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Engaging Head, Heart, and Hand: Beyond Task-Only Meetings
Engaging Head, Heart, and Hand: Beyond Task-Only Meetings

Meetings are a central activity in the life of any congregation, and in large measure the successes and failures of a congregation hinge upon the effectiveness of these meetings. As religious liberals, we meet because we are committed to the democratic process and want to draw out the diverse insights, experiences, and values from members and friends in our midst.

At their best, meetings provide opportunities to share ideas, discover new insights, connect with people, nurture community, reflect on one's faith, create new directions, and make innovative and responsible decisions. Meetings that matter enable participants to feel that their unique contributions will combine with the contributions of others to yield experiences, ideas, and decisions that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Even in the most healthy and vibrant congregations, there are times when meetings don’t quite accomplish what was expected or hoped. In other, more challenged congregations, there may be an expectation among members that any meeting will be a bad one. Perhaps you have heard people say that they are willing to help out at church as long as it doesn’t include going to meetings!

In church and in life outside of church, most of us have experienced poorly planned, ineffective meetings. At some of these meetings, no one is clear about the purpose, or one or two people monopolize the conversation. At other meetings, destructive conflict breaks out, or nothing seems to get decided. Some meetings start forty minutes late or challenge participants to simply endure one monotonous presentation after another.

Meetings need not be boring, frustrating, or meaningless. In fact, as religious leaders, we’re called to help organize and facilitate meaningful, enjoyable, and effective gatherings—meetings that matter, and that bring out the best in one another. 

At their core, most meetings focus on “getting things done”—making decisions and delegating responsibilities to try to ensure that the congregation runs smoothly. However, meetings that focus Meetings That Work 5 exclusively on institutional maintenance are usually tedious and uninspiring. Transformational meetings are ones that engage the head, the heart, and the hand; they promote growth and learning, nurture a sense of care and belonging, and invite individuals into meaningful service. They connect individuals with a wider sense of calling and purpose—they are more than task-only meetings.

One way to move beyond task-only meetings is to have the group establish a clear sense of identity and purpose. Invite participants to reflect on the goals for the wider congregation and their own personal goals as participants in the meeting. Using intentional checkin questions is another way to invite participants to go deeper and make connections to the work of the group with a sense of personal and congregational mission.

Excellent meetings are ones in which the whole person is engaged. Such meetings offer participants work that matters to their lives and connects to the vision and mission of both the group and the congregation.

From Meetings that Work: Make Them Meaningful and Productive (PDF)
New Congregation and Growth Resources
UUA Congregational Life Staff Group (2005)

About the Author

  • The regional Congregational Life staff are congregations' local connection to the UUA. All of the program Congregational Life staff have expertise in most aspects of congregational life and each also has a few program areas of expertise. See the UUA Congregational Life Staff...

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