More on Troubling Trends for Professional UU leaders.

Responses to the troubling trends in professional leadership.

My recent post has gotten an interesting mix of responses, especially in the area of creating “super-congregational’ hiring bodies for religious professionals.  (Again, using the word “super” in its meaning of “above” rather than “better” or “greater”.)

Several satellite church experiments were reported.  One model is that the flagship congregation plants the satellites.  My questions:  are the people in the satellite members of the flagship congregation?  What are the local staff requirements, beyond the ministers?  How does the money flow?  How do they get started -- do locals approach the flagship?  Or vice-versa? Somebody enlighten me.

I am interested in First Houston’s creation of satellites by merging smaller congregations into the flagship.  I am pleasantly surprised by this happening.  I would have thought that smaller congregations would resist merger.  In some cases, isn’t their reason for being exactly their desire to be different than the “big church downtown.” ?  Understanding how to successfully merge churches of different sizes would be key to moving UUism in New England forward. 

I am also interested in Jeanne Pupke’s thoughts about district/regional hiring bodies.  Could we imagine a situation where a district/regional or even UUA level body would directly support ministers to do church planting?  Hasn’t that kind of “extension” work been done through congregations in the past?  I, for one, am more optimistic about creating new “beyond-congregations” by subsidizing entrepreneurial minister/planters than by supporting a mini-congregation that is trying to form. 

New Word Alert:  A group of people who are gathering on Sunday morning for a worship service are a New Congregation.  They might have a minister or not.   A new “Beyond-Congregation” is a organized network of UU’s and other religious liberals who are joined by some religious purpose -- study group, small group ministry circles that meet in homes, or restaurants, collective living groups.  They might be organized by a minister or not.

Community Ministry:  I think I hear Scot Giles suggesting that UU Community Ministers might represent some solution. As I read his comment, I thought of a small church led by a bi-vocational minister who was, in part, a Community minister and generating income from that work and a part-time parish minister, who was presumably generating income from that source.  There must a thousand variations possible of this arrangement, depending on the potential for non-UU income and the interest in performing as a parish minister on a part-time basis.  

But where I started in exploring this was the realization that as we go to more part-time ministries and part-time employment in all positions, we end up excluding more and more of our professionals from the benefit programs that the UUA has worked on creating and providing. Combining part-time jobs may make a decent living, but often without good benefits.

And lastly, Paul Beedle seems to suggest we will have to rely more and more on lay and volunteer and part-time staffing. Maybe, we need to give up is the idea that Unitarian Universalism will be a religious movement led by middle-class professionals who work full-time, have offices and good benefit packages.  That style may still prevail in the Capitol but out in the Districts, not so much. (Hunger Game reference.)


  1. Here in ABQ we have three branches...40,70, and 300 miles away.(it's a big state).

    They are members for First Unitarian and pledge to First Unitarian. We organized the closer two groups, beginning with members from those small towns. The Carlsbad group formed on its own and asked to join. Each branch has a staff person who is responsible to give them the help they need. They use videos of the sermons to craft their own, small group worship. Each group has about 30 people, between 10 and 20 each Sunday. We rent space for each group at a local church.

  2. Good and careful work has been done in Houston to foster mutual support among congregations in the Houston area (it's called congregational polity, folks!), and the First Houston satellite project is a natural outgrowth of that. It makes a difference when we cultivate our relationships with each other across congregations.

  3. As some one who has spent the past three years doing the parish ministry/community ministry mambo, half time in each ministry, I am doubtful more such arrangements are the answer. The number of reasons are endless, but essentially that it has felt impossible to give my best and get the most out of either ministry.

  4. Hi Tom,

    Actually a Community Minister working bi-vocationally is not one person with a couple of part-time jobs, who is therefore ineligible for benefits.

    A Community Minister creates a Community Ministry that has a Business Entity--an LLC, a Corporation, etc. That Business Entity provides a full-time ministry to the Community Minister.

    The Business Entity may have many paying clients. They can be individuals, institutions, congregations. Their payments flow into a single business banking account and the Minister's compensation comes out of that account. So the Minister is in full-time employment and is eligible for benefits.

    In my case my full-time ministry is a Limited Liability Company called "Rev. C. Scot Giles, D.Min., LLC." It has many clients, mostly individuals plus three hospitals. There is no reason I couldn't add a congregational client to the mix if I wanted. The thing to get is that in Community Ministry the minister usually owns the ministry.

    UUSCM has a Best Practices Guide on its website that explains how this is done. Check out and look in Key Documents if you are curious.

    Scot Giles
    President, Unitarian Universalist Society for Community Ministries

  5. At Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO we have a second campus in Evergreen, CO (about 20 miles west and uphill). The effort grew from our strategic planning process as we looked into growth options. We started with focus groups in winter 2010 in two different locales, exploratory services in summer 2011 and began monthly services in Dec 2012 at 4 p.m. on Sundays. Attendance has been in the 40s - 60s. Most attending are new to UUism. Evergreen is an extension of our congregation, so anyone who joins is a member with the same standing as someone in Golden.
    Our ministers have taken turns preaching in Evergreen, sometimes preaching at two services in Golden and then one in Evergreen. Our slow start has been to help the staff adjust to the new work load. Church members will hold social events at their homes on first Sundays through the summer, transitioning to 1st and 3rd Sunday worship services in October.
    So far, so good. We would like to have a better worship space (currently at a charter school) and continue our search for that.

  6. I'm not aware of any successful "small church becomes a branch of a larger church" in the UU World. However, this is more common in the Evangelical world, and we should be learning from them. Here's one place:


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