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First Parish Church Strategic Plan Recommendations


January, 2001, as submitted to the membership by the Standing Committee and as prepared by the Strategic Planning Committee: Rev. Tom Wintle, Rev. Sue Spencer, Tod Foote, Corky Hoffman, Linda Kilburn, Mary Lord, Michael McSherry


In September, 1999, a Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) was established to oversee a planning process to provide direction for the First Parish Church over the next 3-5 years. The planning process was guided by the church's covenant and a related mission statement developed by church leadership. Planning steps included an historical overview; identification of key church strengths and needs assessment and the establishment of key organizational and programmatic goals, action steps and priorities. The planning process took into account the recommendations of the Hardenbergh engineering study and related facilities improvements which have been ongoing this past year, affecting some changes in those plans as programming and space needs were further identified.

The planning process included two day-long retreats for church leadership; full committee, current and past leadership input and subsequent prioritization of findings and recommendations; mailing of a summary of key recommendations to the church membership requesting their input, and the conducting of an open forum and discussion for the membership. In addition, many church committees also used the process as an opportunity to conduct far more in-depth planning for their own areas of oversight in church operations, plans which are in many cases already being implemented. Overall, the process identified many areas of great strength and effective programming, both internally and for the community-at-large, while at the same time identifying areas of concentration needing new or enhanced focus. Plan recommendations encompass seven key areas of initiative:

* Worship
* Fellowship
* Operations
* Communications
* Youth Services
* Finance
* Unmet needs

The Standing Committee seeks formal adoption of this plan at the Annual Meeting in February of 2001. It is recognized that any plan is merely a guideline for future direction. All effective organizations must, of necessity, be able to adapt to changing needs or circumstance. Provision for this has been built into the plan through a mechanism of ongoing monitoring by the Standing Committee. Each goal is followed by a parentheses indicating the person(s) or committees recommended to assume responsibility for carrying out the propose action steps. The SPC has carried a $200,000 figure to provide for all non-capital programming recommendations. Capital expenditures have been defined under the Hardenbergh study and subsequent capital campaign goal revisions carried on concurrently and receiving periodic input from the membership. Some recommendations will require no new monies to implement. Abbreviated symbols for committees are used throughout this document in order to save space. A key to abbreviations is contained in the appendix.


The covenant of the First Parish Church sets forth, in broad terms, the purpose for which its members and friends come together:

"In the love of truth and in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we join for the worship of God and the service of humankind."

The covenant has been augmented by a mission statement further defining what First Parish is trying to accomplish over the next 3-5 years:

"The First Parish Church is a vibrant and welcoming community church whose continuing mission is to provide, in an atmosphere of freedom, reason and tolerance, opportunities for Christian worship, education, spiritual growth and sustenance and to enhance service and connection to God, each other and the wider community."



Enhancing our worship and shared ministry, thus deepening our First Parish religious experience, is perhaps the most important goal. Surveys, discussion groups and simple observation all make clear that the remarkable quality of the Sunday worship service is a central reason my many are associated with First Parish. As a group, we don't want that experience to change, yet we never cease to consider ways of improving it. The diversity of our religious views is considered a cherished strength. Yet that very diversity makes ministry to the community and the establishment of cohesive goals for the future difficult. Accordingly, many of the suggestions emerging with respect to this important dimension of our collective experience may appear to be contradictory. They should be viewed as additive to, not as substitutes for, what we already have. Goals and action steps related to worship include:

1. Promote conversation among members to enhance understanding and appreciation of the differing points of view within our church community (SCC, ministers)

2. Identify ways to expand lay participation in worship services such as readings or greetings in the Parish Hall, without diminishing the role of the ministers (SCC)

3. Explore some alternative worship formats, such as music, drama or expanded childrens' stories) Perhaps this should be done as second services or in other educational forums, so as not to reduce the number and regularity of existing services (SCC, ministers)

4. Seek ways to expand the role of guest preachers/speakers to offer additional perspectives and topics of interest again without diminishing the role of our own ministers and through expansion of adult education offerings (SCC, ministers)

