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Better Board Agendas
By Dan Vis
July 16, 2018
Comments: 27

Over the years I've had the opportunity to participate in countless board meetings, in all sorts of contexts--including the dreaded church board. Some went smoothly and got stuff done. Many seemed to bog down in trivial details and drag on interminably.

When I became a pastor, I determined to take our board meetings up a notch. It was a busy church, with a large budget, a jam-packed calendar, and lots of ministries. But my members had busy lives--and I was serious about wanting to protect their time. So we worked at it together and gradually developed a system that helped us stay on track, make important decisions, and grow our church. And by God's grace, we would usually get out in close to an hour!

My church was blessed with an exceptional team of leaders, but you can use the exact same strategies to improve your meetings too. In the paragraphs below I'll outline the plan we followed.

The Agenda

There are a lot of things that go into leading a good meeting. A good familiarity with the church manual is important. A good command of basic parliamentary procedure is also helpful. And a good church clerk and a good church treasurer are crucial. But the main key I want to address today, is a well-planned agenda.

We pretty much followed the same basic agenda every month--involving seven basic elements. I pretty much just updated the meeting date, and reprinted it for every meeting. (You can see my template here.) You'll note I included target times for each section of the meeting so I could instantly tell whether we were on track or getting behind.

Here's a detailed outline for each section:

1. Devotions (10 minutes)

Setting a strong spiritual tone for each meeting is first priority. In my experience, spending a bit more time here more than makes up for itself--as it helps board members be more united and Christlike, and prevents needless argument and debate.

We would start on time, with a brief word of prayer. Next, I would read a brief devotional. Then I would remind the group that the most important thing we could do as church leaders is to pray, and would take a few priority church prayer requests. Then we would all kneel for a season of prayer, asking for 2-3 volunteers, and last I would close the prayer session. I allocated 10 minutes for this.

For the devotional, I would simply read a page from a devotional book. I have a whole shelf of them in my home, and I would read the devotional for the current date in 6 or 8 until I found one with just the right message. Something positive, focused on character, mission, our reward. I would never use the worship to drive a proposal, but used it to remind the group of our great privilege to live and work together as ambassadors for heaven.

Don't rush it. Plan this part carefully and emphasize its importance. Get off to a strong spiritual start, and the rest of the meeting is far more likely to go well.

2. Consensus Items (5 minutes)

This section typically consisted of three items: approving minutes from the previous meeting, approving the financial report, and recommending membership transfers to the church.

To avoid wasting time on consensus items, I asked my clerk to send out the minutes by email 3-4 days in advance to all board members (along with a reminder about the meeting). Similarly, the treasurer would send out his report by email in advance. Each board member was encouraged to review these prior to coming, and ask questions or give feedback directly to the clerk or treasurer. This way, when we met, we could normally go straight to a vote.

To streamline the membership transfers, I generally voted them all as a group. Members had the option to request discussion of an individual name separately, but most often we could just read the transfers and vote them quickly with little discussion. It helps when the board trusts the pastor and/or church elders to properly review these requests before they come to the church board.

3. Pastor's Report (15 minutes)

This section of the meeting consisted of two main parts: a Vision and Values section, and any major church proposals I wanted to either introduce or take action on. (Usually 1-2 per meeting). These were all listed as line items in this section of the agenda. By putting them first, I was able to make sure the most important decisions were taken care of. Itemizing them helped to ensure we didn't get distracted.

Though the pastor may not be hired by the local church, I always felt the pastor should be accountable to the church, particularly in terms of the voted vision and values of the church. So each month I would try to highlight the biggest successes of the church, in relation to our church vision statement. Where possible I would refer to our core values as well. Sharing reports of individual lives being changed, and special accomplishments of the church is motivating. And reminding board leaders where you are going, and the progress you are making, at every meeting, helps build momentum.

The special projects I presented were typically whole church efforts. They usually centered on evangelism, but I would sometimes discuss nominating committee or major building projects briefly during this time. To help make sure this section of the agenda went smoothly, I did several things:

1) I always tried to clear my strategic plans with key church leaders in advance. In most churches this would be the board of elders, though we developed a strategic planning committee. I also always tried to work out a financial plan with the treasurer in advance as well. Securing the buy in of key leaders in advance of your board meeting is important.

