By Sam Breakey, CBWC Church Health Strategist
This is the third of three articles in a series on Church Governance.
Most congregations have a senior church leadership team that meets monthly. Usually one or more pastors are joined by a group of volunteer spiritual leaders to guide the work of the congregation in what they see as Christ’s mission within their community. While congregations organise in different ways, their spiritual leaders are frequently called Elders or Deacons, but also may be called members of the church council or board.
The evaluation of a church board meeting is not a common practice, at least not formally. It is not unusual, however, for meetings to be reviewed in the parking lot, but the terms of reference usually relate to the spirit of the evening. Topics include dry points in the discussion, whether opinions were received openly, or the financial impact of a specific decision. Some boards now invite participants to offer feedback in the room, by placing two simple questions on the agenda at the end of the meeting: How did we do this evening? Do you have any comments to share about how we interacted with each other or about our productivity?
Effective appraisal also includes regular assessment of the role of the board. Review the minutes of your last six meetings and you will probably interpret that your board exists to address concerns that may have arisen since the last meeting and ensure the activities of the coming month will occur smoothly. This sounds more like management than spiritual leadership.
Fruitful church board meetings, however, ensure that the congregation’s appointed spiritual leaders focus on the future. These forward-looking discussions enable the pastor and their ministry team to pursue specific priorities. In addition, they ensure that necessary resources are made available to reach explicit goals within clearly established boundaries. In short, the board members 1) discern with the pastor, the direction of ministry and 2) empower and guide the pastor, and their ministry committees, to bring about Christ-focused community changing ministry.
Board members that shape their meeting agendas around what they deem most important use their time together well. When you think of it, most boards meet 24 – 36 hours per year, a considerable amount of time in which to address long term ministry priorities.
One helpful way to ensure time for a future focused agenda is to divide the list into two parts – a ‘consent agenda’ and a ‘discussion agenda.’ This pattern requires that every board member receive a package of reports at least two days before its meeting, along with an agenda which identifies which items take place in which part of the meeting.
After the preliminary items (welcome, opening prayer/devotional, and acceptance of previous minutes) the chair will begin with a statement such as the following: ‘You have received a package of reports which are listed in the consent portion of the agenda.’ (Any item that the board is required to act on without resistance or follows from a decision of a previous meeting is part of the consent agenda).
The chair then asks: ‘Does anyone wish to move an item down from the consent agenda to the discussion agenda, for more in-depth discussion?’ If yes, that item is moved without immediate discussion. The reports sent in the board package are not presented or discussed further, including those from the treasurer and pastor. The chair then says, ‘We are now ready to approve the consent agenda. Is there someone prepared to make such a motion?’ After which, they move immediately to the discussion portion of the agenda.
Dan Hotchkiss, author of Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership* writes:
“The discussion agenda contains only two or three items, plus any consent items that have been moved to it. The result is that the board spends more time addressing topics that it has identified as important, no time listening passively to reports, and no time responding to issues that happen to arise during board discussion of the reports. The discussion agenda is the heart of the meeting and includes one, two, or (at most!) three important things that the board will have to accommodate before it adjourns. Ideally, these items will be so interesting and attractive that board members will look forward to them.”
One helpful way to engage people in discussion is to pose open-ended questions. Examples include:
- Who are we?
- What has God called us to do and be?
- Who among our neighbours are we not reaching? Are we prepared before God not to reach them?
- What difference should our worship together on Sundays make in the lives of those who attend? How can we track if that is happening?
- What should we do going forward that is more important than congregational unity?
- What guidelines do our committees need to have to be all working toward the same goal?
- What boundaries does our pastor need to feel free within which to make courageous decisions on our behalf?
From these questions, an annual vision for ministry can be established, which will bear fruit when rooted in prayer. Before confirming the plan, invite the feedback of the wider congregation, and adjust as necessary, before inviting partnership in meeting those goals.
In summary, a key contributor to the productivity of a church board meeting, is its members ability to focus most of their time together on future ministry. What has your board has been focusing most on in the past six months? After reading this article, what first step could you take with your fellow members to help make your meetings and ministry more profitable in the future?
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why should church boards use the “consent agenda” model?
A: The most commonly reported reason is that it leads to shorter meetings and respects the time of volunteers, but the decision to move from a 100% “discussion model” requires a greater foundation.
The primary reason is that it focuses the work of the board on the gospel calling of the congregation. It is necessary to receive the reports of various committees and staff members, but taking time to discuss what people should already know before they get to the meeting is counter productive.
Third, the practice empowers those responsible for various portfolios – missions, finance, etc., to sense that their role is important to the mission of the church.
Fourth, it allows time for board members to grow together as spiritual brothers and sisters through personal sharing prayer, shared mission and prayer.
Q: It seems that preparation for board meetings that use the consent model is very important. How can we best set ourselves up for a productive meeting?
A: A minimum of three days before the meeting, a board package should be distributed so that each member has time to thoroughly review the information provided. It should contain:
- The upcoming meeting time and location
- A listing of the consent agenda items with all reports from individuals/groups that report to the board – e.g. minutes from last meeting, financial reports, committee reports, staff reports.
- A listing of the discussion agenda items (maximum 3 for each meeting). A page or two of background information to prepare members to contribute well to the discussion
- Those preparing reports shall be given limits on length of material shared and deadlines for distribution
Sam Breakey,CBWC Church Health Strategist
This article was published in the September 2018 Treasurer’s Corner. Subscribe here.