Monday, May 06, 2013
On the Board and Administration of the UUA: Metrics and Vitality
Last month the UUA Board, once again disappointed that the administration was unable to satisfy it's reporting requirements in justification of its budget proposal, took the extraordinary step of going into executive session (never a trust-building move) and deciding to (1) approve the budget with a (2) $100,000 line item added for consulting. What that consulting is for, exactly, seems to be not
completely clear to all parties. You can read Peter's and Gini's takes on the matter Here, on Tom Schade's Blog, and the Board's explanation here, in their informal report on their meeting.
The crux of the matter seems to be that two groups of smart, dedicated UU's have not been able, over four years of massive effort and expense, to figure out how to ask for (the board's job) or produce (the administration's job) reports that guarantee, document, or specifically plan for denominational growth and vitality. This has been variously called a failure of understanding of Policy Governance, a power struggle, and even a personality conflict.
My guess is that it is some of all of those things but mostly it is impossible. More and more this conflict is reminding me of the conflict between politicians and educators over accountability which has resulted in the disastrous educational experiment called "No Child Left Behind," which could perhaps be better named, "No Child Left Untested" and "No Teacher left Unshamed."
There are some situations in education and religion, those notoriously messy people-activities, which are to most eyes, vital and exciting. There are some situations which are obviously under-performing and limiting. Replicating the first and fixing the second are very interesting, very complicated issues which don't turn out to be very easy to do no matter how many supposedly neutral "metrics" you have or how many perfect reports you write. Budgeting for vitality and growth is a matter of guesses, hopes, and projections. Strategic planning is a matter of courageous guessing, not of reassuring a skeptical boss who wants guarantees of outcomes.
I know this from experience. My congregation in Albuquerque has doubled in size in the past 25 years, outperforming the Methodists (30% decline), the UUA in general (flat), and the population of the city (up 50%) And could I tell you, even in retrospect, how my budgets each year contributed to that growth? I can not. The best I can do is make some educated guesses. Bringing on a second minister, for instance, was clearly a part of our growth, although it had to be not only the right line item but the right minister to work. Funding a church band was probably helpful. On the other hand, our numbers of children have gone up and down without regard to the money we have poured into our RE program. All my prospective guesses about what might bring those elusive guests, growth and vitality, into our church have been just that. Guesses, Hopes, Optimistic plans; just the sort of thing that the administration set forth in the document called a strategic plan (you can see that yourself by following the link in Peter's letter, which is on Tom Schade's blog.
I do know one thing about growth and vitality, however, which has nothing to do with reports and budgets, and that is that growth and vitality do not co-exist with the kind of conflict that the board and administration have engaged in over the past four years. A local church that sanctioned this kind of fighting between Board and MInister would be in decline, and the only hope of health would be both a consultant and the uprising of the people of the congregation saying, "Stop".
We live in a cultural era unfavorable to the health and vitality of religious institutions, which are shrinking, threatened, and dying all around us. This is no small matter and we are so tiny that we can not afford to waste our time on conflict. The mutually acceptable consultant is now agreed upon. The anguish of the people, even at a distance is being heard ever-more clearly and loudly. What is set before us is life and death for our faith. Let's choose life.