Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Relentlessly Useful UUA [Landrum]

It was just announced that the UUA newsletter "Interconnections" is ending.  In June, the UUA announced a budget shortfall of 1.3 million, and this is one result of that deficit.  Donald Skinner, who edited Interconnections for 15 years, says Tom Sites, former UU World Editor, wanted the newsletter to be “relentlessly useful."

As a minister, I know that the job of ministry is multi-faceted, and it's the rare -- or nonexistent -- minister who does everything excellently.  So when choosing a minister, it's worthwhile for a congregation to think about what strengths are important to that congregation.  Ideally, I think the work of the congregation is to not berate the minister for not having universal excellence, but let the minister play to those strengths, and use the strengths of the laity to round out the work of the church. But every church is still going to have areas of strength and weakness, too.  Individual people, when they have the luxury of choice, often choose their church based on their interests and desires.  Is it more important to you to have a church actively engaged in social justice, or with a stellar RE program, or with dynamic music?  A church with limited resources can choose to hire a part-time RE staff person, an amateur musician, and have a lay-led social justice program, but might choose to put more resources into one area to have a really strong program in that area.

It's worth asking what we want the UUA to be for us, too.  While a larger institution has more ability to have excellence in more areas, the UUA is not really that large an institution.  Do we want it to be more focused on social witness?  Do we want it to be seeker-oriented?

In the last year it has seemed that a large amount of energy and focus of the UUA has gone into branding, on messaging, and on "Selling God" -- spreading the word of what Unitarian Universalism is to the "nones" and to the younger generations seems to have taken center stage.  I think that's appropriate work for the UUA, but not where I would put the emphasis.  Instead, I would look for the UUA to be "relentlessly useful" to congregations. 
being a growth-driven, seeker-oriented institution.  The focus on

Branding may become useful to congregations in time.  The UUA is working on a new curriculum about it that's being test-piloted this fall.  But right now, it's not in that useful category.  Congregations can use the new logo and stripe and background pattern, but changing the logo on your webpage isn't going to bring the nones barreling to your church door.

As a minister, I've been trained in theology, preaching, education, small-group ministry, and social justice.  And I think those are the things we need to free our congregations up to focus in -- creating dynamic worship, creating engaging programs, and engaging in public witness.  But we have nobody in the small pastoral-sized churches on staff who are trained in finance, webdesign, and marketing.  We turn to whatever lay expertise we have in our congregations and tap it relentlessly -- so our one member with web design expertise gets a perpetual unpaid job to do in their off-time, and the same with finance, and marketing.


It may be Interconnections time to end.  As Donald Skinner says, "Now there are email lists, Facebook laboratories, and webinars."  But the UUA needs to remain relentlessly useful.  Create branding, yes, but create the websites, the newsletters, the pamphlets, the print ads, the Facebook photos for us to use it on.  Help our churches by doing payroll for us and free us up from the back-office work, much like you help us with our endowments with the Common Endowment Fund.  Free up our congregations to do what they do best.


5 comments:

Steve Cook said...

A relentlessly useful take on what the UUA could do. I agree; if small congregations could free up other talent by using "back office" functions provided by UUA instead of inventing our own versions of the wheel, it would be worth any number of new logos and color combinations in helping us to do the work of the Church on the ground.

Don Southworth said...

Preach it brother Tom!

Evin Carvill-Ziermer said...

Sound legal advice needed too.

cwulff said...

Thanks for this column Cynthia! One of the things I always appreciated in Don's columns was that he was clearly leveraging the insights and experiences of other leaders, simply by asking if he could share their stories. As we increase interconnectivity, how do we convince people to share their stories, experiences and resources without being asked? What incentives can we provide, how can we make it easy? How can the UUA work not just as a centralized service provider for administrative and operational issues, but also as a platform that enables more interconnection and collaborative development?

Andrew said...

Are there any proposals on the table for the UUA to be able to handle congregational payrolls?