Few in ministry have actually been trained in leading meetings. Yet, it’s one of the essential, ongoing responsibilities we have as leaders. I’ve witnessed some terrible meetings that were terrible solely because of the poor oversight of the ones leading them. Your ability to lead efficient and effective meetings directly translates into your ability to get people to attend and enjoy them. Here are a few suggestions to guide your planning, preparation and implementation for good ministry team meetings.:
1. Define the team’s purpose.
If you were to ask your team members why you exist as a team, you might be surprised at the different answers you would receive. Ministry teams should be certain about why they exist and that purpose should be stated in a clear, concise, and compelling way to its members. Activity does not always mean productivity and just because you meet doesn’t mean you're accomplishing anything of value. Make sure the team's purpose focuses on what you will actually achieve. As you proceed, this will help you evaluate the team’s true productivity. Keep the team purpose and the church vision before them, and remind them of these two things often.
2. Determine if you really have to meet in the first place.
Just like any bad habit, meetings can take place only because you’re conditioned to have them. When this is true, meetings become huge time wasters. Ask yourself, “Is it essential that we meet this much?” and “What is it that we need to accomplish?” Nothing is more monotonous than meeting only for the sake of meeting. Can you move the meeting to a bi-monthly, monthly or as-needed basis?
3. Have contributors in the meeting.
All of us have been in meetings where we felt that it was not necessary for us to be present. Pay people the compliment of excusing them from meetings where their input is not vital. While you can’t always anticipate if a matter will come up that needs a person’s input, if you know the full discussion has nothing to do with one of the regular attenders, or the information discussed is not necessary for them to hear, give them the option to not attend. They’ll love you for it. Also, never have someone on a team who has no true purpose on it and does not contribute to it.
4. Start and end your meeting on time.
I can’t overstate the importance of this! Volunteers stop attending meetings primarily because they do not start or end on time. Staff hate to attend meetings that do not start and end on time. When you announce a meeting always publish the start and end time of it. Psychologically people love a start line and finish line and can more easily endure a clear time frame. Then, be committed and have integrity with what you have said. When you don’t start or end on time, you as a leader lose a measure of trust—and trust is your most precious asset with those you lead. The days of never-ending, long-suffering meetings need to go away!
5. Prepare an agenda and send it out in advance.
Leaders should plan and prepare for meetings, not just have them. This means thinking strategically about what should be achieved in the course of the meeting and anticipating how much time is needed to discuss each agenda item. Be realistic about the quantity of items in the time frame. Sending the agenda out in advance allows participants to think, pray, and prepare for their input. If you have large, pertinent amounts of information to discuss in the meeting (budgets, doctrinal matters, policies, etc.), send that material out in advance. Don’t waste time in the meeting having people looking at large amounts of information for the first time.
6. Keep the agenda moving.
As the facilitator of the meeting, you must keep it moving forward and not allow it to get bogged down. When two or three participants begin discussions between themselves, and when their discussion does not involve the rest of the group, direct them to take those detours offline and meet on their own outside of your meeting time. Always have a pulse on the flow of the discussion and be willing to bring decisions to a close, direct follow up for future discussion, or move the meeting forward to discuss the next item. If you have someone presenting in the meeting, be sure to let them know how much time they have to present, then hold them to it.
7. Record action items and decisions, then e-mail them out after the meeting.
While most meetings do not require formal dictation of minutes, it is always helpful to have someone record at least bullet points of items discussed, decisions made, actions needed after the meeting, as well as who is responsible for those actions. E-mail these notes out to team members. Having all this in text form provides some accountability for those who are responsible for follow-up actions, an overview to those who might have missed the meeting, and, because people quickly forget what exactly was decided, the written record nails down decisions that were made for future reference.
8. Review previous key action items at each meeting.
Don’t spend too much time here, but this is needed to hold people accountable to what they agreed to do in actions from the previous meeting. By reviewing, leaders move from having to spend time holding people accountable individually to having members be accountable to the group as a whole.
9. Focus on quality improvement.
Many meetings are reduced to only problem-solving and putting out fires. Discussion like this creates a culture where people are not achieving missio, but are only maintaining the status-quo. Good meetings need to have a creative element. There should be proactive discussion so that the team is working toward getting better at their given purpose and ministry. Time should be spent looking ahead, planning ahead and talking about advancement and improvement. Discussion like this inspires and motivates team members making the work worthwhile.
10. Help your team have fun, care for each other, and see the spiritual nature of what they’re doing together.
Schedule fun, fellowship time. Take them out for a group dinner. Have them over to your house. Meet with them individually and communicate your care and concern to them. Let them know that who they are in your church is more important than what they do for the church. Appreciate them as you hold them accountable. Also, when your team meets, start and end your meeting with prayer. Not because you’re supposed to, but because your ministry together has eternal value and because we really need Jesus.