Starting a New (Good) Habit: Assessing Our Ministry Part I (Fellowship Matters)

What Do We Mean by “Ministry”?

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that our ministry encompasses much more than the work of our ministers. A UUA report states this concept of “shared ministry” as follows:

One key aspect of Unitarian Universalism is our belief that ministry of the congregation does not belong exclusively to ordained clergy, but to everyone. In Our Professional Ministry: Structure, Support and Renewal, the Commission’s 1992 study, Neil Shadle stated, “Ministry is the vocation of every person of faith, [and] Unitarian Universalism, as a democratic faith, affirms the ‘priesthood of all believers’; we are all lay ministers, whether or not we choose to be professional religious leaders.

Reverend James leads our ministry, assisted by Reverend Sasha. All of us, though – your Board of Directors, committees, ministry teams, task forces, interest groups, and especially each member and friend individually, carry out the ministry of this fellowship to build a UU community that transforms lives and empowers people to serve the world.

Why Routinely Assess Our Ministry?

We have many good reasons to undertake thoughtful, timely reviews of our ministry. David McMahill mentions several in his book Completing the Circle – Reviewing Ministries in the Congregation, including:

  • To provide feedback about how the church’s ministry is going
  • To remind where and to whom we are accountable
  • As a vital component in problem solving
  • As a vital component in the personal and professional health and growth of the ministerial staff

Anthony Hilder writes:

Effective church ministry assessment questions are essential for growth. If we want to get better at what we do, then we need to honestly assess it, recognize positives and negatives, and develop plans for growth. This is true individually, and organizationally.

Evaluation of current efforts is essential to planning and implementing effective programming as we move forward. It identifies what we’re doing well and can build on as well as areas for improvement.

Our Tradition of Annual Assessment (hint: there isn’t one)

In recent years, at least, UUFR has not had a tradition— or even a practice — of systematic performance assessment for our ministry. We have few if any records of Lead Minister performance; if reviews of most staff positions were carried out our lead ministers, but little documentation exists of either process or results. Intentional and systematic assessment of other aspects of ministry have not occurred in recent years, if ever.

Our Performance Assessment Process

The Whole UUFR Ministry

The Board worked with Reverend James this past year to develop and implement a process for the annual assessment of ministry at UUFR. This process utilizes feedback from several sources. This process includes formal performance reviews of our minister and staff based largely on the feedback we receive.

The survey for assessment of ministry last June is the most readily recognized source of feedback. But in addition to that, the Board is scheduling more frequent town hall meetings, the Committee on Ministry is conducting discussions on various topics with small groups of members, and our leaders are actively engaging in one-on-one relational conversations.

Lead Minister

The Board is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the performance of the Lead Minister on an ongoing basis.  We do this by reviewing regular reports submitted by the Minister, by conducting a quarterly check-in conversation with the Minister, and by engaging in a formal performance review discussion each year which includes the Minister’s self-evaluation. We bring our own experience and all of the information we have gathered to this discussion with a view to assessing and realigning our expectations and our goals.

Other Professional Staff

The Lead Minister supervises all other employees, and thus also undertakes performance assessment for other employees. Reverend James has recently completed these reviews for this year. The Lead Minister reports to the Board when this process has been completed but need not routinely report the content of any employee’s review.

Your Board of Directors

The Board is currently developing a process to evaluate its own performance. We will complete this process in time to report results by the end June. Input for this will incorporate feedback from the same multiple sources mentioned above as well as staff input and self-evaluation.

It’s a Start

As we have developed this framework for assessing the ministry of UUFR, we are also documenting the process in congregational governance documents including the Policies and Procedures and the Board Governance Policies. We expect to expand and improve the process in the coming year. We hope that UUFR will routinely practice effective ministry assessment in the future in order to always develop the ministry that best serves our mission. While the UUFR congregation of the future will certainly adjust these policies and procedures, they won’t have to start from scratch.

Jim VanKirk, UUFR Board President


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