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Church business meeting protocol is the foundation of a healthy church working culture. Here are 14 best practices to professionalize and personalize your church business meeting protocol.
July 10, 2019
Church leaders are very often thrown into ministry without business training.
The call to ministry was surrounded by tears and a heart for God’s people.
The church was planted over the course of years years with the hard work of a village.
And this can result in amazing preaching, beautiful community, services that expand the kingdom of God and … organizational chaos behind the scenes.
Unlike for-profit businesses, business is not the “stuff” of its culture.
A church is on mission.
A church exists to do something much more important than business.
And yet, very often, remaining business amateurs can get church leaders in a lot of trouble.
It becomes clear to most pastors after only a few years in ministry why business leaders invest in coaching, leadership books, administrative technology, productivity systems, and team-building events.
Pastors who fail to professionally self-develop in the basic skills of business often see a plateau in their ministry, because they don’t know how to scale a growing organization, they don’t know how to manage conflict, and they don’t know how to create and manage the kinds of teams that can sustain and involve the church ministry.
One of the core elements of business commonsense is the ability to hold and manage business meetings.
If you can master the business meeting, you can master church growth, self-improvement, team development, and the capacity for scaling your ministry much more easily.
Consider the business meeting a skill critical to the success of your organization.
Let’s not waste any time.
Here are the 14 best practices for organizing and leading church business meetings.
Before we get into the fine details of leading the actual meeting, it’s important to put in place certain pre-meeting elements, including shared software, delegation, and time management infrastructure.
First and foremost, ensure that your entire church staff uses the same digital software to manage their calendars at work.
At home, they can experiment with the latest calendar apps (and perhaps you should as well), but it’s important that your team all use the same software so that invitations, meeting updates, and details are all communicated clearly without getting tangled in integration issues between services.
The obvious choice here is Google Calendar, though Tithe.ly ChMS also integrates very well with a calendar function that enables your church to manage members within its very church management system.
Many churches skip over this point, or consider it an unnecessary luxury for smaller meetings.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Designating a point person for every church meeting is an essential element of church communication best practices.
When you have a point person for every meeting, you prevent the possibility that teams need to cross-talk between members in order to understand what they need to do.
All team members can direct inquiries about details related to the meeting to the team leader, and if there is any overlap or need regarding another team or meeting, team leaders can coordinate on the best way to resolve any issue that comes up.
Designating a point person is also important so that this person can clear peoples’ schedules and set meeting times without requiring an arduous 10-email-long gmail thread for every single meeting.
A point person is also responsible for showing up, leading the meeting, closing the meeting, driving the meeting forward if it stalls, and delegating other key tasks to other church staff or team members.
Much meeting time is wasted by showing people documents at the meeting that they could better engage and comment upon if they had seen it earlier.
A common reason that documents are shared during the meeting, rather than before the meeting, is that team leaders fail to finalize documents in time to send them to meeting participants a day early.
This is simply a matter of excellence.
Team leaders should hold themselves to this standard—finalize and send relevant meeting documents to the team at least a day beforehand so that they can read, digest, and intelligently comment upon the details in the document, and meaningfully contribute to the purpose of the meeting.
Meetings most often stall when participation expectations are not clearly expressed.
In order to avoid this, it is necessary to establish a baseline participation expectation for all participants.
There are two ways to accomplish this.
For new teams and meetings, the team leader should expressly explain in the first meeting exactly what participation expectations are—having at least one informed thing to say, for example.
For older teams, participation expectations are more a matter of team culture than expressed expectations, as group dynamics elevate certain voices and not others. It is the team leader’s job to make sure that these group dynamics don’t get too out of control and shift all contributive responsibility toward or away from any one person.
Meeting minutes—which are the essential, stripped-down notes, takeaways, action items, and loose ends from a meeting—should be written by a secretary or other church staff that is not a member of the team so that team members can actively contribute to the conversation.
Sometimes, on smaller teams or in smaller churches, team members can themselves take meeting notes, which can be a method of cultivating team engagement.
For example, as a group grows, it would be appropriate for a leader to designate to a less active member the task of taking meeting notes to help assimilate them into the group’s contributive culture.
After the meeting, the point person and note taker will formulate the meeting minutes so that they are readable, digestible, and easy to navigate for team members looking for their responsibilities in the minutes.
This is a high priority, because meeting details are very easily lost. If you wait too long to send out this document to the meeting participants, the details may become so easily lost that the meeting itself becomes a waste of time, and another is required.
By sending meeting minutes, marked with the time, date, location, purpose, attendees, and details discussed within a day of the meeting, you ensure that the contents of the meeting remain relevant for the team and that the meeting remains valuable to the church as a whole.
Your meeting attendees should know when the next meeting is before the meeting ends.
Don’t clamor through Google Calendar at the end of the meeting and ask: “Sooo … what works for you guys?”
This goes back to principal #1 — if you have shared calendars, designated team leaders can see when you’re free, when you’re busy, and how available you are to prepare and contribute to any particular meeting.
Make sure to create the meeting event for the next meeting before you hold the first meeting, and invite all participants. This way, attendees have in mind when the next meeting is even before they enter the first meeting.
