By Cody Collier
It’s August, and I have a feeling that many church leaders are looking at their calendars, working to find out through email or Google e-vite the best date/time for a meeting in the fall. Some of you, who are great planners, already created the famous church calendar months ago. However, the question I have for you is this: Will the meeting you are scheduling make a difference in the mission and witness of your church? Will the leaders attending experience Christ’s promise “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you” or Hebrews 10:25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…?” Will it really matter that you have met throughout the year as a Single Board, Church Council or Administrative Board? Or will the majority of the members attending be looking at their cell phones and laptops, just praying that the pain of one more meeting will eventually go away? As a leader, how will you ignite a spirit of joy, energy, hope and anticipation as people gather for a meeting?
To be sure, friends, I know the value of meetings. They are essential for enabling collaboration, creativity, mission, strategy and action toward God’s purposes. However, a good meeting should be a place where people have a positive experience of conferencing together to discern God’s direction – a space where there is a sense of communion and community and all are freely encouraged to share their hopes and ideas without fear of being put down. A place where decisions are made and life-changing stories replace the normal long reports.
Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, writes, “Meetings are at the heart of an effective organization, and each meeting is an opportunity to clarify issues, set new directions, sharpen focus, create alignment, and move objectives forward.”
I have spent most of my life in local church, Annual Conference and General Church meetings, always with the hope that the meeting is spiritually-centered, informative, and focused on making decisions that accomplish our God-given purpose in ways that people can work together and support; hoping that the meeting mattered to those within and beyond the walls of the church with a greater imperative for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
However, I find too often that many of us dread attending church meetings, period, and no longer make them a top priority.
WHY? Because too often the meeting reflects: poorly prepared chairs and leaders, an agenda driven by maintenance issues rather than wildly important goals, a discussion controlled by a few domineering people (some whose continuous negative attitude destroys the spirit of everyone in the room), an agenda focused on winners and losers – and after an energetic discussion on an important ministry, no decision was made.
Over time I have discovered the problem was not the meeting per se but the way the meeting was managed. Today, I am a proponent of fewer meetings but ones that are productive and spirit-filled. An effective meeting requires a clear goal, an open dialogue and participation by all, and a strong leader who can keep the meeting focused, moving forward and timely.
Though all good meetings have several diverse characteristics, I found the following steps helpful for making meetings more positive and productive:
1. Invite the team to be in prayer prior to the meeting. Be intentional about praying for the important decisions to be made, pastoral concerns and possible anxiety some may be feeling about the church’s future direction.
2. Have a worship center where meeting attendees are reminded of the presence of Christ among us. Include technology and devotional resources, relevant books and handouts that invite reflection and new learnings.
3. Have a clear purpose. Don’t meet if you don’t have enough important items to discuss. Develop a good agenda that will accomplish its purpose. Is there anything we need to stop doing in order for something new and relevant to emerge?
4. Maximize the participation within the group. As conversation takes shape, be deliberate about drawing less active people into the discussion. And in larger groups, it’s generally helpful to break into smaller conversation groups for portions of the meeting.
5. Drive the group to make actioned-oriented decisions. Good leaders drive commitment by extracting all opinions, ideas, and views and then have the tenacity to move ahead.
6. Make sure there is follow through. Never leave a meeting without clarifying exactly what was decided. A simple method for enabling follow through is to put together a written summary of the meeting and a reminder of agreed-upon actions that can keep everyone accountable to their commitments.
7. Remember, people appreciate and support a meeting that starts and ends on time!
I like the statement I hear often: Meet to live, don’t live to meet!