Revisiting Guiding Documents
Revisiting Guiding Documents

One of the things that is true of congregational leadership is that you are never done with the guiding documents. Not only do you keep on adding appropriate mission objectives to help make the mission come alive, and not only do you encourage people to live out the covenant between you, and not only do you educate visitors and new members about the vision, mission, and covenant statements; you also need to revisit these documents on a regular basis to ensure that they are still what you intend.

Because of the mobility of people and the influx of new members in the congregation, often after five to seven years, the proportion of the membership that was involved with the process will have dwindled to the point where fewer and fewer people have direct ownership of the process and the statements that were created. This is especially true in times of rapid congregational growth and often during times of ministerial transition—at these times, more and more people come in inheriting the good work of the longer-term members. Also, demographic and other social changes in society and the neighborhood in which the congregation is located may also foster the need for revisiting the documents.

The good news is that people are often more enthusiastic about the process of vision, mission, and covenant after the congregation has been through the process once before. Rather than the response of “We’ve never done it like this before,” you are more likely to hear, “Oh yes, I remember this” and “Yes, this is the way we do things around here.” These reactions will be more likely if the implementation of the process has been handled well and has been kept a vibrant part of congregational life.

Given the transitory nature of congregations and the rapid pace of change in society in general, it is recommended that the congregation revisit its vision, mission, and covenant every five years. This schedule allows the newer people to buy in to the process, and it provides an opportunity to reengage and energize individuals who were present the last time the statements were reviewed. Congregations that choose the four- or five-year process of mission objectives will find that it is a natural follow-up of implementation to revisit the initial vision, mission, and covenant statements after the set of mission objectives has been completed.

Congregations that add a new mission objective every year may find it somewhat awkward to revisit the vision and mission while also beginning to implement new objectives, but it can still be done. Chances are high that the most recently added objective is in line with where the congregation members want to go, even as it may be a little on the edge of the older articulated mission statement.

Planning for a subsequent process is often easier, especially if good notes were preserved from the first time the congregation went through the process. The vision, mission, and covenant team can incorporate the feedback from the last time, look at different options for some of the exercises, and create the plan in a shorter time. By now the leadership of the congregation should be committed to the process, but a “refresher” for those new in leadership is always a good idea. Again, though, by building on the past successful experience, it should be easier to “sell” the idea. After all, what you are selling is a congregation that is vibrantly alive and connected with, and committed to, the community both within and without the congregation’s walls.

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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