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Connecting by Lowering Congregational Walls: Session 3 of the Congregations & Beyond Discussion Guide
Vision for UUism, Vision for UUism


Participants will explore the ways in which creative ministry can connect our Unitarian Universalist (UU) movement to more people in congregations and beyond.


  • Discover creative ministry techniques used by three sample congregations.
  • Identify possibilities for growing ministries that currently exist in the congregation as well as new ministries the congregation might undertake.
  • Decide upon one action that will increase connections between the congregation’s ministry and people in Unitarian Universalist congregations and beyond.


  • Chalice, candle, and matches, or LED/battery-operated candle
  • Covenant from Session 1
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Leader Resource 4, Contemporary Religiosity Facts: Innovative Ministry
  • Computer with Internet access, speakers, projector, or large computer monitor



Total presentation time: 60 minutes

Opening: Description of Session

(5 minutes)

Welcome participants. Light the chalice and read the chalice lighting words, which are excerpted from a post written by Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, UUA Director for Congregational Life, in her blog, Learning Out Loud:

For me it begins not with the question of “is there a place for me” but with the question “is there a place for thee?” By this I mean how much are we focused on creating spiritual communities that speak to basic human need, rather than to meet my particular needs.

How I apply this to my work in our institutional structure is to take the institution out of the center of our ministry.  As much as I would like to think I am essential to the work of Unitarian Universalism—I am not.  My role, and I believe the role of all of our staff and institutional structures is to create a structural way for ministries to connect to one another, not to create it and then hand it out to others to implement.

When institutions find themselves thinking about how to serve constituencies, they fall into the kind of materialistic, consumeristic mentality that creates [an] inward, empty focus...

It requires a certain kind of spiritual discipline to resist the seduction of “please make me happy by providing this service for me.” Turning aside these requests can feel like laziness or ineptitude.  But by saying, “how can we help you achieve this ministry?” we are achieving something much more important.

Invite participants to share any reflections from the previous session. Review the covenant created in Session One. Does anything need to be added, changed, or deleted?

Case Studies

(45 minutes)

Share the facts printed in Leader Resource 4 or invite volunteers to help you do so.

Tell participants that the UUA staff have produced a video series, A Religion for Our Time, which highlights congregations involved in creative and innovative ministry. Explain that the large group will watch three videos about three different congregations and then move into three teams, each one discussing one of the three videos using the questions posted on newsprint. Divide the group into three teams and assign a case study to each, suggesting that they may want to take notes during the showing of their assigned case study.

Play the three videos. Give teams 10 minutes to discuss the videos. Ask, “What excites or inspires you? What possibilities for lowering congregational walls can you envision?” Gather the large group and have teams report back, keeping their report to a minute or two.

Facilitate a large group discussion using some of these questions:

  • Growing Our Current Ministry
    • What work is our congregation currently involved in that is in keeping with the spirit of Congregations and Beyond? How might we share that work with other congregations? How might we grow the work of our congregation to encompass the Congregation and Beyond initiative?
    • What resources does our congregation have—music, sermons, videos of worship services, etc.—that could be shared with the broader Unitarian Universalist community? How can we share these resources?
    • Is our current worship style adaptable enough to encompass traditional and contemporary worship? How might we explore different worship styles?
  • Opening Our Doors to the Community
    • How is our congregation working “beyond” the borders of our building? Are we engaged in social justice work as a faith community? How might that work be expanded?
    • Can we list some needs that exist in our community? How might we go about cultivating partnerships with groups in our community who are already working to address some of those needs?
    • What groups of people from the community might be interested in participating in an event at our congregation? How might we invite them to an event? Would better use of social media help?
    • What innovative uses of our building can we imagine? How can we serve our community by using our space differently?

After discussion, use consensus to agree upon one action the congregation can take to expand its ministry to those beyond the current congregation. It may be:

  • an action of connecting to another Unitarian Universalist congregation or Unitarian Universalist community (such as a camp and conference center, a campus ministry group, or a district, cluster or region)
  • an action that opens doors to the community (such as sponsoring a community event)
  • a social justice project that brings you into accountable partnership with others in your community.

If your congregation is already involved in “beyond the congregation” activities, your commitment could be to increase what you are already doing or to do it in a way that invites more people to participate (For example, you might decide to offer Our Whole Lives programs to the community). Record names of volunteers to help complete the action, with the help of others in the congregation. Ask the volunteers to meet after the workshop for five minutes to schedule a meeting to start work on the action. Ask someone to post about your work on the Congregations and Beyond Facebook page.


(10 minutes)

Thank participants for their work in all the sessions. Invite everyone to share one benefit – to their own faith development, to the congregation, to the community, or to Unitarian Universalism—they foresee in engaging with the Congregations and Beyond Initiative.

Read these closing words, by Rev. Morales:

“We have long defined ourselves as an association of congregations. We need to think of ourselves as a religious movement. The difference is potentially huge."

Extinguish the chalice.

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