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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  • David Tuten says on

    An underlying aspect to this issue is that in many cases, committees and business meetings are stipulated in written documents such as constitutions and bylaws. That makes changing culture/practice a more arduous task.

  • Also, the meeting in the parking lot after the official meeting is the one where the real decision is made or the meeting decision is reversed. Also, sometimes after the official meeting the powerful people in the congregation express their displeasure at the decision and reverse it.

    • I’ve seen that happen.

      I was on a finance committee at a church which was opening a Christian school. The original agreement was that the school would be legally independent of the church, and that the church’s only financial contribution was to allow rent-free use of its space.

      Later a proposal was brought forth to provide a monetary contribution as well as part of the upcoming annual budget. The chairman made the implication that this was always the intent; the committee remembered the original agreement and voted against it. The chairman then went to the pastor and made an agreement to include it. When I protested, his argument was that I was going against the pastor’s decision.

      Of course, seeing that the chairman was going to run things his way, I resigned my position. Over the next year I recognized this was a sign of a much larger problem (the chairman was part of a group who were adherents to a Bible teacher who, in this instance, had two contradictory views: that the pastor’s will should always be followed, but that homeschooling was the only Biblical form of children’s education) which was going to split the church in the long run. Having come from a church that had split I wanted no more part of something like that, and ultimately moved my membership elsewhere.

  • I have watched, heard and witnessed just how destructive some church meetings can be. I watched one church split because of the abusive language from one board member. Needless to say, I am not a fan of any church meeting.

    • Tom Lambert says on

      I don’t think the meeting is the problem. It’s a church that tolerates that type of behavior. What is “Christian” about that meeting (or person)? Meetings are necessary and unfortunately, we are all challenged by some aberrational personalities. But ungodly language or behavior is unacceptable and has no place in the Church of the Living God. Maybe start with longer prayers before someone is allowed to speak?

    • I agree with Tom. Such behavior is not only contrary to Scripture, but it also violates standard parliamentary procedure. No chairman or chairwoman should put up with it.

  • If I may inject a bit of humor, this article reminds me of a “Beetle Bailey” comic strip I saw some years ago. It showed several officers leaving a staff meeting, and they were obviously tired. Captain Scabbard told Lieutenant Fuzz, “I told you it makes for a long meeting if you ask a lot of questions.” Lt. Fuzz replied, “I know, sir. I tried to ask as many as I could.” The captain said, “You idiot! You made me miss my poker game tonight!” Lt. Fuzz said, “Oh…. You don’t like long meetings?” Of course, the captain looked like he wanted to strangle him.

    Unfortunately, you sometimes have certain characters in the group who seem to like long meetings. In those cases, it’s up to the leader to rein them in – politely, but firmly.

  • Thomas S. Burris, says on

    Long ago I learned that board meetings wasted a lot of time discussing items that could have been dealt with by a conversation or e-mail between the affected committee heads. We instituted a policy that ALL business to be addressed at the board meeting be on a written agenda the Sunday previous to the Tuesday meeting. We had a statement that if a member had some concern, he/she should address that issue BEFORE our meeting with the appropriate person. We cut our meeting time to a reasonable 90 minutes.
    In case of some issue that came up between meetings we could call a brief (note “Brief”) meeting before or after church services for that issue ONLY.

  • discouraged pastor's wife says on

    4,000 hours a year and then the committees grumble that the pastor isn’t visiting enough people, etc…….#1 reason my hubby is leaving the pastoral ministry, unrealistic expectations.

  • We have a primarily bi-vo and volunteer ministry team (I’m the only full-time person as the pastor), so our staff meetings are a monthly potluck lunch. We spend more time eating and connecting relationally than we do on business.

    Then our business is development oriented with a few church issues dealt with, but we try to make it worth being involved.

  • I think much of it depends on the person leading the meeting. If he / she sticks to the agenda and keeps things moving along, the meetings can be kept relatively short and to the point. If he / she exercises very little control, it invariably results in a very long and tedious meeting.

