This post, which looks at effective church board meetings, is the fifth and final post in a series on church boards.
We’ve previously looked at why church boards are not, scripturally, responsible for the spiritual government of the church. We also covered board responsibilities, board members and board structure. In this post, we will focus on church board meetings.
Church Board Meetings: What?
Mindful of the board responsibilities, church board meetings need to bring focus and clarity to important matters, and not necessarily the urgent. Rather than spending time and energy on lower-level operational or administrative duties, meetings should make the most of board members skillsets and abilities by prioritising high-level procedure, policy and strategic tasks. If your board is comprised of high-level leaders, utilise them and their time well!
Church Board Meetings: When?
How often should church boards meet? This is a nuanced answer. There is a legal consideration – the minimum requirement stated by regulations. This may require at least an annual meeting, but for a church to function optimally, more may well – and should – be needed.
The other important consideration relates to effectiveness – how often does the board need to meet to function well in performing its role? The tension to be navigated here is not meeting so often that meetings feel redundant and empty, which will frustrate people, but also not meeting infrequently enough that meetings are too full with items, which leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed or pressured because of urgency created by time factors. I would suggest monthly board meetings, to begin with. Certaintly, anything less frequent than quarterly for a church board meeting should be expected. Meet as and when you need to, don’t meet if you don’t need to, and work out a rhythm that allows for this to happen. But if you err, err on the side of meeting too frequently, rather than not meeting enough.
There will be occasions to call special or extraordinary meetings in light of unusual events or circumstances. These would include any significant, important and immediate issue that falls under the remit of the board.
Some possible events, depending on the role of your board, that could require calling for an extraordinary special meeting could be:
- Senior Leader resignation or termination
- Significant and unexpected financial issues
- Amendments to governance documents or policies
- Changes or proposed changes in board members
Church Board Meetings: How?
Church board meetings should always have two things to ensure effectiveness:
- Minutes of the previous board meeting
A meeting agenda is simply a list of topics that the meeting will cover. There doesn’t need to be great detail – addendums can be attached to give any important background information or further reading. The agenda details the progression of the meeting, meaning that any item on the agenda should be covered during the duration of the meeting. Anything not on the agenda might be covered towards the end of the meeting in ‘further business’ but not necessarily. It is down to time, and the Chair.
A typical agenda may contain:
- Call to order
The formal meeting start.
- Previous board meeting minutes
Refresh and review anything relevant to the current meeting. Sometimes, this time is used to approve and sign off the previous meetings minutes.
Board members sharing updates around specific areas.
- Continuing business
Ongoing conversations from previous meetings.
- New business
New items that need to be discussed.
- Open floor / any other business
A limited time for items not on the agenda to be raised, and either proposed for the next meeting agenda or decided upon there and then.
- Adjournment / close
The formal meeting end.
It is important that proposing items for the agenda is not just the remit of one person. The senior leader, and elders, absolutely need to be able to shape the agenda, as well as the chair on behalf of the rest of the board. Really, any and all board members should be able to propose agenda items. The chair may decide and set the agenda, but should not be the only proposer of business items. Everyone should be clear on exactly how they propose such requests. I’d recommend agendas are established in advance of meetings using a process of item submission everyone has agreed.
The chair should prioritise the items on the agenda and once settled, it should be sent to participants at least 3 or 4 days before the meeting so people can begin thinking about the agenda items.
Board meetings are formal, so should always be minuted for future review. This means recorded, in writing, documenting what was proposed, by whom, and agreed or decided. Actions and decisions are noted for future review. This means actions that were previously agreed in prior meetings can be followed up on, to ensure momentum is created and sustained.
Minutes record who was present, and who was absent. They should be sent to all board members, whether present or not, within a few days at most of the meeting ending so they can be reviewed and approved as accurate. Then, any tasks that have been stipulated, or any corrections that are needed, can be noted whilst the meeting is fresh in peoples minds.
