Showing posts with label Small congregations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Small congregations. Show all posts

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why are UU congregations small? Part 5 - lack of evaluation

In addition to the fact that UU congregations often lack competent management, have an ambiguous sense of mission, lack any accountability to an accrediting body, don’t know how to resolve conflict, they often lack the ability and skills to reflect, evaluate and learn from their experience.

Most of UU congregations are small, less than 200 people. They have poorly formulated sense of mission and vision and therefore have not articulated clear goals for organizational achievement. This failure to articulate goals makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate the effectiveness of the religious organization.

Most Christian churches have as their major goal the great commission which comes from Matthew 28:16-20 “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. (17) And when they saw him, they worshiped him: but some doubted. (18) And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

UU churches usually don’t proselytize since they have no organizational tradition or norm to share the faith, and seem to operate more like Alcoholic Anonymous which deals with organizational maintenance and growth based on attraction rather than recruitment.

Perhaps sharing the faith and growing a congregation is not the goal of most UU churches and that’s okay, but there should be some agreement on goals and the vision for the organization for the future if the organization is going to survive and thrive.

W. Edwards Deming, the total quality management guru said “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” and sadly most UU churches don’t know where they are going other than to continue to exist, to maintain the status quo, to satisfy the preferences of the current membership.
Peter Senge in his classic book on organizational management, The Fifth Discipline, developed a model for what he called “the learning organization” meaning that an organization has developed the capacity to learn from its own experience. Organizations which have developed the capacity to learn from their own experience are able to anticipate, observe, adjust to, and manage external and internal factors which affect its operations and its abilities to achieve its goals to survive in the broader environment. To what extent are UU churches equipped and skilled to evaluate their own experience, learn from it, and make the necessary changes to continue to serve its stakeholders and maintain its own viability?

It would seem that one of the reasons that UU congregations are small, and that the denomination as a whole is minuscule is because of its inability to successfully read the signs of the times and organize themselves in ways to adjust to and influence the context in which they exist. The inability to purposefully and deliberately evaluate and reflect on its experience leads UU churches to stagnate and even dissolve.

Unitarian Universalism has an illustrious history and a glorious philosophy, but its ability to understand it and communicate it in meaningful, relevant, and inspiring ways is obviously not working well when you consider the number of people who are attracted, and inspired enough to participate. This is a function of the failure of leadership and a major activity of leadership is to evaluate the organizational experience, learn from it, and apply those learnings to future endeavors.

How are we doing?

This is article #5 in a series on Why Are UU Congregations Small?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why are UU congregations small? Part 4 - Lack of hierarchical oversight

Reasons given for the small UU congregations have included the difficulty in managing conflict, the lack of good managerial skills of leaders, lack of or poorly formed mission statements, and in this brief article we will discuss a fourth reason, the lack of hierarchical oversight.

Most major social institutions today have some sort of accreditation process or regulatory control  to assure that the organization has quality processes in place that assure the consumer that the organization is well managed. The UU fifth principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large” has created a climate in which each UU congregation is free to do as they please which in congregational life means that the congregation is independent of any centralized regulatory or accrediting body and is not accountable to any higher authority to operate according to commonly accepted and adhered to standards of good organizational practice.

The UUA has many suggestions of good practice and periodically offers workshops on various topics, but it has no legitimate organizational authority to “protect its brand”. It’s organizational members can pretty much do as they please as long as they maintain a membership of 30 people who have done nothing more than “sign the book”, and pay their organizational dues. Franchise organizations like McDonalds and Burger King care more about quality control than the UUA. Increasingly social institutions which serve the public like hospitals, police departments, libraries, etc. are “accredited” meaning that they voluntarily agree to comply with certain standards of operation in order to market themselves to the public as an “accredited” organization and in many cases their funding from governmental bodies and insurance companies require that they be accredited to continue to receive funds for services rendered. To participate in the European Common Union companies have to be “ISO 9001” accredited to assure other companies and other countries that their goods and services were manufactured and produced so as to adhere to agreed upon quality standards.

Joining the UUA requires nothing other than having 30 members, a couple letters of reference, and paying UUA membership dues. It makes an observer wonder whether anyone should take the UUA seriously or if it even takes itself seriously. The UUA has no standards of operation which its member churches have to comply with and so UUA churches are constantly “reinventing the wheel” as it were and have no structure, expectations, and requirements to use as guidelines in developing their policies and procedures, organizational key processes, and evaluation requirements to assure a minimal adherence to good organizational management practices. Consequently, churches flounder, conflict arises, a lack of coherent consensus prevails, and disenchanted members drop away.

Unitarian Universalists pride themselves in being free thinkers but free thinking can lead to anarchy and narcissism where covenantal relationships are difficult to maintain because there are no agreed upon boundaries. Boundary violations lead to hurt feelings, conflict, demoralization, alienation, and churches being left with only insider cliques who protect their own preferences in disingenuous ways to the detriment of a potentially larger congregation. As W. Edward Deming, the total quality engineer said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

Unitarian Universalists have a long and proud tradition of being heretics and following their own drummer. They eschew aggressively dogma, creedal tests, and illegitimate hierarchical authority, but have UUs thrown the baby out with the bath water? Have they given up any respect for legitimate and appropriate standards of good organizational performance and quality operational processes? It seems that they have which have left congregations floundering  and in conflict over any agreement on what best practices might look like and consist of. Without any externally verified and sanctioned standards of performance one opinion is as good as another, one practice is as good as another until it isn’t and then it is hard if even possible to repair the harm that has been done by ignorance and incompetence.

