Church Governance – Boring but Important by Brian Woodruff

My favorite news magazine has a little sidebar each week entitled “boring but important,” and you may think the title would cause readers to quickly turn the page. Yet the sidebar often sheds needed light on why things work as they do in our world. At Foothills Unitarian Church, the way we organize ourselves to accomplish our collective aims as a congregation, from worship, religious education and social justice through paying the bills and keeping the furnace running is what we call governance, which I daresay some would find boring…and important.

Board members and many past and present church leaders, however, believe that we need to update our system of governance, because we have outgrown the current system that was put in place when we were a much smaller congregation.

To that end your Board of Trustees has appointed a Task Force to lead the congregation through a process to evaluate and update our governance and to recommend a governance structure to the Board. We looked for people that have the trust of the congregation, are able to make a two-year commitment, have demonstrated interest in governance and policy development, have good communication skills, and are able to set aside preconceptions and factional loyalties. Five people have agreed to serve on the Task Force: Bruce Wagner (chair), Jody Anderson, Tom Inscho, and Board members Elizabeth Stanley and Brian Woodruff. They will meet for the first time in early January.

The Board has approved the following charge to the Task Force:

“The Governance Task Force (GTF) will evaluate options and recommend to the Board a governance structure appropriate to our size as a large congregation and reflective of the expressed values of the congregation. The GTF will follow the general template presented by Dan Hotchkiss in his book Ministry and Governance (Chapter Eight) and will engage in an iterative process involving GTF reflection, board affirmation, and wider conversations with the congregation to develop a set of draft policies. The GTF will oversee a trial run of the new governance structure and policies, with periodic evaluation and review and adjustments as required. The GTF will be appointed by the Board of Trustees, and will be expected to complete its tasks by fall 2017 according to the governance change process timeline proposed by Hotchkiss.

The Board considers it essential that the process be communicated to the whole congregation, so that everyone can know what changes are under consideration, who will decide about them and when, and what opportunities members will have for input in the meantime.

We anticipate that it will take the rest of this church year to lay the groundwork for the change to a new system of governance, and that we would try out a new system in the 2016-17 church year. If the trial year is successful, any changes in our by-laws that may be required would be put to a congregational vote during the 2017-18 church year. Look for further announcements from the Governance Task Force in the coming weeks.

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