Death by Church Meetings: Five Considerations

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.

Posted on January 16, 2019

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • This has helped us: We use the “Faithful Format”© from Acts 2:42. (Worship, Fellowship, Agenda – “Apostle’s teaching,” Prayers) Starts with God (Opening prayer ) and ends with God (sharing prayer concerns in 2s and then open for other prayers, closing with Lord’s prayer.) Before we tackle the agenda, we take time – in 2s- to share how we are doing today or this week. Helps everyone to share concerns and joys, so that those unconscious needs to be heard don’t crop up when we get to the agenda items. This process has actually cut meetings down from a couple of hours to 1 or 1 & 1/2 hours. And… not that many “parking lot” meetings happening afterward! (Which was were people got their needs met in the past. We make time for those needs to be shared before we get to the agenda!)

  • Yikes. I don’t think that even a church like Prestonwood Baptist (with its large membership and myriad activities) goes to that level.

    The fact that you survived death by meetings (to spend your retirement with your ten grandchildren under the age of eight) proves miracles still happen today.

  • In the 1950s when little was on television if you even had one, meetings made some sense and were social events too. Today, those meetings are a holdover from the past. Committees were also used to make some people think they had power while keeping them from really having any, a.k.a. hold them in check. Also, when closed door meetings do occur, the only information about them has to come from leaked info and the rumor mill. This leads to incorrect information running around and being regarded as truth.

  • Joe Pastor says on

    Our church has three committees: Stewardship (meets ~4 times/year), Personnel (meets ~1-2 times/year), Missions (meets ~2-3 times/year). Our church staff meets every week (2 hour meetings) but this is really more like a small group than a staff meeting. While we do spend time administrating, we spend more time in the Word and in prayer together. We also skip known “busy” weeks (VBS week, the week leading up to youth camp, etc.) And other than special needs, we have one church business meeting/year to deal with the church budget. Efficient is so much better than what is described in this article! #notgoingback

    • That’s a good approach. Especially making the staff meetings more about prayer and the Word than anything else (I would encourage the committees to take a similar approach).

      I agree that outside of a special business meeting for something major (relocation, merger/dissolution, pastoral call–hopefully not to replace you!), one church-wide business meeting a year to approve the budget is plenty.

  • I pastor a small church and I began a few months ago to ask 2 questions and give a challenge in my leadership meetings. I first ask who they’ve told the Gospel to in the last 7 days. I then ask who they’ve encouraged in their faith in the last 7 days.

    Since changing focus on the leadership meetings, and a few other things, our church has had a beautiful sweet Spirit, one that I truly enjoy pastoring.

  • Christopher says on

    Why is it the person who talks most in meetings usually has the least to say?

  • Robin Wootton says on

    How about this memo to all: You are only allowed to talk about something as long as you have personally, privately prayed about it.

  • I was on a nonprofit board for 7 years in the 90’s. It was a board known for it’s loooooong meetings. We elected a new president, and at her first meeting she brought in a 60 minute kitchen timer, wound it and announced that the bell going off was an automatic motion to adjourn. No one seemed to believe her, and the meeting progressed at its usual pace. When the bell went off, we were discussing item 4 of an 11-item agenda. The president stuck to her guns and adjourned the meeting amid the expected hullaballoo.

    At the next meeting, not only did we cover the 7 items from the previous meeting but we also covered 5 new items in 48 minutes.

    I will close with a chuckle: I have often said that if I’m ever on trial for my life, I want my jury to consist exclusively of Methodist church leadership. I figure they will take so long to make up their mind that I’m guaranteed a hung jury.

  • Christopher says on

    The only purpose of our deacons meetings was to review everything the committees talked about. Total waste of time.

  • Christopher says on

    Biggest meeting pet peeve: the meeting gets to the point where everyone is in agreement about what to do and how to proceed and then at the last minute someone says, “But what about…?” You then rehash everything for the next hour only to arrive at the same conclusion.

  • Richard Wilcox says on

    Amen. I will not be part of a church that has business meetings. Waste of time and too much ungodly behavior

  • Amen. Church Board meetings made me permanently allergic to committees and meetings. Much like an acquired allergy to anything. Start late, get to the issues at hand in say an hour or so, run late…2-3 hours of fun? NOT! I began just excusing myself after a couple hours, and refusing to serve eventually. Horrible leadership. Unhealthy stewardship of human resources. No wonder the lean and mean well-oiled machine of the New Testament now more resembles a rusty old relic deserving of being parked out in the grove. Sorry, but this topic is obviously a very sensitive issue for me personally.

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