2) Next, I would test the waters. For big decisions with a potential for conflict, I would usually take one meeting to float an idea. I would not entertain much discussion at this point--but would explain rather that it was just an idea, that I was not going to ask for a vote, and that I wanted to encourage the board to pray about it. I also encouraged those with feedback to talk to me outside of the board meeting. Meeting with individuals separately gave me a chance to resolve their issues, or revise my proposal, before any actual vote.

3) Third, I would seek full agreement. We didn't always accomplish that--but we worked at it. If I sensed there was significant division on a proposal, I would recommend tabling the motion to review it and see if we couldn't find some way to improve it. This would give me additional time to work through the issues with any individuals I needed to, and come back with a better proposal. Or to reconsider the proposal entirely. Pushing a vote when there is contention can be necessary, perhaps, but it doesn't contribute to good board meetings.

In my experience, people object to major proposals because they are not given information in advance, are not given time to process that information, and are not given input on the actual proposal. Give people time to get used to new ideas, provide answers to their questions, and find ways to tweak and refine your proposals, and you can get near unanimous support, nearly every time.

4. Dates and Dollars (5 minutes)

You may wonder how we voted all our calendar items and all our budget requests in 5 minutes. It was pretty simple actually--as long as our departmental leaders followed a specific protocol.

In another post I'll talk about church organization, but for now I'll just mention that all our church offices were organized into departments--and each had their own departmental meetings. To bring a date or dollar request to the board, they first had to have their proposal voted as a recommendation by their department. All outreach events went through the personal ministries department and all inreach events went through the family life department.

Second, those requests had to be cleared with the calendar secretary (for dates) and the treasurer (for dollars). This was to confirm that the dates were open and that there were funds available.

Third, they had to forward those requests to me (the pastor) at least a few days in advance. This gave me a chance to preview them to make sure there weren't any major issues, and if necessary, to suggest modifications that would fit better with the larger church plans. I would then compile all the date requests on a single sheet of paper and all the dollar requests on another. I would then present each sheet separately and vote on each list as a whole.

Members would have the option to separate out any item they had questions or concerns about for separate discussion and vote, but generally--if the requests had cleared this 3 step process, there would not be significant issues and these lists would almost always be approved unanimously with little discussion.

If someone wanted to bring up a request from the floor, I would usually refer it back to the appropriate committee, to get approval there first. And I almost never entertained discussions of problems that did not include clear concrete proposals. These would go back to some department too. And I should add, most departments were authorized to make purchases up to a specific amount providing funds were available without special board approval. This eliminated the need for church board action on every small purchase.

5. Departmental Reports (15 minutes)

Next, each major department was given a standing place on the agenda to bring up special departmental requests. But it was not uncommon to go through this entire section with little or no special discussion. First, most motions ended up being dates and dollars, and were approved in that section. Second, big projects were often included as part of the pastor's report. Still, there were occasional items that did not fall into any of these categories.

The policies here were similar. First they needed to bring a clear proposal (motion). If someone wanted to discuss a problem, I would generally refer it to the appropriate committee to hammer out and vote on a plan they could bring back the following month. By encouraging church leaders to work together on solutions, the proposals presented ended up being more polished, balanced, and effective. And plans that couldn't make it through a departmental committee were unlikely to make it through a church board anyway.

I also discouraged departments from giving reports. There were other avenues to inform the church about what was happening in each department, such as bulletin inserts, announcements, newsletters, etc. Limiting board meeting time to specific motions that required board approval went a long way to ensuring we finished things up in a timely way.

6. Maintenance Items (10 minutes)

Last but not least, I had a special section for maintenance items. These were usually requests from the deacons/deaconesses and the building committee, and other small items that didn't fit in anywhere else. The list was usually short, as date and dollar requests were already taken care of through the process described above. But we reserved time for these requests, just in case. And if there were no maintenance items, we could go home early!

Small details should not be neglected, and need their place in the agenda. But all too often the discussion of minor matters expands to fill more time than necessary. Putting them at the end helps to constrain this. Because we were typically nearing the end of our hour by this point, and people were starting to get anxious about going home, the discussion usually stayed to a minimum.

Again, only concrete proposals were entertained--no open discussions. And proposals needed to be vetted in advance by the most appropriate department. Following these two rules, and even a church with ongoing maintenance and/or building projects can keep those projects moving forward in an expeditious way.