Typically, this will be the responsibility of the chair unless otherwise stated. I don’t recommend that the chair takes the minutes of the meeting, as that might prevent full engagement. Another board member, often the secretary, might do so. It is also appropriate to have a trustworthy and discreet non-participating, non-board member invited to sit in the meeting to take minutes.
Additionally, once approved, minutes should be signed by the chair and safely stored, for legal purposes, either digitally or physically.
How do you structure a church board meeting? What do you need to cover to make sure they are effective?
Church Board meetings work best when there is teamwork, unity and shared goals. Humility and mutual submission are key to an effective meeting. Whether decisions are made through consensus or voting, there should be a sense of ‘we chose to do this’, not ‘you / I chose to do this’ afterwards.
The chair leads and manages the meeting, using the agenda as the outline and itinerary.
Starting a meeting by reviewing previously agreed actions is essential for generating momentum and providing information updates. This is why clear minutes are essential; without them, authority is undermined in addressing actions that haven’t been completed.
I recommend working through the agenda items systematically as outlined, asking four key questions about each item.
- Regarding this item, is there anything we need as a board to review? Specifically, what and why?
- Regarding this item, is there anything we as a board need to approve? Specifically, what, when and how?
- Regarding this item, is there anything we need to question? Specifically, what, why and to whom do we speak?
- Regarding this item, is there anything we as a board need to do? Specifically, what needs to be done, when, how and by whom?
Having time limits for each item will ensure progress and action occurs. There is a tension to manage between discussion and decision – both are needed. Too much discussion leads to inaction, not enough discussion leads to impetuousness. Focused conversation and a chair willing to steer the board towards decision-making will ensure productive and positive church board meetings.
If more time is needed on an item, that needs to be decided collectively – does the agenda change here and now, meaning there could be less time for future items? Is this, or other items, carried forward to the next meeting? Either way, the chair should manage this. One thing that should not happen is the ‘parachuting’ of items into an agenda that has been settled (“can we just talk about…”). Such items need to be submitted through the normal process in line for the next meeting.
Typically, though, anything on the agenda not covered during the meeting can be moved onto the agenda of the next meeting – if it can wait that long, or if it is decided that it is still relevant and important enough!
The chair must keep the board on topic, making note of any tangent conversations that in of themselves could be part of subsequent agendas. The chair should play a role that makes space for every board member to contribute if they wish, without letting any one person or group dominate or dictate the meeting.
Key decisions that need to be made for each item could include:
- what decision has been made?
- who is responsible for implementing the decision?
- when does this need to be done, and when will they report back to the board?
- who, and how, will we monitor something that we need to? how long will we monitor something? how will reporting happen?
Church Board Meeting: Dynamics
Boards are full of people, so there will be inter-personal issues to navigate. Knowing this, and being prepared, is wise!
Disputes will happen – it is a fact of life and human nature. But not all disputes are necessarily a bad thing. Agreement and unity are not the same thing, and should never be considered to be! Handling conflict is often more important than the conflict itself. I’ve seen boards turn toxic and dysfunctional because conflicts were either avoided, delayed, or handled poorly. A sure sign to watch for is if a conflict starts to take over the board meetings. Perhaps there is a clash between members that feels an undercurrent to other proceedings.
Another red flag to look for is if an item or conversation can’t be ‘shelved’ without any sense of disruption or tension. If this is the case, the conflict might need special focus. This could mean the chair, the senior leader, and one or two other board members work through the conflict outside of the board meeting, in another forum. Resolution and reconciliation is the goal, but it that is proving difficult to arrive at, a third-party mediator might be needed.
The point is that frustration or anger in a board meeting will cause problems which impact the whole board, and therefore the church. If a board member carries this kind of attitude and can’t seem to work things through, they will need to step back from the board until authentic unity and reconciliation have been regained from the perspective of all parties. Unity brings a unique kind of blessing.
Church board meetings are the engine that drives the effectiveness of the board. Running them well will see the board bring its best, which will bless the church and the church leaders.
The other articles in this series look more closely at the following areas:
- Overview and summary
- Defining board responsibilities
- Choosing board members
- Board structure
- Running effective board meetings