Death by Church Meetings: Five Considerations

January 16, 2019

He calls it “the most painful problem in business.”

Patrick Lencioni, in his book, Death by Meeting, looks at one of the greatest resource wastes in businesses: too much time in meetings.

I have worked with churches for over 30 years. It’s even more painfully true in congregations.

Here is one real example. I worked with a church of 250 in attendance that had a monthly business meeting that lasted at least two hours; weekly deacon meetings that lasted at least two hours; and 13 committee meetings that met at least one hour each month (yes, you read that right – 13 committee meetings).

The business meeting averaged about 75 in attendance. The deacon meetings had 11 in attendance, including staff. Each committee had an average of 5 in attendance.

Oh, I almost forgot. The ministry staff of four met two hours each week for a staff meeting.

Do the math. The total person hours in meetings each month for the church was 335 hours. The total person hours in meetings in a year was 4,020 hours.

Wouldn’t you love to have over 4,000 hours in Great Commission activity each year?

Many of our churches are dying to death due to meetings. While I would not recommend the total eradication of meetings, I do recommend churches conduct a meeting audit. Most churches are in meetings as much as five to ten times more than they need to be.

So, what can we do in our churches to reduce the time in meetings? What can we do to get more time in ministry from our members? Here are five considerations.

  1. If you have a monthly business meeting, stop it! Consider a quarterly, semi-annual, or even an annual meeting. You can keep the congregation informed on such matters as finances and ministries through digital newsletters. And you can always call a special meeting if you need one.
  2. Change most of your committees to task forces. Once the task force completes its work, it ceases to exist. One of the greatest miracles in our churches today is the multiplication of committees. By the way, you don’t need a flower committee; you just need someone to take care of the flowers, real or dusty plastic.
  3. Change your longer weekly staff meeting to a 15- to 20-minute stand-up staff meeting. You don’t need a two- to three-hour staff meeting every week. Limit the longer meetings to monthly meetings.
  4. Communicate with modern technology. Not every meeting needs to take place. Much of that time can be replaced with emails, texts, and communication through software like Slack and Asana.
  5. If you must have a meeting, have a clear agenda with a specific time. I am a part of a homeowners’ association that will not cover any items unless they are placed on the agenda. The chairperson sets a time limit for each item with a visible stopwatch. Maybe such rigor is not for churches, but congregations can still follow basic committee time management principles.

How many person hours does your church meet every year? You might be surprised if you did an honest audit. And you might understand more fully why your members don’t have time to do real ministry.

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48 Comments

  • I understand the rationale for having meetings at quarterly, semiannual, or annual intervals. How would meetings on less than a monthly interval impact congregational churches, which subscribe to the belief that the membership admits new members? If you have congregational meetings on a quarterly or less interval, the candidate for membership would have to wait for three months before being admitted potentially. How would that work? My church’s bylaws require us to have one annual meeting. The church delegated all authority to a leadership team, except calling the pastor; approving the budget; buying or selling property; and merging or dissolution.

  • Jody Huggins says on

    I’m embarrassed to say how many committees & meetings my church has. I attempt to lead our College & Career Sunday school class and our Men’s Brotherhood or Men’s Ministry. In the C&C class we’re finishing up studying and discussing your book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church. It is a great book/lesson! My church celebrated it 60th anniversary but we show many signs of sickness as you describe in your book. I’ve told the class that they are the future of churches. On Saturday, March 30th we’re having a men’s lunch and we’re inviting men from other area churches to join us. The topic of the devotion is sharing your message from your book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church! Any men who are or may be in the Charleston, S.C. area on that Saturday are welcomed to join us. RSVP to me. Thanks

  • Minister of Music says on

    Amen, Brian Moffatt. Well said

  • “Words are like leaves; where they most abound, little fruit of sense is rarely found.”

    While I agree that most meetings in churches are a waste of time, some of the same people who have disdain for meetings should also look closely at their worship services and especially long and boring sermons.

    As a retired pastor, I have recently heard some of the most boring sermons ever.

    Makes me want to belong to “Sofa Baptist” — church on my sofa where, at least, most nationally known preachers are prepared and have something to say.

    There is a huge difference between “having to say something and having something to say.”

  • Michael Weiser says on

    “You can meet, or you can work. But you can’t do both.” — Peter Drucker

  • Grace Lee says on

    Agree with Brian.

  • Brian Moffatt says on

    And yet we see that the early church had business meetings where real solutions to real problems helped unify the church (Acts 6). Without having regular meetings, how should a church regularly accept new gospel partners (members) or keep accountable wayward believers (Matt. 18 & 1 Cor. 5)? In our staff meetings, it includes service reviews, praying through the partnership directory, benevolence opportunities, key weekly decisions, staff discipleship, & goals for the week. Is that possible in a 30 minute staff meeting? I understand the point of talking about ministry more than doing ministry, yet mobilizing an entire church and equipping an entire church with the gospel takes planning, discipleship, and intentionality from its leaders. I am not convinced long meetings are automatically a waste.

    • Thom’s example was in a moderately sized church (250 people) where they were spending roughly two full person-years on meetings (13 committees, seriously?) And it wasn’t an occasional long meeting where a serious issue needed to be addressed: it was the norm on seemingly routine matters.

  • Jerry Watts says on

    Good word Thom…

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