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Tools and Methods to Keep Meetings Fresh and Effective

A wide assortment of tools and methods can enhance a meeting’s productivity and enjoyment. (Yes, most meetings can be fun!) Below are a few suggestions.

Starting and Ending On Time

Honor the time commitment of people volunteering to attend a meeting by beginning and ending on time. Using a bell or chime to let people know that the time is almost up (especially in breakout activities and during check-in) is a gentle way of encouraging people to wrap up. If it looks as if things aren’t going to be completed in the time allotted, invite participants to help create solutions to the time crunch problem.

Intentional Check-In Questions

Using intentional check-in questions at the beginning of a meeting can really help the group go deeper by inviting creative interchange and making connections between the work of the congregation and personal growth. Allow a short period of silence for participants to reflect on the question. Then, in groups that contain less than ten people, give each person one minute to share his or her response. Following the silent reflection in groups of more than ten people, invite small group sharing, and then share any insights in the entire group. The following are some sample focus questions related to possible meeting themes:

  • MENTORING: Who has most helped you become the person you are? Why?
  • NEW PROGRAM OR ACTIVITY: If you had the nerve, what new thing would you like to do? Why?
  • JUSTICE ISSUES: If you had one minute on national TV to speak about this issue, what one or two key things would you say?
  • BUILDING-RELATED THEMES: What is your favorite part of your own home? Why?
  • MONEY AND STEWARDSHIP: When was a time you were more generous than you imagined you would be?
  • RELIGIOUS EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN: When you were a child, which adult outside of your family had the most positive impact on you? Why?
  • ORGANIZING CELEBRATIONS: What is a memorable celebration in your life, and what made it wonderful?

Time Savers

Here are a few tips for keeping your meetings flowing and saving time:

  • Start and end on time.
  • Give clear instructions. If you are using breakout groups or individual reflection time, be clear at the outset what you want individuals or groups to do, how much time they have, and how you want them to report back to the larger group.
  • Distribute materials in advance of the meeting whenever possible. If not possible, distribute all materials at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Prepare visuals in advance.
  • Establish a “parking lot” or "bike rack" for ideas that aren’t relevant to the topic at hand but are important to follow up.

Taking Time to Appreciate One Another

Congregations operate by voluntary association and a lot of sweat equity. Help nurture a culture of appreciation in your congregation by

  • Recognizing people’s efforts often and in different contexts. You can do this one on one, within meetings, or as part of ritual with the entire congregation. Recognition can be tangible (such as a prize, reduction of registration costs, or a certificate), intangible (such as a thank-you or a pat on the back), or both kinds.
  • Acknowledging contributions when a major task is accomplished.
  • Honoring those who have completed their involvement with a group.

Celebrating Together

When you experience a success, take time to celebrate. If something is worth doing, it is worth celebrating our love, our commitment, and our efforts. A crucial part of meetings is taking time to pause, look backward, and mark the time that was. Celebrating sends the message to participants that what was accomplished really matters and that people’s hard work is truly appreciated. Celebrating honors individuals, encourages growth, and builds team spirit. It also invites reflection to learn from the past and to chart new directions for the future.

Celebrating can be spontaneous or planned, elaborate or simple. Whatever form it takes, it is important that celebrating happens! Without it, church meetings can feel like a moral obligation. Celebrations can include special food, a fun activity, giving gifts, saying good-bye to those leaving the team, and welcoming newcomers to the team. Some special activities include going to a movie, making art to display the accomplishment, and team members’ writing one thing they appreciate about a team member on a sheet on his or her back.

Job Done, Yeah!

When your group or entire congregation accomplishes a difficult task, take the time to celebrate its completion. Relive the surprises (good and bad); invite people to talk about what the key learnings were throughout the process.

Midway and Annual Review

If the group meets monthly, consider having a semiyearly celebration and review. A conversation could use the following ORID structure: So we’re halfway through (or have just completed) the church year.

Objective-Level Questions: Getting the Facts

  • What were our key accomplishments so far this year?
  • What have your major roles been?

Reflective-Level Questions: Honoring Feeling

  • What are you personally most proud of?
  • What’s been the most disappointing, or the most challenging?

Interpretive-Level Questions: Exploring Meaning

  • What are key learnings that helped us navigate difficulties?
  • How are we fulfilling our own and the congregation’s mission?

Decisional-Level Questions: Making Decisions

  • What are some changes or new directions we want to consider for the new year?

Fun with Flip Charts

Keep the shared work in front of participants by recording results on flip charts and posting them for the entire group to see. Having a visual representation of activities is encouraging and motivating. Be sure that your writing is large and clear enough for all to see.

Fail-Safe Flip Chart Removal

Do you know how to remove a flip chart from the pad without ripping the paper in half? Here’s the simple solution: Make a three-inch tear, parallel to the ground at the top left corner of the sheet. Firmly hold the bottom right corner of the sheet with one hand, and quickly pull the page down and to the right. Ta da!

Stickees in Advance

Use sticky tack or masking tape to affix paper to walls. Have masking tape torn in advance for ease of use, or assemble the sticky tack in “ready to go” small balls.


Take care in the type of markers you use, as some people have environmental sensitivities to the scents. Water-based, unscented markers are usually a safe bet.

Jazzy Flip Charts

Entire books have been written on how to create engaging flip charts. Here are a couple of ideas: Use lots of white space. Write in letters that are big enough so the writing is legible for the people seated the farthest away. Use different colors for contrast. Use simple symbols to set sections apart. 

