Friday, June 9, 2017

Annual Meeting Board Update

The following is the speech I presented at the UUCAVA Annual Congregational Meeting June 4, 2017

My name is Warren Wright and I am Board of Trustees Chairman. Today, I am going to provide you with an overview board report. Some of you may wonder…what does the board do? Essentially, we uphold the mission of the church, and are accountable in three area:

-       Policy – Creating policy based on the needs of the church community
-       Communication – both hearing from congregants as well as communicating the policy that is created
-       Monitoring – Monitoring the Senior Minister through an executive limitations process under policy governance.

But we also have another responsibility that is not part of the job description—is to be the leadership body that think in long-term time horizons, and always have our eye on the future. Setting a course and steering a ship, and measuring our progress as we travel on this journey. We are Unitarians, so maybe the analogy is piling in our 1969 VW bus, and making our journey with a map, a lot of coffee, and good fellowship. 

Thankfully, we have the ability to periodically pause, take a breath, and see how far we've come, and discover what else we can do to get us toward our goal. The annual meeting is one of those times, and I want to use this opportunity to share with you-- from a birds-eye view-- how far we've come.  

To do this, I am going to use the 3M's-- 3 things that are most important to a vibrant church: Mission, Membership, and Money. In each of these M’s, we have the ability to measure how we’re doing. Many of you know I am a numbers guy, and I believe that measurement matters, especially measuring the things that will help us grow into a vibrant and healthy church. The three M’s matter.

MISSION

The First "M" is "Mission". Fortunately, we have a valid and reliable tool to measure how we are doing on our mission. It is Congregational Survey.  We have done this comprehensive survey twice recently—once in 2013, and once in 2016. You may have seen these results, but we did not talk about them in the last annual meeting because the 2016 results were not completed at the time of the meeting, so many of you will be hearing these results for the first time.

CONNECT “People feel they belong and are cared for” Are we achieving this? YES
      79% say they feel welcomed, encourages, and able to be part of the church community.  (An increase from 2013 measurement) 
      For the statement, “I’ve developed close relationships with others at church” 67% agrees, an 18% increase from 2013

GROW “People of all agers experience a spiritually vital faith community and have the opportunity for personal and spiritual growth.” Are we achieving this? YES 

      66% say they've found ways to grow spiritually, and 
      72% say the church has challenged them to be their best selves. (This is big increase from previous measurement)

SERVE “The church is a force for service, social justice, and environmental justice” Are we achieving this? We are doing pretty good, but we are not there yet.

      53% say they are serving the larger community. This is actually down 2% from last measurement, BUT a vision has been put forward by our senior minister to deepen our ties with a core group of existing partners, etc. The idea moving forward is to be more meaningful to fewer organizations. Instead of spreading ourselves too thin, we need to enhance on our existing partnerships like VOICE and our work related to Guatemala-- NISGUA/PAG/ADVIMA

MEMBERS

By “Members” I am referring to a larger group that includes Friends, Inquiring Friends, Newcomers, etc. Are we gaining new members/friends, newcomers? (YES. 83 new members and 200 new inquiring friends, and RE attendance is up almost 20%). We have never seen such a surge of newcomers in such a short amount of time in this church’s recent history. We are doing something right.
Not just quantity but a diverse quality of members. We are gaining more younger members, and membership is slowly becoming more diverse.
2016: 92% white
2013: 98% white

MONEY
Are we financially sustainable? YES. Pledges have been flat for several years, but just this past year, we are starting to see new patterns of giving. We are seeing new growth where we’ve never seen before. 

·      A large percentage of members doubled their pledge, 
·      We’ve received a high percentage of pledges that are not even members yet. 
·      A large percentage of first time pledgers
·      More people are giving more than giving less
·      We raised over $50,000 in our 100% online “Giving Tuesday” campaign in April. 
·      Actively interviewing consultants in preparation for a “Reduce the Debt” Capital campaign, retiring out $3.3M debt, and putting our church debt free for the first time ever!
·      Tamara has implemented significant cost controls on expenditures
·      We have a plan and a direction

 WHAT DO BEST PRACTICE CHURCHES DO? 

Most UU churches are in decline, and are averaging a 2% membership loss per year. If you do the math, that is a 20% decline over a 10-year period. There are a few large churches that are bucking that trend, specifically, Unity Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul, All Souls in NYC, and All Souls in Tulsa. There are four primary factors that those top performing churches share:

1.    They have a solid governance structure, and in the case of the best-performing UU churches, and almost all large UU churches, they use a policy governance system. Like the constitution of the Unites States, it provides a framework to operate in (it does not guarantee perfect interpretation and execution!) That comes from best practice churches second point…

2.    They Have a culture of leadership and leadership development. The best churches grow their own leaders. They model good leadership, recognize and recruit leaders within the congregation, and spend a lot of time on leadership development. The combination of good leadership in a policy governance framework assures decisions are made for the benefit of the mission. 

