Main Content
Delegates raise hands to vote at Plenary VI General Assembly 2013.
Congregational Governance
Congregational Governance

Leaders in all sizes of congregation struggle with how to best govern their congregation’s affairs in ways that are effective, efficient, and faithful to our liberal religious tradition. We have spent a lot of time studying congregational governance and working with congregational leaders as they explore models and practices. Here are online resources that may be helpful to you as you consider your own congregation’s governance.

Governance Basics

  • The Size and Shape of Governance (PDF)
    Stefan Jonnason's brief introduction to the topic of congregational governance identifies five key components of governance and offers a thumbnail sketch of how governance changes as congregations grow in size.
  • Linking Governance and Emotional Systems
    No governance model or organizational structure will be effective in the absence of a healthy emotional system in a congregation. This presentation at the 2008 General Assembly looked at the critical linkages between governance models and systems theory. This site includes links to the accompanying PowerPoint presentation and to relevant governance websites.

Practical Considerations

  • Governance for UU Congregations (PDF, 20 pages)
    An introduction to governance for leaders in congregations of all sizes, including thoughtful insights into the nature of authority and practical considerations such as bylaws, decision-making, policy development, and size considerations.
  • Your Congregation's Bylaws
    Although governance involves much more than bylaws, it is in each congregation’s bylaws that we find its core governance values and assumptions. This guide to writing and revising bylaws identifies the key considerations that should be kept in mind when creating clear and concise bylaws for your congregation.
  • Congregational Governance
    This chapter from the 1997 Commission on Appraisal report, Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity, offers a concise overview on how effective congregational governance is grounded in our larger traditions of congregational polity. From this document you can access the rest of the COA report, if you’re interested, by going to the table of contents in the left-hand column.
  • Metrics, what the church measures, will set direction for congregational leaders
    The metrics chosen by your leaders will enable you to set priorities and evaluate how your ministries are serving their purpose.  These resouces by Gil Rendle can help your congregation begin the conversation.
  • Executive Committees 
    Congregations often have unexpected issues that arise between board meetings that need immediate attention. If your congregation has built a system of trust and transparency, you might consider empowering an "executive committee" to respond to situations that may arise between scheduled meetings of the full board of trustees.

Policy-Based Governance

  • The Carver Model of Policy Governance®
    No governance model has sparked more interest or generated more controversy among Unitarian Universalists than John and Miriam Carver’s “Policy Governance®.” Yet, no other denomination’s congregations have studied this model or adopted its principles more widely. This link provides a concise overview of the model from a Unitarian Universalist perspective, along with diagrams and illustrations. 
  • The Carver Model of Policy Governance® is designed for non-profit organizations with a CEO accountable to a board of trustees, and clear delineation between employees, volunteers and those being served. Many congregations (especially those who do not have multiple paid staff members) have found that the Carver Model has been awkward to implement in the covenantal congregational context. More information can be found about Policy Governance on Wikipedia.
  • An Alternate Model
  • A modified version of this model, often referred to as "Policy-Based Governance"or "Mission-Based Governance," is outlined in the book Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership by Dan Hotchkiss (Alban Institute, 2009) and has been gaining in popularity among Unitarian Universalist Congregations and other UU covenantal communities.

Board-Staff Relations

  • Beyond the Organizational Chart (PDF, 5 pages)
    The quality of the relationship between the board of a congregation and its staff is an important factor in effective and accountable functioning. In real life this relationship involves delicate and complex balancing acts, as well as emotional maturity on the part of all the key players.

Developing Congregational Leaders

Subscribe to the UU-Leaders Email List, A discussion list for leaders of UU congregations.

Like, Share, Print, or Explore

For more information contact