Thursday, November 10, 2005

Get rid of the GAP, Strengthen our faith

A number of years ago I worked on the UUA's Youth and Young Adult Sunday campaign. The slogan Alison Miller and I developed was "MIND THE GAP!" It was a reference to the gap in our ministry between our ministry with children and adults. Our Youth and Young Adult ministries have come so far over the past five years, but there is much to do.

I think SMALL GROUP MINISTRY is going to be an essential part of our movement moving forward and addressing the deficiencies in our ministry with UU's of all ages. Personally, I have worked with children, youth, young adults, adults and elders. I've seen small groups and intentional leadership development save lives.

One youth I worked with took two years to open up. One day he shared that our group -- which was structured like a small group ministry session -- was where he felt most himself. He told us and later his parents that his mission in life was to BE like he was in our small group EVERYWHERE in his life. Small groups are the foundation of the relational congregations that our members young and old are hungry for.

THIS YEAR our association is trying to figure out how to strengthen our youth ministry. I think we should use our learnings from our small group ministry movement and apply them to our youth, campus, young adult and adult ministries. When these all come into alignment we will no longer have to worry about MINDING the GAP, we'll have eliminated it all together. There is only a gap when we do different things with each age group. Why not small group ministry with all who have come of age in our congregations.

Obviously I've got a strong opinion. Here's a question for you. DO YOU EVEN CARE? If you do then we've got a great opportunity and a great future ahead of us.

This year ALL of our congregations have been asked to hold a meeting to explore our youth ministry. There are resources being developed to help you do this. I'd like you to print out the following resource and MAKE SURE that someone in your congregation takes responsibility for planning a your conversation. YOU DO NOT have to do this. Just make sure that someone else does.


It is the November issue of the Consultation on Youth Ministry newsletter. It contains the basic info you need to HAND OFF to someone.

THANK YOU in advance for passing this 1 sheet of paper on to a caring and responsible member of your congregation.

In faith,

For even more info on this visit the following

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New U-TURN ministry retreat

This Fall at UU PLANET Ministry and Media our focus has been on research, study and planning related to our efforts to MOVE our MOVEMENT. Now that church is well under way its time to kick some liberal religious ASSumptions!

We believe there are many assumptions underlying our UU ways that are holding us back. Our favorite definition of "EMPOWERMENT" is to remove the blocks keeping people from being successful. Our faith has some major blocks standing in the way of realizing our potential.

UU PLANET has designed a facilitated ministry retreat to explore these assymptions and to turn our ministry inside out and upside down. This program is called The U-Turn. It is focused on getting to the heart of what staff, volunteers (a.k.a. staff pay grade zero), members and those we're trying to reach care about. Think of it as an alignment for your church. Get back to the heart and move forward with determination! No more lurching from side to side, bad vibrations and complaints.

Sound exciting? It is. And we are now scheduling U-TURN ministry retreats in the New England region for this Winter and Spring. Have a scheduled staff, board, cluster, UUMA, or LREDA retreat?

Email me or call 401 855-0037 to discuss making it a U- TURN ministry retreat.

PS -- Please note that BORING and UNPRODUCTIVE leadership retreats is one of the things that led me to becoming a UU consultant/trainer. PLEASE do not subject your people to another bad retreat.

Who's On The Line?

When I call a church where I will be leading a training or am guest speaking I always note the quality of the call. Periodically the phone is answered by a staff member who is undermining the growth of the congregation one phone call at a time.

Answering a church phone is important work. People call our congregations with real needs. They don't just want the facts, they want some love! Whether they realize it or not, people judge the atmosphere of your congregation by how the phone is handled.

In addition, what they know is important. Last year I was sitting in a church waiting to guest speak on Small Group Ministry. I heard the administrative assistant say to a caller, "No, we don't have small group ministry. Sorry." Daring to be a bit rude I jumped up and called that small group ministry was the focus of the service that day and that the church was looking into launching just such a program. He had not read the congregations newsletter and was unaware of the sermon topic or the efforts of their small group ministry team.

Remember, you hired your staff.
You pay them.
Take the time to train them.

Email me for training & speaking inquiries

Your Image Online

A.k.a. - why you can't afford a crappy website.

If you are looking to grow your church, start with your website. Why there?

Because it is the easiest way to make a change and get great results. Does your website mirror the image, tone and character of your congregation? Does it communicate who you are as a community?It should. Your website is the internet extension of your congregation. Again, people make judgments on limited information. People will skip going to your church in a heartbeat if your website stinks.

If you want to grow, you can't afford to have a crappy website.