3.    They have a culture of embracing change. Congregations that see change as a friend, not an enemy are healthier churches. Growth and change are interrelated; you can’t have growth without making changes. Please refer to my Blog-- “Growth, Change, and Being Bumpy” – declines are almost imperceptible. They are like piutting a from in a pot of water and slowly turning up the heat to a boil. Before you know it, you are dead. A 2% membership loss a year is little enough to be unremarkable, but over time, we are that dead frog. Growth can be a wild ride, particularly with new initiatives happening all the time. New growth is bumpy and sometimes uncomfortable. 

“If you want to do something new, you have to stop doing something old” – Peter Drucker

4.    They have a visionary senior minister—The best performing churches have visionary ministers. In our search process for a new minister back in 2013, we asked on the survey the type of minister we wanted. There were four choices: 1)The Administrator—a leader who crosses his t’s and dots his i’s on all issues, 2) Pastoral – a minister that tends to the individuals in the flock—usually good for small churches, 3) An intellectual- a minister that challenges your brain, but not your heart-- perhaps like Rev. Kim Beach in the 90's, and 4) The Prophet—a minister that leads with vision and charisma. The survey clear what we wanted… the prophet.

We have not arrived on our journey of accomplishing all the outcomes we want.  We don’t quite have all the 4 pieces together of a best-practice church.

But if you haven’t notices, the world is burning outside of these walls, and the world needs us. And if that’s not enough motivation to being as effective in our mission as possible, I don’t know what is.

So this is a Board report—aren’t you going to talk about Board stuff? This IS board stuff. Critical job of the board is to elevate the conversation to the big picture, to the long haul, and to focus on measurable outcomes. We do sweat the small stuff, we do get into the nitty gritty of daily life at the church, but our true north compass faces the future. 

All that said, we are going through changes right now. Our Faith In Action minister is leaving at the end of the month. This is hard for many of you. The board does hear you. But we will move on. We’ve had ministers here for 19 year and survived, for 13 years, for 5 years, and we even survived an unpopular interim minister for 2-years and survived. We will be fine. 

We will make this work, we will move forward, and we will do it as a community that is grounded in our values of COMPASSION – GRATITUDE – TRUST – DIVERSITY – COMMITMENT.

Thank you. 


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Growth, Change and Being Bumpy

Our church is changing before our very own eyes, and depending on your set of eyes, you may be seeing things a different way. If you are a long-time member like me, you notice that things are not the same compared to the past. The senior minister, in his 40's, invites rap music artists to perform during worship service. Sermons tend to be visceral, soulful, and poetic food for the heart,  rather than intellectually challenging food for the head. There are no more joys and sorrows, we now sing to our children as they go to their classrooms, and sing Spirit of Life in Spanish. After a long hiatus, covenant groups are back.

But if you are a newer to the church, you are seeing things for the first time. And there are LOTS of new people, seeing things for the first time. Lots of new, young people. We just recently signed in 82 new members, and newcomers are entering the church at a pace we have not seen since 9/11.

Are all these changes good or bad? What does this change mean for the future of our church?

Most UU churches are losing members-- consistent trend for the category known as mainline Protestant churches. In fact mainline Protestant churches have declined at a faster rate than any other Christian group, including Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. The average mainline Protestant church is declining 2% a year-- and this is true for UU churches as well. The Pew research points out that there is a relationship between age and decline. The average age is getting older because the younger generation is not joining at the same rate the older generation is leaving. (See Pew research Study here). This is what I would call a generational replacement deficit.

Research by David Roozen from Faith Communities Today (FACTS) suggests that churches whose average age is younger grow at a more accelerated rate. Roozen, in his report, goes on to describe the profile of the growing church-- less than one-third of its members are seniors, at least fifteen percent of members are young adults, and there is "very much" innovation in worship service.

All of this points to the fact that if we want to grow, we must enhance our efforts to attract the next generation of members. That is an easy thing to say, but harder to do. One obvious place to start is to be open to change. A church cannot grow without change. Growth is not a perfect linear path. Whereas decline is often slow and steady, growth is more bumpy, because growth requires encounters  with the new and the unfamiliar. To grow is to change.

This month's theme is "transformation". This is a good month to consider the bumpy ride a shiny chrysalis goes through to become a butterfly.

Roseann Cash said, "The key to change... is to let go of fear." That's easier to do when we are all on the same team, when we are supporting each other, when we are in covenant with one another. Let's be courageous together, be open to change, grow our spirit, and serve others. And... be bumpy.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What Does the Board Actually Do?

What does the UUCA Board of Trustees do?