Checking In Midway through a Meeting

Leslie Bendaly, in her book On Track: Taking Meetings from Good to Great, suggests four types of performance checks that can be used in a meeting to ensure that important issues are not being missed (pages 83–91): ·

  • GENERAL PROCESS CHECK: “How effectively are we working as a team right now?”
  • LOGIC CHECK: “Have we missed anything?”
  • FEELINGS CHECK: “Let’s stop and touch base right now. How are people feeling about the direction we’re moving in?” ·
  • CREATIVITY CHECK: “What are ways we could be more innovative in our approach just now?”

Sticker Dots

If you want to get a reading of the mind of a group, try the sticker dot method. Say your Social Action Committee is trying to determine some specific strategies on how to address poverty in your community. Together you’ve come up with seven possible actions to take in the next year; however, you don’t have the people power to implement all seven of them. To get a sense of the whole group’s interests, give each participant three dots and say, “Each dot represents your personal interest and passion. You can place a dot on any one of the options; in fact, you can place two or three of your dots on any one option.” After people have placed the dots, have a brief ORID conversation:

  • Objective-Level Questions: Getting the Facts
    • What do you notice about the results?
  • Reflective-Level Questions: Honoring Feelings, Reactions, and Associations
    • What surprises you about the results?
  • Interpretive-Level Questions: Exploring Meaning
    • What do the results say about the group’s thinking at this time?
  • Decisional-Level Questions: Making Decisions
    • What are our next steps?

This method can be used with a large number of people as well—with entire congregations, if you have a separate voting station for every fifty people or so. It is an interactive and visual way to take the pulse of an entire group.

Who, What, When Action Flowchart

When working on more complicated tasks involving a variety of people, consider creating a who, what, when action flowchart. This visual aid enables team members to see where their individual actions fit into the big picture and indicates when the tangible products will be delivered.

Where Do You Stand?

A fun way to check in with larger groups is to use physical movement and get to know one another quickly. Ask a series of questions, and invite people to move to a separate location of the room, depending on their answers. When they have arrived at the location, you may ask what they notice about what they see. Are there patterns emerging from this exercise that are of interest to the group? Are they surprised about what people have indicated by voting with their feet?

The following are some sample polling questions for the above physical movement exercise:

  • YEARS YOU’VE BEEN A UU. Were you: Born UU? UU since a child? UU only as an adult? 25 years or more? 10–24 years? 5–10 years? 2–5 years? 1 year or less?
  • YOUR PRAYER LIFE. Do you: Pray daily? Pray weekly? Pray occasionally? Never pray? Meetings That Work 33
  • YOUR THEOLOGICAL IDENTITY. Are you a: Theist? Agnostic? Atheist? Christian? Pagan? Other?
  • HAVE YOU BEEN/ARE YOU: ON THE BOARD of the church: Yes? No?
  • DO YOU TEACH/HAVE YOU TAUGHT religious education: Yes? No?
  • DO YOU PARTICIPATE IN AT LEAST ONE PROGRAM that nurtures the spirit: 1/month? 1/season? 1/year? Rarely? Never?
  • MAIN REASON WHY YOU JOINED THE UU CHURCH: Love? Learn? Serve? Congregational maintenance (to keep the place going)?

Building Relationships

The following are a few exercises to build relationships and make connections with one another in meetings.

REMEMBER WHEN: Invite group members to reflect on the past. Say, for example, “Remember when you first joined the congregation and how it’s had an impact on your life since,” or “Remember when you first joined this group and how things are different now.”

TESTIMONY: At each meeting regularly invite one group member to give his or her testimony. Over the course of the year’s meetings rotate among all willing group members until each has had a turn. Give the person five minutes to speak, and ask him or her to address questions such as “What brought me here?” “What keeps me here?” and “What is my growing edge?” or “What do I find challenging?” Invite questions and conversation following the individual’s sharing.

LIFE LINE: Give each person a piece of blank paper and a pen. Have each one draw a line of her or his life, indicating a few major life events (three or more, depending on how much time you have). Each person then should describe the key events. Alternatively, the events and descriptions may focus on the topic of the meeting. For example, a prompt at a meeting on mentoring could be, “Describe three times when you were guided by someone else.” At an anti-oppression meeting, you might say, “Describe three times when race became an issue in your life.” At a meeting focusing on canvassing, you could begin with “Describe three times when abundance prevailed in your life.”

TWO TRUTHS/ONE LIE: Invite each person to write down two true things and one lie about himself or herself. Tell the participants to answer in any order and to make their writing large enough for others in the room to see. Each person takes a turn while others try to guess which things are true and which is the lie. After all have guessed, the person tells which are true and which is the lie.


If your meeting is longer than one hour, be sure to take brain and body breaks to reenergize participants. A few ideas for fun energizers follow:

  • UP AND DOWN: Sing a song and, on a certain word, stand up or put arms up; on other words, sit down or put arms down. You could try “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” changing positions on every word with a b. Or use “Spirit of Life,” and change positions on every word with an s sound in it.
  • SING A FAVORITE SONG FROM THE HYMN BOOK: A few songs that participants probably won’t need words for are “This Little Light of Mine,” “Spirit of Life,” “There Is More Love Somewhere,” and “Peace Like a River.”
  • STRETCH AND YAWN: Invite people to spend an entire minute stretching and yawning. This is surprisingly energizing! 

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

About the Author

UUA Congregational Life Staff Group

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...

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.