7. Adjournment!

Enough said. Once we cleared the last maintenance item, I entertained a motion to adjourn and we closed with prayer.

To get done on time, you just have to make sure each section stays on time. Our timetable was printed right on the agenda, and I would call explicit attention to the fact we were behind schedule, if things started bogging down. My board appreciated this and would cooperate with me to help catch back up. In fact, on several occasions, I saw board members offer to postpone their motions because we were running late--especially if they did not have a pressing time deadline.

I wasn't rigid about ending on time, but if we ran past the 1 hour mark, I would sometimes call for any urgent items and suggest tabling the rest until the next meeting. Do this once or twice and the board will be more conscious of their use of time, and work together at keeping things moving. By pursuing the most important items first, and reserving at least a few moments for urgent items at the end, and you can get most meetings done reasonably close to on time.

Conclusion

To lead your church, it is important to know how to lead your board. There's more to it than just having a good agenda, but a good agenda can definitely help. The exact plan you follow may vary from what I've suggested above, but if your board is willing to work with you and make small incremental changes, your meetings can gradually become both shorter and more productive!

If you want your church to become a true training center, learning to lead good meetings is important--whether you are chairing the board, a committee, a department meeting, or some council. May the suggestions above prove helpful!

Comments

Which of these tips are most helpful to you? What methods have you used to keep your meeting productive and mission focused?

Posted by Dan Vis on 09/30/18
I wonder if my board members ever felt that way about me. :)
Posted by Barbara Davis on 09/30/18
Dan, The picture at the top is priceless! No matter where the discussion, it often happens that the one doing the talking is the only one wide awake and filled with enthusiasm.
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/29/18

Glad you found this helpful Barbara. These guidelines do minimize hard feelings and what you said about feeling railroaded is so true. Appreciate your comment a lot, and hope some of these things work for you!

PS. I moved your comment from the Unleashed class to here as it seemed to fit better. Hope you don't mind.

Posted by Barbara Davis on 09/29/18
Thank you very much, Dan. Gives me specific areas about which to pray. Better Board Agendas is a great help. We already do several of these, but the outside work with individuals would prevent many hard feelings. Introducing an item for prayer, study and thought before voting is huge. Would allow for much more feedback and much less feeling of having been railroaded.
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/24/18
You know what they say about great minds Qing! :)
Posted by Qing Ling on 09/23/18
Yes Dan that's worth highlighting... Benefit is not only efficient use of meeting time, but even better: EMPOWERING leaders to maximise their potential in their roles
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/23/18

Yes, you are right Qing about the importance of the departments all being on board. It took awhile to retrain our board members and not all were thrilled with the process. But I saw it as my responsibility (as chairman) to protect the time of the members of my board. So I worked hard at it.

The flip side is, while board members may have less voice in the board meeting, it shifts some authority to the various departments and encourages each leader to develop their own team. It was actually a good way to try and develop stronger leaders.

As always, thanks for sharing Qing!

Posted by Qing Ling on 09/22/18
This is a fantastic article. Really good explanation of how to manage a better board meeting.
A key component of this though is having departments run in an organised manner as well, in having their meetings and approvals of items ready in time for submission to the board in advance. That's another layer of organisation that will need tightening up in order for this to work.
I really like the idea of having 'open discussions' elsewhere, and only using the Meeting time to get on with the business of voting itself.
Have shared this info with my pastors and hope there will be good uptake from the board as a whole. Thanks for sharing the agenda template Dan
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/21/18
Good point Valerie. Time Management is important. In fact, I see it as a fundamental discipline of the Christin life. Thanks for highlighting this. :)
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 07/21/18
The theme that is most present in this message is the need to be on time and in God's order. Time management is a major point that I have gleaned from a lot of your writings, Dan. The example of how you run church board meetings is another example of how to practice consistency in doing the Lord's work. This is a wonderful example that when the Holy Spirit is allowed to lead, even church board meetings can be a blessing!
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/18/18
Sorry Floride, my mistake. I meant monthly. I'll fix my post. :)
Posted by Floride Leonce on 07/18/18
Dan
Thank you, Dan! I’ll try that and see how it goes.
But we only meet once a month, not every week.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/18/18

Definitely the most important part in my view Tim! And your are right Margaret, the devotions should be a genuine effort on the part of the chairperson to prepare the group to seek God's will, not to set the stage for advancing their agenda.

