Simple Suggestions for a Successful Church Business Meeting

As a Baptist, I am committed to congregational church government. Unfortunately, some churches practice an unhealthy form of church government which does more harm than good. In these cases, acrimonious business meetings are usually a clear sign of church that has an unhealthy inward focus and is in decline, and such hostile meetings are counterproductive to fulfilling the Great Commission. Thom Rainer comments on this problem: “Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires.”[1]

While business meetings can be a great cause for anxiety, they need not be. Here are some ideas for avoiding acrimonious business meetings in a local church:

1. Don’t have monthly business meetings. Quarterly business meetings are more than sufficient to address a church’s needs. When business meetings are held too frequently, committed members become weary of another request by the church for their time and they often stop attending. Unfortunately, highly motivated and divisive people are often not involved in ministry, but they will make time to attend every business meeting to second guess decisions made by leadership.  One way to handle this problem is to give them less opportunity to be divisive by eliminating monthly business meetings and going to a quarterly business meeting. I cannot see any reason for a church to have monthly business meetings. 

2. Always have “the meeting before the meeting.” The pastor, to the best of his ability, should discuss details surrounding important motions with the appropriate groups or key leaders in the church. The pastor should contact the church clerk before the meeting and alert him or her to any major decisions which may be coming so the clerk can be prepared to keep accurate records of important votes.

3. Prepare hearts and minds. Always begin the meeting with Bible reading, prayer and music. Review the ground rules for appropriate behavior beforehand. 

4. Remind everyone what is most important. Have photographs of martyred missionaries or unreached people groups on the image screen. This reminds people of what is really important. One hopes that a person would be less likely to argue about inconsequential issues while looking at a photograph of Bill Wallace of China!

5. Vote on an agenda and include a time limit for each item. I think this is the most essential step to avoiding the horror stories of interminable business meetings characterized by rancor. Most churches have an agenda, but they include no time limits for individual points. Not including time limits for each agenda item is a major mistake!

Having open-ended time limits allows one or two highly manipulative people to drag discussion out to an inordinately and unhealthy length of time. The first item voted on in the business meeting is the agenda. Simply include a time limit by each item. When the agenda is approved, the time limit for each item is approved as well. For example, the order of business may say, “Finance Committee Report – 10 minutes.”  This simple procedural step would avoid the horror stories I’ve heard of business meetings dragging for two hours or more of debate and dispute. 

6. Have structure for the meetings. Robert's Rules of Order can be abused, but when used properly they really do establish good ground rules for a public meeting. Here are some basics to remember as a leader and to teach to the church as a whole.

This list is not exhaustive nor is it perfect, but these applying these suggestions can take much of the anxiety out of church business meetings.