  • 1, 2, & 5 changed our church. Instead of committees we now have ministry directors who recruit people for simple, time-based tasks. It was liberating!

  • Church meetings are painful but I think some of these are necessary. Everyone hates meetings but sometimes it’s not the simple fact that meetings are terrible that we need to just throw the baby out with the bath water and do away with them. They should be used used to efficiently communicate and accomplish tasks that effect the ministry in a positive way. If they are not meeting those goals then they need to be addressed. Someone from the leadership of the church needs to hold EVERYONE accountable and then the church needs to hold its leader accountable.

    I see a few things that hold a church back that are very evident in the meetings I’ve attended:

    People come unprepared. We’re a busy generation. We barely have time to sit down with our families for dinner any more. Most volunteers work a 9-5 job and then come to a meeting right after work. They’re sacrificing their time from their families or other responsibilities. It’s a second gig. Often times it’s treated as a lower priority. Simply showing up for a meeting doesn’t count and it’s definitely not effective ministry. Put time in and be ready. The number one thing I see in being unprepared is a lack of an agenda and plan ahead of the meeting. And when there is an agenda or plan nobody reads it ahead of time. They sit at the meeting reading it as the meeting takes place and rattling off the first thing to pop in to their heads. Come prepared and having thought out things ahead of time. This means putting work in outside of the church at home.

    People are not put in to appropriate places for their talents and gifts. You can really burn someone out fast on “ministry” giving them things to do that they can’t do or do not enjoy doing. Experienced people, say someone with a finance degree, should be trusted in a position where they can positively impact the ministry using their talents. Manage your flock.

    Everyone has a voice. People like to weigh in. Some do it on every issue. I’ve seen many cases where issues are decided but at the last minute someone weighs in and stops forward progress. The flip-side to this is that people don’t want to hurt others feelings. We don’t want to say no because that might make someone leave the church. We listen to everyone and nothing gets done. No plans can be made. Priorities are not truly set, rather we have a list of 200 tasks that are never prioritized. Strategic plans have no focus because everything is included.

    This is the way we’ve always done it. We have meetings because that’s what we’re supposed to do right ? That’s how the guys before us did it. We’re here because of their work so that must be how we do it going forward. They had 15 people on each committee too.

    There also seems to be a big lack of training/education and plans for volunteers. People want to volunteer and do God’s work using their talents but if the organization isn’t “organized” people sort of flounder and don’t find a good fit. I’ve seen cases where talented people aren’t being truly led just quit because they simply don’t know what their supposed to do. They need to know what they are expected to do in their roles, where they fit in and how their role effectively helps with the Great Commission.

    Jesus started with 12 guys who weren’t necessarily “leaders” in any true sense. I think we can all do a better job given that most of us do truly have people in our midst with true talent, time and treasures. Have a meeting but make it effective . Pray that you can walk out of the meeting and everyone will be energized.

    • Charlie Powell says on

      This is a well written thread. The important things are included in the first paragraph. The leader needs to have an end in mind and stick to it. If there’s no reason for the meeting – have a social; ice cream is always good 🙂 no mater the season. Everyone needs to be accountable – not everyone needs to be in every meeting.

      Last thought: the work went on before us and it will go on after us. We are only important (for God’s work) now.

  • As a pastor of a small church (approx. 160), I would love to see our church transition into quarterly or even bi-monthly business meetings. Currently we meet every month. I also typically attend at least 1 committee meeting every other week. However, I find that when I suggest we meet less, many in my congregation push back as I am fighting against tradition. How can we overcome this obstacle?

  • I served at a church of about 1000 with about 350 in average attendance that had 28 committees at one time and during the course of the my time there had over 35 different standing committees. Because of my position, I worked with about a dozen of them on a regular basis and most of them at some time during my ministry there. Needless to say,things didn’t move to quickly there. Now serve at a larger church with 5 standing committee.