Governance in Small Congregations
Governance in Small Congregations

Small congregations need a governance system that is "right sized" for the unique needs and challenges generated by their size.


Much of the decision-making in small congregations happens at the board level.

Emerging Best Practices

  • Create and live by a board covenant.
  • Have a clear congregational mission and learn how to use it to exercise the "strategic no." Do a few things well—don't stretch your members too thin.
  • Run tight board meetings.
    • Send out the agenda and reports ahead of time.
    • Used a timed agenda and appoint a time-keeper.
    • Stick to "board work," i.e. policy making, budget monitoring, fiduciary responsibility, etc.
    • Appoint a process observer and make time for a report at the end of the meeting
  • Create a policy manual for important fiscal and organizational matters and communicate them to your members. Topics to include (but not limited to):
  • Avoid micro-managing committees and task forces. Create policies in alignment with your mission so that your committees have clear direction. Let committees spend their budget line items without interference.
  • Empower an executive committee to make timely decisions between board meetings.
  • Schedule at least one or two meetings a year where you focus on mission and vision and not daily operations.


One of most challenging aspects of being fiduciary stewards in a small congregation is relying on volunteers for bookkeeping, pledge tracking, paying bills, creating budgets and overseeing payroll.  The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has created a Handbook for Congregation Treasurers & Financial Leaders (PDF) to guide you through best practices. 


Understand the difference between researching/discerning/planning and doing. Committees make sure that the ministry that they are in charge of is operating in alignment with the mission of the congregation. Consider creating task forces for people who don't want to attend committee meetings, but do want be empowered to do some of the church's ministry.

Committee members can lead the task forces to make sure there is alignment, but with a sense of permission-giving to allow people to contribute from their gifts and passions.


Small Talk Newsletter

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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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