2006 Breakthrough Congregation: UU Fellowship San Luis Obispo, CA

Part of Membership

By Unitarian Universalists San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo, CA

General Assembly 2006 Event 4039

Speaker: The Rev. Helen Carroll, President Ingrid Pires, and DRE David Robinson

Prepared for UUA.org by Pat Emery, Reporter; Jone Johnson Lewis, Editor

Incoming Board President Ingrid Pires welcomed the attendees and introduced the Rev. Helen Carroll, minister of the UU Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County. Carroll said that when she arrived five years ago at this breakthrough congregation, the community was clear that growth was part of their future, but they didn't know yet how it was going to happen. They did know that they wanted to be inviting, not as a strategy, but because it is what they are about as a community. They made an intentional effort to keep the long time members connected, and most have stayed. The Fellowship has grown from 170 to 240 members in five years.

Pires then told attendees the Board moved away from micromanaging and moved to policy governance. This means that the Board stopped making program decisions. Director of Religious Education David Robinson added that they also started with what volunteers were excited and passionate about and let that lead the volunteer work.

Since they knew their fellowship had been selected as a breakthrough congregation, they encouraged as many members as could to come to GA. Enough were able to do so that they organized the workshop attendees into six groups and had six teams of staff and/or members rotate among the groups.

Team 1 included Pires and Board member Dean Clark, who spoke in response to questions about policy governance. The Board received policy governance training, and it changed the Board meetings significantly. Committees enjoy more authority and no longer come to the Board for program decisions. The Board spends most of its time on vision, finances, and assessment. They determine the what, and staff does the how. They hold a once a month "conversation with the Board" after the service the Sunday before the Board meeting to stay in close communication with the members.

Team 2 consisted of outgoing President Orval Osborne, and Social Justice Chair Gina Whitaker. They told attendees that there are 47 groups in the congregation, some of them committees, but many interest, activity and covenant groups. If a member wants to do a social justice project, they know to go to the Social Justice Circle. The other "Circles" include Worship Arts, Stewardship, Education, and Connections. Each Circle has several committees.

Team 3 consisted of DRE Robinson and Director of Music Rebecca Sloan, who brought with them the perspective of staff. They explained that each of the Circles has a staff liaison who makes resources available to the volunteers. They make sure that the by-laws are honored, but otherwise let them create exciting programs. The church tries hard to attract and keep the kids that come to them, but the demographics for the area does not favor young families. They engage the children in all aspects of the ministry. Robinson's job does not include adult religious education. The minister conducts one adult RE class at a time. They have a rich music program with a choir of about 20 members.

Treasurer Deloris Marie, and RE Committee Chair Chris Clark formed Team 4, representing the "volunteer staff." They identified the stability of a settled minister, which they had not had for several years, as a major factor in their success. Another factor is the transparency of the finances and decision-making process. The RE program organizes the childcare for all the programs, and their budget takes that into consideration.

The fifth "team" to rotate through the group of attendees was Rev. Caroll who responded to questions by saying that the entire community takes responsibility for welcoming visitors. They took seriously the concept that you have about seven minutes to capture the interest of a new person, so they looked at how they do those first few minutes. They now begin with "joyous noise and song," and do not have verbal announcements. A weekly announcement newsletter is put on each seat instead, and a monthly newsletter is mailed to all members. Caroll also described the process of becoming a member. They offer a three session UU and You class, with the first focusing on UU history and principles. The second tells newcomers about the church programs and community. The third focuses on the three expectations of membership. The first is involvement in the community, and what that might look like. The second is financial support, with examples of how that might look like. The third is support of the business of the church, including things such as congregational meetings.

Team 6 consisted of new members Andrea Brown and Robert Hunt. Brown was from an evangelical background, and took two years to warm up to the church. Hunt found Caroll on match.com, and is the minister's new spouse! Newcomers are greeted and given a newsletter. Members make sure they are approached during coffee hour. They follow up with a letter with an information packet. They also described the Sophomore Class concept. Second year members are brought together for a discussion session about how their first year went, and put together feedback report for the Board and staff.

Attendees could feel the enthusiasm of the staff and members of this breakthrough congregation. They clearly have a community that warrants their pride and excitement.