5. Identify and procure new or additional hymnals for use in the Sanctuary (MusCom)

6. Expand adult education offerings to include curricula such as ethics, or other philosophies or religions (ministers, guest speakers)


Meeting one another, getting to know one another and being part of the community known a First Parish all rank high on the list of reasons why many choose to join First Parish. Though some of the suggestions for action are not new, all require our future attention such that the sense of community at First Parish may continue to strengthen. Priorities include:

1. Increase fellowship activities through such means as covenant groups, dinner groups, class dinners, and other social events throughout the church year. Encourage collaboration among church committees and individuals in the implementation of these events. (SCC, MemCom, CSC, BA, SC, Ad Hoc and multi- committee collaborations)

2. Better integrate new members into the life of the church, particularly during the first year of attendance and in the first year after joining formally (MemCom)

3. Identify areas of common interest such as professional practice, hobbies or leisure time activities. Promote connections with each other and knowledge about fellow parishioners. Special displays (e.g., the authors' bookcase display) or activities could be created periodically based on the interest of potential groups or participants. A directory might be an effective way of helping persons identify those in the parish with particular skills or interests (SC to appoint Ad Hoc group with other committee assistance as needed)

4. Improve understanding of the various committees. For example, conduct one or more "Committee Fairs" to describe committee functions and expand parishioner participation. Identify existing committee membership through special name tags and showcasing committee work in church services or special events (Committee chairs and Nominating Committee)


The organization and operation of the church have evolved over time to meet the needs of its members. Such evolution is never complete, as the membership and its needs are constantly changing. It is essential that First Parish monitor its operational effectiveness on an ongoing basis and adapt to changing needs in a timely fashion. Priorities include:

1. Review the existing organization and committee structure for areas of potential improvement, reduced overlap and enhanced collaboration among individuals and committees. (SC)

2. Find better ways to match the interests and skills of volunteers with the needs of the church and community. (NomCom, Ad Hoc group appointed by SC, and/or expanded or realigned parish administration)

3. Improve the means for identifying, recruiting, training and supporting committee chairs and members. (NomCom, SC, Parish Administrator and committee chairs)

4. Institute a mechanism for monitoring progress on planning goals and for conducting planning activities as needed (SC, ministers)

5. Create a Personnel Committee to facilitate communication with ministers, act as further support for them, and to develop or clarify personnel policies se needed (Done!)

6. Assess time commitments of ministers to insure viable work loads and shared responsibilities where appropriate (SC, PersCom and ministers)

7. Complete the improvements of the physical plant (FacCom)

8. Consider ways to better manage First Parish facilities through review of existing contracts with vendors and tenants; development/revision of policies and procedures for tenancy and maintenance; and one-time activities including an energy audit (FacCom)


First Parish Church's size, operational complexity and breadth of member-specific and community programs and services necessitates effective communications to maximize operational efficiency and promote program and service access.

1. Develop a web site with information about the church, its calendar of events, membership opportunities, tenant organization and community activities held on premises (Done!)

2. Improve the publication of calendar and program information through the web site, newspapers, bulletin and sandwich board displays and weekly parish publications (SC, committee chairs, Parish Administrator)

3. Improve office automation including electronic communication and internet access, and ensure that all staff are well trained in the use of these systems (SC to appoint a consultant (done!), Parish Administrator, ministers)

4. Provide all volunteers with information, policies and procedures related to use of church administrative support services (Parish Administrator)

5. Provide more information concerning Unitarian Universalist activities so as to promote broader participation by members and friends of First Parish (DenCom, ministers)

6. Promote more ecumenical and interfaith collaborations (ministers, SCC)

7. Follow-up with former members and attendees to determine what, if anything, might have been "missing" in their experience at First Parish (StewCom as part of the annual canvas)


Though First Parish provides a huge breadth of programs and services for its membership as well as the community at large, the planning process singled out the area of youth programs as being of particular focus and priority in the next 3 to 5 years. Though youth programs have historically fallen under the aegis of the Church School Committee, youth programming actually entails four areas of consideration which cross into many aspects of the church's operation: education, socialization, community service and integration within the larger church community. Expanded staff was needed to more effectively meet youth needs and some of the priorities have already been implemented. The effects of First Parish's emphasis on youth programming has resulted in a large number of families coming to the church specifically to access these programs. Therefore, continuing to address youth related issues and further expansion of these programs will be essential to meet the growing needs of the church's "next generation." Priorities include:

1. Hire a half time Director of Religious Education, expanding both the scope and time availability of the position (done!)