Now, we turn to the protocol of the church business meeting itself.
The church business meeting is a great opportunity to corral all the loose details of your church’s business details and delegate their resolution to the right people.
Here, we will dive more deeply into the issue of participant engagement.
Engagement doesn’t only have to do with expectations.
Engagement during a church business meeting has just as much to do with whether the meeting leader has prepared engaging discussion.
One way to ensure that a meeting has something worth engaging is to prepare at least 2 questions for each attendee in order to prompt conversation about the material.
If time is an issue and it is a large meeting, prepare a single question for 3 high-value people in the meeting, and end with an open question for contributions.
But you should avoid making an open question (“Anybody have anything to contribute?”) your go-to line to boost engagement in your meeting. As many managers across many millennia know—all the way back to the Caveman organizing a hunt—this question prompts little response.
Business meetings can set people on edge.
That’s not a bad thing—business meetings tend to serious things, and you don’t want to bring too playful of an attitude to your business meeting.
And yet, opening the meeting in prayer—even a brief request for prayer requests—can ground the room, remind people of the brotherhood and sisterhood between them in Christ, and place front-of-mind the reasons the church exists.
This can help people to have a little more patience and perseverance with the “boring” business meeting issues, and perhaps even take a larger ownership role in resolving some of the more menial issues.
More than that—prayer works. It’s not just a business hack. It’s not just an organizational psychology trick. God is real. And his Spirit leads the hearts of kings, managers, and employees: “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
Church business meetings inevitably have conflict. People have differing about the direction a church should go. The spiritual investment of elders, staff, and volunteers can sometimes turn passion into combustibility.
It is the meeting’s team leader who is responsible to de-escalate conflict.
The best church business meeting resolution to conflict is to table an issue for a future meeting—and then, to hold a longer form meeting with the two parties who have a conflict of vision.
However, this is not always possible—some issues need to be resolved in the meeting, and there is no way out of the meeting without resolving the issue.
In this case, the designated meeting leader needs to do three things: (1) set an internal clock of how long the dispute will be allowed to last, (2) moderate the discussion during that time, and (3) make an executive decision of a conclusion is not reached at the end of this time.
This can sometimes result in the team leader appearing to be “the bad guy.”
So be it—better than an unruly meeting that disrupts the church staff culture.
After you make an executive decision, you can set another meeting to resolve the meeting conflict if it was serious or long enough.
When people contribute, find the value in the contribution.
Don’t shut it down.
Nothing can kill participation more swiftly than a meeting leader who simply shuts down ideas.
If someone brings up an idea, find a way to implement it as valuable into your plan—even if you have no intention of really bringing it to fruition.
If you do this, people will feel good about contributing, and will continue to contribute more.
Individual meetings are just as much about the overall “meeting culture” your church has as it is about the issues involved in that specific meeting.
As meeting leader, it’s okay not to know what to do.
It’s okay not to know the answer to every question.
Make these lines your refrain:
“I’ll check on that and get back to you today.”
“I’m still waiting on [SENIOR PASTOR] for that.”
“Great question. Who can answer it?”
Cycle through those lines every time you don’t know something.
This will give you time to get the right information to the right people.
Even if a meeting leaves you with 100 “Research” tasks, then at least the meeting was still productive. People asked the right questions, and you’re tasked with finding them the solutions—a task which you can feel free to delegate. Either way, the meeting progressed the church business, which is all you can ask from a church business meeting.
While meeting minutes are being dictated, have a personal notepad or tablet in your hands to record notes while making eye contact with the person to whom you’re making a commitment.
Even though you’re going to receive the action item in the meeting minutes, this act conveys that you are taking seriously the request of the meeting attendees, and encourages others to voice their own inquiries.
This email is separate from the meeting minutes, which take time to compile.
You should send an email to meeting attendees within 15 minutes of the meeting’s close—or, somebody should—so that people don’t have to wait on the compilation of those notes to have an official receipt of exactly what are their designated responsibilities as a result of the church business meeting.
If you implement these practices, you will be able to address any issue—financial, technological, pastoral, and relational—with the efficiency and effectiveness of a 21st century business.
In an age when churches bear the public weight of responsibility for its mistakes heavily on social media and in the eyes of its community, it is important that it handles its business issues wisely and well.
Remember and implement these 14 best practices, and your church will be able to manage any issue that comes its way:
1. Ensure all church staff use the same digital calendar
2. Designate a point person before the meeting is set
3. The point person should send meeting-relevant documents be sent to attendees at least a day before the meeting
4. Set and communicate clear participation expectations from attendees
5. Delegate someone other than the point person to take meeting minutes
6. The point person and note taker create action items, delegations, responsibilities, and takeaways to send to attendees within 1 day
7. Set the time, date, and location for the next meeting before the meeting ends
8. If you are the point person, prepare at least 2 questions for each attendee in order to prompt conversation about the material
9. Open the meeting in brief prayer
10. Make it your job to de-escalate conflict
11. Celebrate every contribution as somehow valuable
12. Admit when you don’t know, and say when you’ll follow up
13. Take personal notes during the meeting so that people know you’re serious about follow-up
14. Send a follow-up email to attendees with summary of follow-ups