The title of my last blog was, "The Board's 2017 Agenda: Build Trust in Leadership."

I'm dedicating this blog to describing the board's purpose, and the activities it pursues in support of that purpose. As board leaders, it is our job to explain and educate the congregation on the church's basic governance guidelines. The board's ability to articulate its purpose and activities is a vital component of building trust.

The Board's purpose is to promote the mission of the church. Our responsibility can be separated into three categories/activities: 1) Communication.  Establishing a strong communication link with congregation, not only to listen to their deepest needs, but also to educate and inform on relevant policy decision, 2) Policy. Establish the policies, based on congregational communication that support the mission of the church, and 3) Monitoring. We monitor the performance of the senior minister in his or her ability to meet the defined "ends" or goals (see below) that support the mission. It is important to note that the board does not monitor the day-to-day operational elements of the church. This is solely the responsibility of the senior minister and who s/he delegates to do so. The board is not tasked with micro-managing the senior minister, but rather to monitor the ends with measurement tools such as the congregational survey.

 Many of you know that the church's mission is to connect, grow, and serve, but fewer may recall how we arrived with these three words. The board, along with a core group of lay leaders went through an intensive dialogue with the church community (called Appreciative Inquiry) to arrive at this mission. I recall Bill Fogarty and a team of facilitators held over 20 sessions on the topic, with over 300 people participating. After that process, the board went through an arduous 2-year process of teasing out these three words-- connect, grow, and serve-- into a more coherent version of our three end statements. End statements (much like goals) are designed to articulate the mission. They are:
  1. People feel they belong and are cared for (connect)
  2. People of all ages experience a spiritually vital faith community and have 
    opportunities for personal and spiritual growth (grow)
  3. The Church is a force for service, social justice, and environmental justice. (serve)
End statements support the mission, and the quality and integrity of the ends statements depend on the board's ability to translate the hearts and minds of the congregation into the ends.

One thing to note: The board represent the interests and are accountable to the church's moral owners. The moral owners are defined as a broad group of people that include current and future member and friends of the church and their children, our ancestors and forbearers, our neighbors in the local community, and even all those who share our religious values. This is a helpful framework because it encourages the board to always be thinking beyond what current members might be interested in today, to the much broader definition of moral owners's need for tomorrow.

The board's goals and 'operating procedures' are articulated in the Board Policy Manual, which, in my opinion, is a thoughtful, thorough,  and very effective document. Like the constitution, it can be amended, but its integrity is sound. It went through a major overhaul in the last 5-years, thanks to the hard work of the previous members of the board.

Have I put you to sleep? I hope not. Reflecting on the nature of this material, I am struck by how much care and effort has gone into creating a governance structure that can stand the test of time. Board members will come and go, but the board's role is clear.

As always, your comments are welcome either written or in-person.

Gratitude.  Trust.  Commitment.  Compassion.  Diversity.

Warren 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Board's 2017 Agenda: Build Trust in Leadership


As the new year begins, I wanted to share what the board has been talking about/thinking about for 2017. In the new year, one of the most important outcomes we hope to achieve is building trust between the congregation and the board through better communication.

It is no secret that our church has a long history of mistrusting leadership. Some of that might be for a good reason, and some of it may be the way we're wired as UU's. Challenging authority and breaking convention has often defined who we are as people. After all, we are fighting against injustice, we are breaking the conventional norms of economic inequality, and we are tearing down the barriers of structural and institutional racism. Combine this UU ethic with the Baby Boomer's signature traits of fierce individualism, and institutional mistrust, and you have... well, a challenging environment for leaders.

That's just the way it is. No one ever said leadership shouldn't have challenges. With this framework as a general context, it is the responsibility of church leadership to build trust.

It is our intention as a board in 2017 to promote not only transparency about the decisions that are being made, but also educate congregants on board governance process (as boring as it seems). By doing this, we hope to build confidence in the process and a trust that as board members, we are doing our best to stay true to the mission of the church. Just as importantly, we want to be more intentional about listening to what congregants are saying, particularly congregants who we may not typically hear from. Please don't mistake this for an opportunity for you to complain to a board member who will magically make all the issues you have with the church go away. This is not our offering. But what we are offering is to listen and listen deeply so we can more effectively align the needs of the congregation to achieve our mission to connect, grow, and serve. Our door should always be open for a meaningful conversation.

Look for more in the coming weeks about our efforts and your participation in building trust. As a thought starter, how would you answer this question:

"What does it mean to be a trusting and vulnerable church community that transforms us into our best selves? How can this help us to grow and serve?"

Write your answer to me by commenting at the bottom of the blog, or email me at: fwarrenwright@gmail.com

I look forward to hearing from you and Happy New Year!

Commitment.  Diversity.  Compassion.  Gratitude.  Trust.

