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The Rev. Howell Lind (Rebecca Stumpf)

What is developmental ministry?

A new program matches congregations with ministers to solve specific institutional problems.
By Elaine McArdle
Fall 2014 8.15.14

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For congregations with significant challenges and targeted goals, the UUA’s Developmental Ministry program offers a new approach.

Launched in 2008 as an experiment at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, Colorado (see main story), the program helps congregations set goals, then matches them with a minister whose skills can help them achieve them. While the program is still evolving, it differs from interim ministry in its longer time frame and in its focus on specific serious challenges.

UU World asked the Rev. Keith Kron, director of the UUA’s Transitions Office, to describe the program.

Kron: It’s for a congregation that has three to four specific goals it needs to work on. The goals are set by the congregational leadership, and I encourage them to get feedback from the regional and district staff, too. Based on those specific goals, the congregation is matched with a minister who can help them meet them. The minister is hired by the congregation’s board of directors and has a contract with them.

How long does a developmental minister serve? The congregation and minister give themselves three to five years to work on those particular goals, and at end of that time, the congregation decides whether to go into search for a settled minister or extend the developmental minister’s contract.

How is it different from interim ministry? Interim ministry is how we transition from one settled minister to another, in 12-, 18-, or 24-month contracts. With a developmental ministry, the congregation has to be in a place where they are willing to experiment—because the problems are acute.

What kind of congregation is a good candidate? Boulder is a great example, because they knew they had stuff to work on and were willing to give up some things to make that happen. This is for a congregation that has decided its greater good is what it will work on. The developmental minister is here to assist you with your goals, not here to set the goals for you. We had one congregation that wanted good preaching; we said that’s not really a goal the congregation can work on.

How are congregations and developmental ministers matched? We look at the goals of the particular congregation and who the ministers are who have some interests or expertise in those areas. Some ministers are particularly good in places of heavy conflict, others are good at helping with decisions about buildings. It’s customized, based on the goals of the congregation and what skills the minister brings.


This article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of UU World (page 36). Photograph (above): The Rev. Howell Lind strikes a singing bowl at the start of a worship service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, Colorado, where he serves as developmental minister (Rebecca Stumpf). See sidebar for links to related resources.

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