Getting Your Church Board on Board
Wed, 14 Apr 2010 - 3:52 PM CST
by John Maxwell
"God so loved the world that He didn’t send a committee." Can you imagine God’s assigning the redemption of mankind to a committee? We might still be sacrificing animals in the temple. How could God possibly move through a committee?
Board meetings tend to paralyze—not energize—revival. Right? Votes, consensus, and endless discussion couldn’t possibly be of God—or could they?
Who hasn’t sat through a poorly led meeting, listening to endless discussion and argument, watching the time tick away as nothing is decided or done? Maybe you were the unfortunate person leading the meeting, aware that it had gotten away from you, but you were powerless to get back on track.
At my first church I went to my first board meeting with no clue about how to lead it. I opened it up like a prayer-and-praise gathering: "Does anyone have anything on your heart that you would like to share?" For the next few hours they talked, I listened, and little was accomplished.
Boards: Who Needs them?
My experience was typical, which is why most pastors dread board meetings. Such meetings can be boring and fruitless, and sometimes they’re even hazardous. Many pastors find interaction with their church boards frustrating and difficult.
God, however, designed His children to work together. The church is referred to as the body of Christ for good reason. We need each other. The good news is that well-managed boards, working together effectively and sharing their gifts, can help the pastor and accomplish the ministry of their churches in ways they never would have considered on their own.
The truth is, nothing will more quickly determine the success or failure of a leader in the local church than how well he/she works with the board. You can be an incredibly gifted preacher and sense a strong call of God on your life, but if you can’t work effectively with your board, your ministry will never reach its full potential, and your church won’t accomplish its mission.
Where Do I Sign Up?
A few years ago Leadership journal conducted a survey that asked what topic its readers would be most interested in reading about. Two-thirds of the respondents indicated interest in knowing how to work more effectively with boards and committees.
Yet in all the years I spent in Bible college and seminary and in the 26 years I pastored churches, I never once saw a course or seminar offered on "board leadership" or "meeting facilitation."
Get Everyone on the Same Agenda
Two common problems in board meetings are: (1) Each person has his own agenda, and (2) the pastor has a difficult time maintaining control of the meeting. I found this out the hard way, as most pastors do.
In my second church one board member had a habit which demonstrates both of these problems: At the end of every meeting, as we prepared to close, he would clear his throat and say, "Before we go, I have one more item to discuss." As a result we were all broadsided by a negative issue at the end of every meeting. Thus it’s important to get everyone on the same agenda.
An Agenda That Works
After getting repeatedly bushwhacked and buffeted in board meetings, I came up with a strategy that works—a three-part agenda that keeps meetings short, productive, and on track. Here’s how it works:
Before each meeting, give board members an opportunity to hand the pastor items to put on the agenda; any member can include any item. When the board meets, discuss only the items on the agenda; thus there are no surprises.
The way the agenda is constructed also helps to keep things positive and productive. It’s divided into three categories: information, study, and action items.
1.Informational items: Every meeting should start off on a positive note, and the informational section of the agenda makes this possible. In it give five or six positive reports on the ministry of the church. Share how many people attended membership class last week or the exciting ministry of the Holy Spirit at the women’s event the day before. Also share news of upcoming events, meetings, or special services. Use this time to inform your board and remind them of the reason for the meeting.
This area of the agenda differs from the "old business/new business" plan where you begin by reciting old business, such as decisions from the past meeting. This is usually fruitless, boring, and negative.
In traditional meetings, more often than not, finance is the first topic addressed, and many meetings never move forward from there. Informational items, on the other hand, are chosen specifically because they are positive, exciting, and set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
Spend no more than 5 minutes in this area—just enough time to whet everyone’s appetite and prepare them for the most productive segment of the meeting.
2.Study items: This part of the agenda always contains the most items. Ninety-five percent of your meeting time should be spent studying or discussing these issues and items of interest.
Your goal during this part of the meeting is to brainstorm ideas. Stand at the chalkboard (or whiteboard/easel) ready to write and call for ideas on the topic at hand. Write down every idea, no matter how unusual or difficult to achieve. If you hear groans or protests of "it can’t be done," remind the board this is not the time to register a vote on a particular suggestion. Work to get every possible suggestion—and objection—out on the table.