Sounds like your board meetings are going pretty well already David, Carole. Happy if some of these idea are able to make things even better!

I agree completely with your 2 hour rule Sally. :) People get irritated because it's dragging on, and especially so if it's getting late. As a pastor I could sleep in the next day if I wanted, but many of my members had to be at work bright and early the next morning. Reminding myself of that motivated me to be respectful of members time.

Glad you found this helpful Andre Kohler. And yes, works in both small and large churches Marion. I was given a small church my last year there and used essentially the same format.

Floride, I had to work hard to train my department heads to not give reports each month. I only allowed requests for action items. I encouraged them to find other ways to communicate what they were doing with the church. If your board wants those reports, it might be possible to have those reports prepared in writing, compiled and distributed each month. Now sure how that would work, but it might be an option to try. Sounds like everything else is pretty well optimized however. :)

Posted by Floride Leonce on 07/17/18

Hi Dan, these are great ideas!
I’m the clerk at my church. We follow the same template as yours and our agendas look almost the same. The only difference is that we have reports from every department and our meeting is 2 hours long; sometimes, we’re not even able to get to the end of the agenda. My board members always get frustrated because of the length of he meeting. One important tip that I got (which I never do) is to send the minutes and the agenda in advance so the board can be prepared to ask questions, like you put it in the article. This will be very helpful to the entire board. I think that a great thing to do and that will save us a lot of time. And I will ask my treasurer to do the same. That would be such a blessing for us to see our meeting time cut down from 2 hours to 1 hour, and also to get things done in such a short timeframe.

Thank you for those great tips! Blessings!

Posted by Marion Coppock on 07/17/18
Many of those ideas will work for a small Church thanks Dan
Posted by Andre Kohler on 07/17/18
A good tool to use-useful ideas. Thank you.
Posted by Sally CH Lam on 07/17/18
Thanks! Any meeting that goes beyond 2 hours may be taken over by the devil. I’ve sat in too many long drawn out meetings. I wish every chair could have access to your tips. To me keeping to the time would be most appreciated by all board members.
Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 07/17/18
What good ideas, Dan! Thank you for sharing!
Posted by Carole Bliss on 07/16/18
Tonight is the board meeting night! It makes this message, to be on time.
We need to streamline these meetings. We are down to one and a half hours. It used to be, two hours.
I am praying for tonight. May His Spirit be with each one.
Thank-you for the good example.
Put in place, people will be much happier.
Blessings,
Carole
Posted by Margaret Major on 07/16/18
This looks very workable and helpful. I especially like the emphasis on getting off to a strong spiritual start with prayer and a good devotional time, most important. God's agenda is more important than man's, and he can do more through the Holy Spirit's presence working in and on our hearts bringing us into humble unity, than we can do through hours of endless discussion. Thank you.
Posted by David Grabe on 07/16/18

Greetings, FAST Friends, in Jesus' Saving Name!
Thank you so much, Pastor Dan, for this timely & helpful post on the the Church Bd Mtg Agenda. It is most time efficient & will eliminate the "bogging down" of the process. Many of the suggestions have been implemented in our Bd meetings, yet the template provided will encourage us to use our time more wisely and keep on track to limit discussion on small items & stay focused on the larger, pressing items. I liked the idea of "Floating" an idea & private discussion with individuals to hammer out any conflicts outside of, and prior to the board meeting.

Thank you again, Pastor Dan!       Exodus 33:14And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.

Posted by tim evans on 07/16/18
Pray and devotional
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/30/18
We get into habits/traditions sometimes without really thinking about whether or not that's the best way to do things. If we are intentional we can sometimes change those things. All the best Colette!
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/30/18
Dan oh yes, I will try to implement some at the meetings that I chair!
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/30/18
The same principles with some variation apply to the various departmental committee meetings. Hope you can find ways to use it in your department as well Colette!
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/30/18
Point #2 Consensus Items usually take half of the meeting time so this is the main point that gets my attention.
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/30/18
I like this article. I currently sit on my church's board as a Department Head and find the long meetings wearying. Will definitely share this with my Church Board.

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