Newsletter: March 2016   
New England Region UUA


Growing Shared Ministries

Real. Good. Embodied. Worship.

Renaissance Module: Curriculum Planning

Culture, Conflict & Collaboration

OWL Facilitator Training - Grades 7 to 12

Congregations Choosing Their Future and How They Do It!
Sat, 4/30/2016 - Manchester, NH


Ballou Channing District

Northern New England District

Massachusetts Bay District

Clara Barton District

Doug Zelinski
Talking the Walk --
Congregational Redevelopment
by Doug Zelinski

"Conversation is the currency of change."
Gil Rendle

Let's cut to the quick. Do you believe in an afterlife? My childhood faith demanded a response. It also twisted me into knots of anxiety as catechistical answers rang hollow in my heart. Years later, a Unitarian Universalism congregation saved me in this way: it baptized my lived experience. The fact that creation, life, and consciousness exists AT ALL is an incomprehensible and utterly incomparable miracle. I believe it is greedy, arrogant, and ungrateful to brush this miracle aside looking for more.

For me, "Do you believe in an afterlife?" is, at best, a meaningless question and at worst, a manipulative and dangerous distraction from healing our ailing world. Now, as a UU, I humbly walk an awe-filled, miraculous path. We all do. It is impossible not to, though it is possible to forget that we do.  Congregations can forget, too. 

Congregational Redevelopment hinges on the capacity of leaders to remember the saving power of their church community. Meaningful changes to programs, personnel, governance and buildings are the consequences of a congregation reviving its saving power and seldom are the cause of that revival. The way to revival, confounding in its simplicity, turns out to be conversation. Read More

TEDx Video:
Celeste Headlee National Public Radio and Public Radio International reporter, host and correspondent. 
(12 minutes, published 5/7/2015)

Gil Rendle's new book:

Alban Blog Post: 

Gil Rendle & Alice Mann's book:


Gil Rendle, former Alban Institute consultant now with the Texas Methodist Foundation puts it this way:
Conversation is the currency of change. What we invite people to talk about, to think about, to pray about, determines the path that we will follow into the future. Leaders have the power of agenda - they have the responsibility of determining what a congregation or denomination will focus on by giving time and attention to a conversation. 
In his book, Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness and Metrics, see below, Rendle distinguishes three types of conversations.
  1. Maintenance Conversations. These address and preserve who we already are and what we already do. They include talking about doing more or doing better. A congregation in need of redevelopment has lost touch with important aspects of who it is. Maintenance Conversations cannot recoup that loss, though they are needed to preserve vital infrastructure.
  2. Preferential Conversations. These reflect what existing members want for themselves or for the people they already know they want to attract to the congregation. A vital tool for addressing basic physical and spiritual needs, these conversations can sometimes morph into expressions of myopic and competing interests.
  3. Missional Conversations. These call each member to reconnect with the power and purpose of their faith. This is personal testimony. Remembered pain and deliverance. Powerful revelation humbly received. Grace in confusion. The joys and trials of Love. We talk with one another until we remember the miracles that are our lives. We talk the walk. And then we ask and answer..."to whom, to what work are we called to serve the miracle that is life?"
A congregation saved my life through missional conversations that reconnected me to the miraculous nature of life. Faith was formed. My personal power and purpose arose. And I wasn't the only one saved. It was the combined energies of each empowered member that animated the congregation.

Everyone Has a Story
A balance of all three types of conversations is necessary for healthy congregations. But in struggling congregations, missional conversations are paramount. It is the members who supply the energy and commitment needed to reanimate a dormant congregation. How can you find out if this is the case in your congregation? You tell each other your faith stories. What do you do if it is not the case? You ask one another what you need. How do you decide next steps if it is the case? You challenge one another to dream and plan. In other words, you start talking the walk.
Yes, of course, there are techniques for hosting conversations, and resources to heal or inspire, and strategies to determine next steps. These resources can be helpful but don't make them prerequisite or you risk never beginning the conversations. Instead, start talking. Once your missional conversations are underway, you will better know what outside resources to gather. 
Maintenance and preferential conversations are necessary to all, but congregational redevelopment will never be just a bigger and better version of who we already are, what we already know, ways we already do things. Instead, it is more likely to be a bumbling collection of experiments that grow out of miraculous conversations we begin inside our congregation and intentionally take out into the world.  

~ ~ ~

Doug Zelinski is the Congregation Redevelopment Lead for the New England Region UUA. Doug will co-lead several workshops this spring on Volunteerism Today, Congregations Choosing Their Futures and How They Do It, and Embracing Who We Are: Unlocking the Aging Congregation's Gifts. Descriptions and registration information can be found in the left column above. Contact Doug at

Our work is made possible by district dues contributions from congregations, associational grants and individual gifts. We offer workshops, trainings and learning opportunities throughout the New England Region for congregational members, lay leaders and religious professionals. Regional staff services and support are available to UU congregations year-round. Like us on Facebook to get regional news, stories and updates in your newsfeed. Follow us on Twitter @NERUUA.