Faith Lab Toolbox: Covenanting

When we gather in covenanted community, there is a certain kind of magic. But the magic doesn’t happen on its own, it's very intentional.The magic we experience in covenanted community suggests that another world, one with different values and social norms, is possible. We can believe so because we will have lived in it, even if only briefly. We get there by going beyond safe spaces.

Three consecutive circles. The inner circle is green and reads "Safety/Comfort." The middle circle is yellow and reads "learning/growth" and the outer circle is red and reads "danger
  • The safety/comfort zone is our home base. When we are in this zone, there is no need or impetus to learn or grow. This is the space that we return to when we are pushed beyond our limits (in the danger zone)
  • Beyond the safety/comfort zone is the Learning/Growth Zone. It is here where we take the risk to try and learn new things; to challenge our ideas and assumptions.
  • Beyond the Learning Zone is the Danger Zone. When we are pushed too far, beyond our capacity for growth, we shut down. We experience a physical reaction in our bodies. We are unable to take in new information.

Questions to Ask

There are many frameworks you can use to get to the heart of what a group wants to promise each other. Here are our favorites

Needs and Gifts

Covenant is where shared gifts meet collective needs

Our covenants are our promises to each other. One of the things that makes covenants special is that they are reciprocal. We all come into relationship with each other with both needs and gifts. Our covenants can be our commitments to use our shared gifts to help meet our collective needs.

Ask your group to answer these three questions:

  1. What do you need from this group?
  2. What do you have to offer this group?
  3. Considering both our collective needs and our combined gifts, what commitments are we prepared to make to each other?

Sacred Promises

Our covenants are sacred promises. By “sacred,'' we mean that which we hold aside as special, elevated, venerated; sacrosanct. A sacred promise is one dedicated to a divine purpose--a purpose of ultimate concern for you.

Ask your group to answer these three questions

  1. What values do you hold dear? What shared values do we want to affirm?
  2. What promises can we make about how we will be together? How can we, as a group, be about the journey and not just the destination? Sometimes, the destination is important, but it matters how we get there. Can we be flexible? Can we embrace a spirit of adventure and experimentation? Can we be gentle with each other?
  3. Finally, let’s talk about purpose. We know what we believe, and how we want to be with each other. But to what ends? Why are we here in this community together? What commitments, grounded in our values, do we make to each other and to the world?

Our Temporary Autonomous Zone

Covenanted communities are what writer Hakim Bey calls a “Temporary Autonomous Zone.” It is an impermanent utopian experience that can be transformative. Ask your group:

Covenants create Temporary Autonomous Zones
  1. How do we treat ourselves?
  2. How do we treat each other?
  3. How we treat our space?
  4. How do we treat those outside of our group?
  5. How do we become people others can count on?
  6. What sacrifices are we willing to make in the name of the higher good/ community good?
  7. How do we make amends when we mess up? How do we offer each other (and ourselves!) both accountability and grace in making amends?
  8. What Boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my Integrity and make the most Generous assumptions about you?

Methods for Building Covenant

No matter which questions you choose, consider how you want to bring the answers together.


The facilitators of the group provide a starting point for the covenanting process. This is a very basic list of “good ideas.” The group can agree to accept this covenant in total or choose to edit it by adding elements unique to the group, changing elements that don’t fit for the group and/or rearranging the elements to fit their needs and priorities.

This model works best for a group of people that has never covenanted before and need a lot of guidance or a group who has a very short amount of time to build a covenant.


The facilitator of the group guides the group through the three stages of brainstorming:

  1. Throwing out any ideas without judgement,
  2. Synthesizing by grouping like ideas and discarding ideas the group agrees are not needed,
  3. Making a decision to accept the final product. The scribe supports the group by writing down verbatim what group members say.

This model works best for a group that has the luxury of time or a group that would benefit from going through this process as a community building exercise.


Each person, or small groups, writes down a few key points they would like to be included on the group covenant on a piece of paper or a note card. This is done in silence or with minimal talking. The group elects a small number of delegates to synthesize the items and write a draft covenant to bring back to the group. The whole group provides feedback and adopts the covenant by consensus.

This model works best for a large group, a group where some people are dominant speakers and others’ voices go unheard or a group that has difficulty coming to agreement.

Evolving Faith Lab YouTube Playlist

With each toolbox we'll add videos to the Faith Lab YouTube playlist on care groups, covenant, ritual, cycles of change, grief and lament and UU youth history.

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