of the Board

This section is under construction.

Ministry Teams and Task Forces

Photo of the sanctuary at Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder during worship

This section is under construction.


Person making a checklist in a notebook

Procedures describe best practices (at least at the time that they were written) or might just serve to help a congregation with it's institutional memory of how something was done in the past. These are easily changed or updated by the affected governance committees or ministry teams.

Thinking about Congregational Procedures

Procedures should have the flexibility to change as the organization changes size, staff, technologies and other situational factors.