Warren



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Do We Do Now?

On November 9th, The United States of America learned about who we are as a people. Half the country experienced a painful electrical shock-- an uneasy and incredulous punch to the gut. The other half experienced a sense of relief, a weight lifted off their shoulders, a perceived long-due recognition that their voice is finally heard. We are split, tragically, a huge gap between opposing sides.

How can we have such opposing views? How did we get here? How do we bridge this tragic gap?

For the past two weekends, I attended workshop called, "Living the Pledge to End Racism" that was brilliantly organized by UUCA lay leaders  Jessi Ray and Tracey Rogers. Three members of the board-- Janice Morris, Andrea Ryon and myself attended two consecutive Saturdays Nov 12th and Nov. 19th. So did 20 or so brave souls, many who were not UUCA members, and several who were new to UUCA.

We learned about the Black Lives Matter movement, recognizing and confronting bias, speaking up against microaggressions, and the difference between structural and institutional racism. Most importantly though, it was an opportunity to process our feelings, and start to solidify our role in a rapidly changing landscape.

The one thing I have been absolutely certain of is that the mission at UUCA has never been more clear and more urgent. Now is our time. We were built for this moment. All the pettiness has just fallen to the wayside, and we are called to play a central role to bridge the tragic gap in order uphold the principles of American democracy and human decency. Sound dramatic? Well, it is. We are in dramatic times, and this calls for dramatic action.

If UUCA cannot be a leader in upholding the principles of social justice, gosh, even justice itself, then who can? We must hold leaders accountable for their actions, advocate for the oppressed, educate leaders, and nurture our spirit in order to give us the courage to act. This is going to be very hard work. As Chair of the Board in Trustees, I am encouraging each and every member of this church to participate, volunteer, and lead. We need you. We need each other.

More workshops are planned starting in January. But we will need more leaders, more volunteers and more resources so we can accelerate our efforts.

What can you do right now? Center yourself over the Thanksgiving Holiday and ask yourself to  recommit to End Racism, and help bridge this tragic gap. There are a couple ways you can get involved:

You can sign up for the Race Reflection Session, which is a covenantal-style two-hour session reflecting on the issues of race, justice and white privilege. These will fill up quickly, but we will add many more.

You can go to  The Pledge to End Racism in Northern Virginia Facebook page to get resources and keep current about events, workshops, and seminars.

Finally, get in touch with Jessi Ray at jessica.huffman@yahoo.com, and she will put you on a volunteer list so you can help with future events.

The iconic Generation X rock band Jesus Jones wrote: "I've been waiting for this... Right Here, Right Now, watching the world wake up from history." History has caught up to us, and now we are called to act-- right here, right now. Let's join hands and let's do this.






Friday, October 21, 2016

First Blog, Our Values

Hi Everyone,

This is my first blog as the Chair of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. The reason I wanted to start a blog is to communicate with the congregation in an open and honest way what is on my mind. This will not be a repository of helpful information about the church, nor will it be a tidy re-cap of the board's weekly progress. But it will be an open diary to some of the issues the board is facing and things that I am thinking about, from the perspective of the board, and also my personal perspective.

Well, let's get right into it:

Last Tuesday was my first UUCAVA Board meeting as Chairman. I thought very hard about the kind of meeting I wanted-- not a lengthy discussion on strategy and tactics, but rather a discussion on our values and how our board to can work together as a team. We cannot accomplish anything as a board unless we first build a sense of trust and teamwork among ourselves. This will be my underlying focus for the first year. The good news is that I think we can get there quickly, as work has already been done in this area, and we have a highly capable and self-aware board.

Over the course of e-mail chatter back and forth the week before the board meeting, Kristen Patterson and Andrea Ryon both uncovered a long-lost archive (actually only 1-year old) document that we called the Covenant of Mutuality. It states this--


The Board and the Senior Minister will abide by a covenant of mutuality in a spirit of openness and deep respect:

Gratitude – in appreciation of our togetherness, we actively seek reasons for gratitude and we express our thanks fully, freely and frequently.

Trust - assuming good intentions, we extend trust freely and hold it reverently, and when the going gets tough we turn to wonder.

Commitment -authentically present, we bring our whole selves, we honor our commitments, and do not give up on one another

Diversity – listening deeply, we seek out diversity, celebrate our differences, and practice empathy.

Compassion - practicing kindness, we communicate honestly and compassionately, making room for one another's feelings.

I am so glad this re-surfaced. If you ever are confused on where to start on any journey, start with values-- and not just the words, but the real meaning behind them. 

I am grateful the hard work had been done to come up with these values and this important covenant. These are the guideposts on how we act toward each other-- between board member, between board and Senior Minister, and through modeling this behavior, board member to all congregants. 

Be Kind, Be Well,

Warren