Try this. Look at your church website from the perspective of someone who has never been to a church before, doesn't know what to wear, doesn't know when the service is, what it is about, if they'll fit in, how to get there, whether you're a cult or not, and is just looking for some reason NOT to go because they are just TOO nervous and going to church is just TOO risky.

Design your site for that person and you'll get more visitors. Will you grow?

Yes, if you know how connect them to a small group or can somehow integrate them into the community.

Email me for training & speaking inquiries

Friday, October 14, 2005

October Update on Training Videos

It is amazing how much interest there is in developing more UU multi-media training resources. After launching UU PLANET I've received regular inquiries from people looking to purchase our videos.

This Fall and Spring I am focusing on refining the trainings that we'll be producing. Over the Summer, if all goes well, UU PLANET can start production on this training series.

If you'd like to get a taste, schedule a training for your congregation. Our training on developing a culture of sharing our faith is ready for pilot presentations. Congregations in the New England area, if you are interested in growing your community by word of mouth, contact me to discuss hosting a pilot presentation.

For information on scheduling other trainings or retreats please visit our website.

As always, I'd love to hear from you if you have ideas for training materials that our congregations need.

In cooperation,

Peter Freedman Bowden
UU PLANET Ministry & Media Center

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Did I die and go to Heaven?

Nope! I just checked out the new UU WORLD website. It looks great. So light an airy. I'm pleased to see that with the move from 5 world issues to 4 there is a corresponding investment in a more dynamic website and that the site is well done.

NOW we have a great website for our "quarterly denominational magazine" ( and a much improved website for our association (

What's next? I think we need a kick @$$ site for people who are new to our movement. A.k.a. a seeker site. Something with no insider nonsense, UUisms, association business, etc...

I'm pleased to say that I've prioritized this as one of UU PLANET's projects for the coming year. It is time to pull together a fabulous team of people to develop what I see as a grassroots produced or developed seeker site. Where will this seeker site live? -- a domain I saved from the religious right. Yes, died and went to a biblical heaven. A sad sad tale and a domain I'd now stay away from. God help those UU wannabees who try going to that site as their first attempt to learn about us.

After seeing the mega bible site located at the .com I found that was not registered and registered it. After several failed attempts to give it to the UUA I parked it. It is still parked to this day.

Given the focus on UU growth and evangelism today I do believe it is time for this parked domain to be unparked. So, over the coming months please look for updates on this project both here and on the UUPLANET newsletter.

I have some ideas for this site. Do you have ideas? I know UU do. Let me have 'em.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

"Miracle" snow at my home church

Looking at the UU news as listed on Google I just came upon a story that tells of a pile of snow appearing outside of a Unitarian Universalist church on a recent hot August day. To my surprise it was my HOME church in Providence, RI that had this "miracle" snow appear.

The real miracle is that this story got coverage in our local paper, the Providence Journal, and was picked up by other papers as well.

Since I now live in the city where my wife is a UU minister I had to do some investigating. It would seem that someone raided the pile of "snow" outside the Brown University skating rink.

Though I'm happy for their media coverage, I do wish that it was due to some good work, not a prank. If only they had called all the TV stations, set up a "miracle snow cone sale", and given the proceeds (at eBay prices) to a local charity. That would be news worthy.

Ah, the First Untiarian Church of Providence...

Which kind of CEO are we asking our ministers to be?

Who is behind the present push towards senior ministers serving as CEOs? That I'd love to know.

If you look at the business world and the CEO model some are now recommending there is volumes of literature suggesting that the best CEO knows how to trust, empower and support great staff people.

There is a great article on TEAM MINISTRY in a recent interconnections article.
UUA InterConnections: Collaborative Leadership In Churches' Best Interests

If your congregation is looking to move to a CEO model, make sure you find out if they are trying to move towards an older model where the "boss" calls all the shots, or a more cutting edge CEO model where the staff has a team leader but is a TEAM.

Have stories of UU CEO success or horror? I'd love to hear from you.

FYI -- Be careful where you stick your Policy Governance. It can send a dysfunctional UU leadership-ministry structure straight to HELL.

UUA Lay Leadership Drive Time Essays

At General Assembly 2005 the UUA started distributing discs of what they are calling "Drive Time Essays." These are short informational essays on focused topics for lay leaders.

The first set of these DTE's are now available online as PDF text files and in streaming audio. This is a great resource to share with your leadership.

UUA Programs & Services: Lay Leadership Drive Time Essays

UU's and Study Circles

I've been talking to many UU leaders (after trainings, guest speaking, call me for scheduling at 401 855-0037) and the issue of how to do outreach keeps coming up.