Never vote on any item that you’ve listed as a study item. The pressure of a vote causes people to take sides and discourages free and creative thought. Never vote on a study item before the next meeting.
You may keep some study items for months, for every option and objection is put on the table and explored. Other subjects may be study items for only one meeting and then moved on to the next section.
I once kept a topic in the study area for 8 months. My second church had just built a new sanctuary, and the old one stood vacant. I was interested in making it an activity building for sports and recreation, but before I even went to the church I knew that a strong contingent in the congregation had been against an activity building. Some thought it detracted from the business of saving souls.
I felt an activity building would actually help us attract newcomers, especially youth. My main problem was that the foul line for the basketball court would fall right where the altar was, where many people in the church had found Christ.
The solution was to let them come up with the idea, so I left the old sanctuary vacant for 8 months to inspire curiosity. At every board meeting, we brainstormed on possible uses for the old building. When the gym idea came up (introduced by one of the newer, less established board members), I heard gasps. But I just reminded everyone that we never voted on study items and were just exploring ideas.
Gradually, over the months, the board came to realize that a gym was the best use of the building. Only one holdout remained, and I took him to dinner to talk over the whole issue.
"Bob" finally agreed that it was the best option. When I told him I believed we were ready for a vote, I asked if he would make the motion in the board meeting. When he did, it erased the doubts from all other minds, and the vote was unanimous.
Keeping items in the study section allows people to process information without feeling threatened, and eventually a consensus is reached. Only then is an item ready to be put in the last section.
3. Action items: The final section of the agenda contains action items, which have already been in the study section for at least one meeting, have already been discussed, and are ready for a vote. Never spend more than 5 minutes in this area. If your board has been honest and the discussion and study have been thorough, there’s no reason to spend a lot of time in this section.
If you’re currently frustrated by board meetings, you are not alone. Every pastor has been there, and most of us have dreamed of a world without committees. But the truth is, we need our board members. They give perspective, experience, and strength that we don’t have alone. A well-managed board actually multiplies the efforts of the pastor and staff in accomplishing the ministry. The Holy Spirit is the One who brings revival, but God can use a pastor and board who work as a team to usher it in.
John C. Maxwell, D.Min., is the former pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, founder of Injoy, and can be heard daily on "Growing Today" national radio broadcast, San Diego, California.
When is an Issue Not Ready for a Vote?
•When there are very few comments. If you bring up a topic and there is an uncomfortable silence, the time’s not right for a vote. Once in a board meeting I shared my desire to place a certain member in a ministry leadership position. I was greeted with silence, so I let the matter drop for the moment. The next week I called each board member. They all were glad I’d called; they knew some things about that individual’s lifestyle which disqualified him for leadership, but they didn’t want to talk about it publicly.
•When a private dissenter remains silent. If a board member has shared misgivings about a proposal with you one-on-one but keeps quiet about it during a meeting, don’t force a vote. If you think you can slide it by while he’s being compliant, think again.
He’ll probably undermine the decision later. Move on from the topic but contact him later and ask why he was unwilling to express his concerns. Encourage him to share them at the next meeting. If he doesn’t, let the group know of his objections and his reluctance to share them; then discuss them.
•Blank or questioning looks. When you see blank looks, it usually means ideas haven’t been communicated clearly enough. Go back and explain the topic again until you’re sure everyone’s on the same page.
•Deep contemplation. Sometimes people need time to process and digest information, especially if it contains bad or surprising news. Everyone processes issues at different speeds. Encourage board members to take time at home thinking about it. Then address the issue in the future when everyone is ready.
•Key issues are not being discussed. Sometimes when you’re brainstorming an idea, you know there are key objections, but they aren’t brought up. Avoid the temptation to move for a vote. Any negative issues not discussed won’t simply disappear; they’ll fester and get worse. Encourage board member to discuss their concerns. And if they won’t bring them up, do so yourself.