2. Hire a part time Youth Advisor to work directly with teens on a weekly basis, implement programs and service projects (done!)

3. Upgrade spaces available for youth activities and programming including a teen area, offices for youth-focused staff and upgrading of classrooms in the church school wing (done!)

4. Improve communications related to youth programs and services including youth-specific information on the church's new web site, Parish Post and Sunday bulletins, bulletin boards and area newspapers (CSC, Youth Advisor, DRE, Rev. Spencer)

5. Promote inter-youth and youth-related staff communication through development of an e-mail communication and mail system (done!)

6. Continue to participate in the 5-church teen "Connection" program (Youth advisor, CSC, Rev Sue Spencer, parents)

7. Improve collaboration with Membership Committee regarding new and prospective families with children (CSC, DRE, MemCom, office staff)

8. Assess and strengthen the chapel program through such mechanisms as increased coordination with class discussion topics; periodic parental and youth choir participation; condensation of the number of services when numbers are small and improving traffic flow (CSC, DRE, church school teachers)

9. Assess and improve how children and youth are introduced and welcomed into the formal worship service of the church (CSC, ministers, SCC, DRE)

10. Develop an improved curriculum review process (CSC, DRE, teachers, parents)

11. Develop a plan to increase parental involvement in the church school program including those parents not otherwise involved in the church (DRE, teachers, CSC, Rev. Sue Spencer)

12. Improve registration and follow-up process (DRE, office staff, CSC) to better track students

13. Collaborate with Outreach Committee on service projects involving children and youth (CSC, DRE, Youth Advisor, ORC)

14. Improve methods for recruiting, training and supporting teachers (DRE, CSC, ministers, parents)


As an institution, First Parish is blessed with substantial physical assets and an absence of debt. This is the legacy of prudent financial management and generations of friends and members who have given generously to First Parish. Nevertheless, an active and vibrant church requires substantial resources annually to fund its operating budget, maintain its facilities and sustain its extensive array of services to its members and the larger community.

1. Complete the capital campaign (CapCam)

2. Enhance Stewardship commitment and participation as the primary source of operating funds (StewCom)

3. Form a Finance Committee, including the Treasurer, to oversee the church's financial condition, ensure timely reporting of financial status, implement prudent investment strategies and better track program-specific costs (SC to appoint)

4. Clarify the role of the endowment and develop a planned giving committee or consultants to assist donors in achieving personal and estate planning goals (SC, FinCom)


During the course of the planning process, there were several areas of concern identified for which there was insufficient information to assess either the extent of the need or address applicable programming, costs and space needs. In addition, it was felt that some of the special needs might also present opportunities for multi-church collaboratives as has been done with the 5-church teen "Connection" program.

1. Form a committee to identify areas of new or expanded needs. For example, programs of interest to singles, widows and widowers, single parents, the disabled, gays, elders, shut- ins and minorities were some of the groups identified as needing further study to determine the extent and nature of the needs, possible programming options, space requirements and projected costs. (SC to appoint an Ad Hoc committee)

2. To assess the desirability of growing the church beyond its current size (SC)

Ad Hoc Ad Hoc Committee or individual appointee
BA Benevolent Alliance
CapCam Capital Campaign leadership committees
CSC Church School Committee
DenCom Denominational Affairs Committee
DRE Director of Religious Education
FacCom Facilities Committee
FinCom Finance Committee
GarCom Garden Committee
Hist Church Historian
LibCom Library Committee
MemCom Membership Committee
MusCom Music Committee
NomCom Nominating Committee
ORC Outreach Committee
PersCom Personnel Committee
SC Standing Committee
SCC Senior Church Committee
StewCom Stewardship Committee

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