Should the UUA develop an accreditation program similar to the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations or any of the other Accrediting bodies which measure performance of their member organizations?

This is article #4 in a series on Why Are UU Congregations Small? An article on this topic is published every Thursday on UUAWOL.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why UU congregagtions are so small, part three - Importance of a good mission statement

UU congregations are small not only because they do not have the skills to resolve conflict, and they lack competent leadership but because they have poorly developed sense of mission as evidenced by inadequate mission statements.

An inadequate sense of mission is not only a symptom of poor congregational functioning but also can be a symptom of anemic spiritual awareness. Two major spiritual questions are: Who do you think you are, and what do you think you are doing? In other words why are we born and what is the purpose of our lives?

Unitarian Universalism draws upon six sources and states as one of its principles of covenantal community to promote and affirm the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, but these guiding frames of reference may be way too broad for most individuals and church organizations. Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life sold millions of copies indicating the thirst that people have to be helped to develop a sense of meaning in their lives.

One UU church used this statement as its mission statement in its incorporation papers:

The purpose of this Church is to create a supportive, caring community in which to pursue religious, ethical and spiritual growth through worship, education and service to others. Members covenant together to affirm and promote:
• The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
• Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
• Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
• A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
• The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
• The goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
• Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The pastor of this same congregation led the congregation through an exercise she obtained from a district office representative of the UUA, and she and a hastily formed committee came up with this mission statement which the congregation has been promoting in its newsletter:

Our Mission Statement

The ____________________ congregation,
A diverse and supportive spiritual community,
Seeking truth and transformation through,
Respect and compassion for each other and our world.

A member of the same congregation suggested this as a mission statement:

The mission of ________ is provide spiritual support to individuals and families, improve the quality of life in our community and the world, and work across systems and cultures for positive change. 

A useful, effective mission statement should possess three characteristics: it should be memorable, create a boundary which allows people to discern whether organizational activities are valid and appropriate for organizational implementation, and be a basis for developing indicators to measure and evaluate organizational effectiveness.

The failure to develop a viable mission statement that fulfills these three functions leaves the organizational identity and purpose ambiguous and lays the foundation for conflict and organizational failure.

A good mission statement tells people who members of this organization are, what they are about, and what they intend as consequences of organizational activity. A good mission statement is the tiller of the boat, it allows the leadership and membership to steer the vessel in an intentional and deliberate way towards a destination. Without the tiller, the boat is adrift, and if you don’t know where you’re going any wind will take you there.

To be continued

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why UU churches are small - Part two

UUA member congregations are small not only because they have difficulty resolving conflict but also because they lack competent leadership. This may be directly related to fifth principle which is "the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large." The attempts to arrive at consensus and the idea that all opinions are equal contribute to severe dysfunction. Democratic decision making has to occur within a framework of options which have advantages and disadvantages. The idea that all opinions are of equal value is fallacious and leads to anarchy and a lack of coherence in organizational values, beliefs, and practices. Without a framework within which to make decisions, organizations are left to flounder and fight.

Good leaderships is based on at least three factors: a viable vision of organizational development and operation based on the integrated requirements and expectations of organizational stakeholders, competent design, implementation and evaluation of key organizational processes, and the embodiment and manifestation of key organizational values. Good leadership facilitates the organizational production of good outcomes, cost efficiently that are customer satisfying. This leadership requires managerial skill and competence which is sorely lacking in most small congregations.

Organizational conflict is not resolved by communication techniques or mediation as much as it is by differentiated leadership. Having principled competent leaders who can communicate a vision, a sense of mission, and who have the courage to make decisions about preferred key processes and the allocation of resources fill the vacuum of ambiguity and indecisiveness that generates rumor, gossip, second guessing, and infighting. The failure of nerve which leads to the feeling that nobody is in charge is a toxic climate in any organization, but especially in a covenantal community such as a church.

Church leaders need to have competent managerial skills to design, implement, and evaluate key processes. "Running" church operations is a sophisticated task in this day and age for any church which has grown from a "mom and pop" operation and aspires to be a more stable community institution.

What are those managerial skills and how can they be developed and evaluated to assure professional quality management of UUA member congregations?

To be continued

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why UU churches are small

I asked a district representative why 80% of the churches in the UUA have a membership of less than 100 congregates. She said simply, "Because congregations don't know how do handle conflict."

This answer resonated with me but didn't seem to be very helpful because it left me wondering how congregations might be helped to better resolve conflict. Conflict resolution and mediation workshops never did much for me. Having learned the gimmicks and techniques of active listening and negotiation etc. I still felt these gimmicks and techniques weren't getting to the crux of the matter which is how groups best function to begin with. Having grown disillusioned with the experience in my own small congregation I have finally found an explanation which I find much more relevant and meaningful.

To be continued
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