A great way to reach out into the community is to DO SOMETHING in the community. Don't just look for ways to get people to come to your church -- when you become a valued partner in the larger world people will take notice and start checking you out.

So the question therefore becomes what to do... There are endless options. Here is a new one for you. Our congregations are doing amazing things via small group ministry. People need to talk. Why not help the larger community talk about important issues? We can use what we've learned about connection, meaning and engagement in UU small groups and bring it out of the church.

This is an amazing model for social action. And the resources already exist!

There is an organization called the Study Circles Resource Center which is producing incredible resources on making this kind of dialogue happen. They have resources on using what they call "study circles" and I playfully call "secular small group ministry" to explore the following issues:

Civil Liberties and Homeland Security
Criminal justice
Student success / Achievement gap
Growth and sprawl
Neighborhoods and families
Police-community relations
U.S. policy In Iraq

Many of these are topics UU's are already involved with. Why not connect your leaders with the study circle people, the resources, and have your congregation be the group that made these essential conversations happen?

Go forth and get people talking. Its the UU thing to do.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Food and Scarcity

I recently guest preached at a small congregation. There were 30 people attending at most -- a good sunday. When I went to the coffee hour/fellowship gathering there was an amazing spread. It looked as if they were expecting fifty or more people. They had sweets, veggies & dip, chips and little hot dogs. I asked if it was a special occasion.

"Yes. Its Sunday!"

Obviously food is one of the things that makes them feel good about their community. They coordinate volunteers to make sure there is a phenominal spread every time. We all lingered and talked and talked and fed our stomachs AND especially our souls. I left feeling great (and ready for a nap).

This is in stark contrast to another church I speak at regularly. They have multiple buildings, multiple staff, an endowment and are worried sick about money. Not too long ago they started placing a tin can next to the coffee for donations. This wasn't even fair trade coffee.

Soon after, still looking to save, they lowered the quality of and volume of the food. Now, I believe they are going through a period without any food for guests, visitors, or members.

Last time I was in their coffee hour I felt sad. The kind of sad I feel whever I see a person who is in need. You know, down and out and in need of food, shelter or some spare change.

This is NOT a good image for a church to project. If they can't figure out how to feed guests and members how well can they be feeding the rest of their beings?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Pathways is about People

If you check out the Pathways Church website, the site of the UUA's first large church startup, it says pathways is about people. And part of being about people is communicating with them! Those familiar with UU churches and our websites will notice how slick this website is. Pathways is putting into practice some important lessons which most churches are slow to pick up on.

Your website is the most important publication you have and tells the world who and what you are.

You should have pictures of people on your website.
It should be clear and easy to navigate.
Your message should be obvious.
You should have easy ways to contact human beings.
Your options for joining groups should be very prominant.

I love that Pathways has a "Community" link that takes you to info about small groups. It is VERY clear how Pathways is going to help you connect to people.

Some advice: Imagine that your only publication is your website. Put everything you offer online. Have a weekly or bi-monthly email update for anyone in the world interested in your church. Make it EASY to know what is going on and how to get involved.

What? Oh... You're right. That takes skill, time, money and a whole lot of intention. You better believe it. And you should do it. Its as important as your minister not having spinach between her teeth while she preaches on Sunday morning. Newcomers will forgive some lingering greens. They will not hesitate to surf on and find a different church.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Learn to FRAME the issue and take back American values.

I recently saw George Lakoff speak at the UUA's General Assembly in Fort Worth, TX.

If you are a religious liberal or other progressive and want to grab the steering wheel and keep America from following her/his present course, read Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives.

Reviews describe it as " the definitive handbook for understanding and communicating effectively about key issues in the 2004 election, and beyond. Read it, take action—and help take America back."

I would suggest that you not only get the book and read it, but start integrating Lakoff's framing for our progressive values into your sermons, newspaper articles, letters to the editor, and so on.

Lakoff offers these unifying progressive values:

  1. Stronger America
  2. Broad Prosperity
  3. Better Future
  4. Effective Government
  5. Mutual Responsibility

These are listed on page 94. How about an adult program that looks at each of these compared to the conservative alternatives in the light of our UU Principles? I'd go to that one...

You can watch an online video of one of Lakoff's UUA General Assembly programs by visiting the UUA's GA website or clicking here.

That fresh blog scent...

Don't you love that fresh blog scent?

Welcome to my new UU PLANET blog. This blog will contain a broader range of commentary on the world from where I sit, here at UU PLANET. I will continue to post small group ministry content to my other blog. Though that blog will be moved to UU PLANET in the not too distant future.