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Beautiful Zimbabwean stone sculptures of womenand girls.

All Congregations Matter

The beauty of difference.

Unitarian Universalist congregations vary in countless ways. Notable among these are size and staffing. The Touchstones Project offers diverse congregations the resources to enhance programming in vital ways. These congregational settings include: 

(1) lay-led congregations, (2) congregations with part-time ministers, (3) congregations with full-time ministers, (4) congregations with newly settled ministers, (5) large congregations, and (6) congregations with interim ministers.

Lay-led Congregations

Whether emerging or established, small lay-led congregations have a lot of positive characteristics, but they struggle to offer high-quality programs because of all that has to be done and the time limits of volunteers. Improving program quality through the use of Touchstones materials clearly benefits existing members, but also makes the congregation more attractive to newcomers who value the size of the congregation, but expect to be nurtured in meaningful ways. 

Congregations with Part-Time Ministers

The opportunity to have a skilled consulting minister is a tremendous asset. His or her willingness to work part-time makes professional ministry possible within a small congregation. It creates a unique relationship with benefits and challenges. While the minister has to establish thoughtful boundaries and the congregation has to supplement the work of the minister in ways that are different from full-time ministry, the synergy of their shared ministry can be remarkable. The Touchstones Project provides an integrated thematic framework to seamlessly connect the work of the minister and volunteers.

Newly-Settled Ministers

Whether it is a minister’s first settlement or fifth, the call to a new congregation is both exhilarating and challenging. A new ministry creates a unique opportunity for the minister and the congregation. The minister brings new eyes, energy, and passion to his or her work. Still, the learning curve of the minister and the congregation is steep as they forge a relationship. The Touchstones Project can provide the foundation for a meaningful and energizing collaboration that can be transformative. Theme-based ministry is considered a best-practice by many UnitarianU congregations. Touchstones offers the most extensive resources available to support implementation.

Large Congregations

Theme-based ministry was launched within Unitarian Universalism by the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK, in 2002. A number of other large UU congregations have launched their own theme-based ministry programs. Other large congregations have adopted The Touchstones Project to free them up to focus on comprehensive implementation rather than developing materials. As this theme-based ministry project has expanded the range of resources available, the impact of robust implementation has grown, especially with regard to outreach in the community. This assists congregations in being even more mission-focused.

Photo Credit: Zimbabwean stone sculpture, photo by Malcolm Manners, July 29, 2011, (CC BY 2.0),

Congregations with Full-Time Ministers

Touchstones offers a comprehensive foundation that a minister could not easily replicate given all of the demands of full-time ministry. Instead, using these materials, the minister can creatively add icing to the cake. The synergy with the DRE, other staff, and key lay leaders and volunteers can be remarkable. The resulting shared ministry becomes an authentic collaboration in which the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. When meaningful outreach to the community is added the church can also function as a center for spiritual renewal to attract newcomers that are skeptical about churches.

Congregations with Interim Ministers

The work of the interim minister and the congregation is vital to the success of the next settled ministry. Interim ministry is enhanced through a “fast start” that surfaces and addresses transitional issues that bear upon congregational health. It is a time of discernment for the congregation facilitated by the Interim Minister, a time in which, writes the Rev. Richard Nugent, “to envision the congregation of tomorrow.” The Rev. Judith Walker-Riggs added, “The interim time provides an invitation to the congregation to decide how the members themselves will do the work of the church in the world.” The Touchstones Project empowers this work through a comprehensive theme-based ministry program that strengthens the foundation for settled ministry.

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