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25 January 2012

Church committees: How to get the best from them

Church committees: How to get the best from them

Practically every church has at least one committee or something similar. However, mention the "C" word and many church leaders experience a sinking feeling inside accompanied by renewed conviction that there are far more important things than sitting in boring often frustrating meetings! Yet effectively run committees can be rewarding. There are potential riches to be gained from the range of experience, expertise, and insights around the table. Grappling together with tough issues can foster genuine partnership & fellowship among very different people - with all the positive spin-offs in other church arenas that can bring. And genuinely shared decision-making will mean shared ownership outside the meeting of the implications of the decisions made, something that can be very important in church life.

But this doesn't just happen. Effective committees need working at, with the role of meeting chair being central to this.

So, some top tips include:

What is the committee for?

  • Be clear about its purpose & remit - have written terms of reference describing its role, authority, and relationship to other decision-making bodies in the church
  • Be clear about its accountability to others - legal , financial, church members, external church structures
  • Decide its lifespan, and build in regular reviews of its purpose & effectiveness
  • If possible appoint committee members with the necessary skills & experience rather than only friends or just those who are willing & available
  • Be clear what capacity members are there in - as individuals or representing others - and what is expected of them
  • Ensure new members have an appropriate induction before they start - this will help them contribute effectively to meetings from the outset

Preparing for meetings

  • Be clear about the main purpose of particular meetings - 'business' decisions, briefings about particular activities or ministries, long term strategy - as this will affect their length & shape e.g. presentations, buzz groups, discussion questions prepared beforehand, options papers
  • Think about where prayer fits, if at all
  • Set a realistic agenda for the time available & ensure they're distributed with any supporting papers so people can read them beforehand
  • Good supporting papers are about content not volume - to help members understand the issues, their context, and options to consider
  • Focus on essential items - be stringent about those that could be covered in other ways outside meetings
  • Be clear about the objective of each agenda item - making recommendations to others, reviewing progress, matters for decision, etc
  • Work out timings for each item, giving more time to strategic matters
  • Decide to what degree and how relationship & team building will be part of the meeting
  • Ensure the meeting room is suitable for the type of meeting, adequately ventilated/heated, and laid out so that participants can see each other

Running meetings

  • Ensure all understand the facts relating to individual agenda items - give opportunity to ask questions for clarification before leaping into discussion
  • Try different methods of ensuring all participate - buzz groups with feedback, generally inviting contributions from those who haven't done so yet, encouraging individuals outside meetings
  • Foster a culture of learning, trust & openness
  • Be clear about the purpose of the discussion, summarise the various views & options before making a decision, and restate the decision for accurate noting
  • If items need follow-up be clear about who & when by, and whether there should be any reporting back
  • Take care not to revisit decisions made at previous meetings unless circumstances require it - accurate noting of decisions helps here
  • Review the meeting at the end - what was learned, was there adequate space to generate fresh thinking & ideas, were decisions clearly made, and practicalities

Fran Beckett OBE
Consultant - Anthony Collins Solicitors