Seven Reasons Why Monthly Church Business Meetings Are Dying


It is almost an unspoken phenomenon in church life.

Three decades ago, over nine of ten churches with a congregational government had a monthly business meeting. Several non-congregational churches had monthly business meetings as well.

Today, less than one-third of American Protestant churches have these monthly meetings. That is an incredible decline hardly noted by many pundits.

The monthly church business meeting is dying.


  1. The meeting often attracts the most negative members in the church. It becomes their place for griping and criticizing. One elder told me his church’s monthly business meeting was “the meeting from hell.”
  2. The negative church members have pushed the positive members out of the meetings. Healthy church members have no desire to be a part of a gripe and complain session. Most of them who do attend do so to protect the pastor and the staff.
  3. The frequency of the meeting leads to micromanagement. There is typically not sufficient major business to discuss every month. So the void is filled with discussions and complaints of minutiae. One monthly church meeting lasted over an hour due to disagreements regarding the quality and cost of toilet tissue in the restrooms.
  4. This meeting has become one of the most dreaded times for many pastors. These pastors certainly do not demonstrate excitement and anticipation in most cases. Church members typically will not follow unless leaders are enthused.
  5. The Millennials abhor contentious meetings. The monthly meeting thus has become one of the ways to drive off many young adults.
  6. The meeting often allows a few naysayers to have inordinate power. Frankly, that’s why many of them attend. A church members seeking power is a church member in need of repentance.
  7. The monthly business meeting is simply not necessary. It is a waste of the precious resource of time. If there is a need for the church to tend to a major issue, special meetings can always be called.

The monthly church meeting is dying.

And few tears are being shed.

Let me hear your thoughts.

Posted on February 29, 2016

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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  • I am assuming your post has to do with governing board meetings, not general membership meetings. Our parish by-laws require the vestry (Episcopal Church governing board) to meet every month and so the practice continues; these are open meetings to which members of the congregation are welcome. Ours have not suffered any of the negativity that you detail, in part because we have intentionally moved away from “micromanagent” of church business.

    Our meetings start with prayer and bible study. Lessons from the Daily Office Lectionary are chosen and each month our two principal questions are: How does this passage speak to you as an individual leader in the church? How does this passage speak to us as a leadership team? We also ask each member to share “where they have seen God” in the past month. After that each month one member of the vestry shares a part of his or her personal spiritual story.

    Then we quickly dispatch the minutes of the past meeting and the monthly financial statements (which are circulated well ahead of time so questions can be addressed by the treasurer and staff before the meeting). Vestry members with particular oversight of on-going ministries or projects give highlight reports, as needed.

    And then we move into a “leadership school” in which we discuss either a book we are reading together or an article on church ministry and leadership that has been circulated for the members to read. (Sometimes even an article by Thom Rainer!)

    We conclude with a sharing of prayer concerns and requests, both personal and pastoral, and a prayer (usually the Our Father). Our meetings last no more than two hours.

    This format has allowed us to focus on the leadership team’s role as exemplars of spiritual formation and mutual ministry. It has done a good deal to do away with any sense that the meeting is time for airing of complaints and negativity, focusing instead on the work of the Holy Spirit in our church. I recommend it to any governing board.

  • Timothy Fish says on

    I think church size makes a big difference. I grew up in a small church. We were small enough that the whole church participated in the same conversation before each worship service. We had monthly business meetings. Somehow we had enough business for them to last about an hour, but we seldom had committees and any complaints would’ve already been voiced. I’m now in a church that is several times that size and our business meetings take less time. Most things are handled by the church staff, the deacons, or various committees. We get a few grumblers, from time to time, but not often. We’ve gone to quarterly meetings, so a business meetings are longer than when they were monthly. In a large church, I don’t think it would be possible for the church to function if individuals, committees, and boards were not authorized to make decisions between church business meetings. But I see church business meetings as a means to inform church members and to hold church leadership accountable. Good leadership has nothing to fear about being held accountable. Bad leadership that isn’t held accountable can ruin a church.

  • Some change requires thought and process. Several years ago when I approached the church about changing our monthly format to something more productive, we discovered that our church constitution required a monthly business meeting. We made a change to the constitution that reads the church “will hold at least one business meeting during the calendar year.” This change allows us to hold business meetings as often or as infrequently as is necessary. It recognizes that we need to address some things (like church budget) at least annually, but frees us up to use our time more wisely. As a rule of thumb, we schedule a business meeting at least once a quarter now, but we could easily add more or reduce the number when there are major issues to address. With this wording we also would not be required to re-write the constitution again if the leadership and congregation decided that we should have monthly business meetings again at a later date.

    • Timothy Fish says on

      It is up to each organization to interpret their own bylaws, but I see potential problems. For one, it isn’t clear when this meeting will be. For another, it seems that the church is afraid to change the bylaws. Bylaws aren’t intended to be set in stone. When an organization is afraid to change their bylaws, they start looking for loopholes in their bylaws, and that can make it difficult for people to know what is going on.

  • Tyson Branizor says on

    Am an Associate Pastor of a church around 600 and we have gone to having business meetings every 3 months. This has been a huge blessing to the staff and still gives the congregation a opportunity to be involved in the business of the church. We typically hold them on Wednesday nights and they only last about 15 minutes. Each staff individual develops a page of things that have happened in their ministries in the past 3 months and every member gets a copy of the staffs pages.

  • Joe Pastor says on

    Over a period of time, our church transitioned from monthly business meetings to now only an annual business meeting (to discuss the proposed budget for the year to come) plus occasional called business meetings to deal with specific needs. This change happened primarily when we stopped doing Sunday night worship services; small groups began on Sunday nights instead. (This had been the time we did our monthly business meetings.) I have to say, it’s so much less stressful to not do monthly meetings. And now to stir the pot a bit, at some point it occurred to me that while many churches come from a tradition of voting on things–lots of things–to make church decisions, there is not a single example of a New Testament church making any decision by a congregational vote. So why do so many of our churches choose to vote on things to make decisions? My guess would be that we are more influenced by our American culture than we are by the example of Scripture. Thoughts?

    • “Stir the pot,” Joe? You must be a bit “touched” to post such an observation on a Baptist blog! (Smile here…) I’m somewhat of the same mind as you. Though a life-long committed Baptist, I favor a church polity “ruled” by a group (plurality) of spiritual leaders. Whether you call them “elders” or “deacons” is not as important as their character qualities. (I Timothy 3:1-7) I do prefer the term, “elder,” because I believe it is more descriptive of the role they serve and the accountability/burden they carry.

      I remember back in the 70’s when Gene Getz was introducing the concept of elder-leadership to congregational churches. A number of churches adopted elder rule and quickly split the church. The primary reason, it seemed to me, was because the elders didn’t listen to the people. The people lost their voice and their power and it was quite divisive.

      In several places when major decisions had to be made in the Book of Acts (Chapters 6 & 15, among others), Luke records the phrase, “it seemed good to the people.” Now, I don’t believe they took a vote, but they found a way to build consensus. In a democratic culture like ours, voting is the primary way to build consensus and I don’t find it contrary to the New Testament. In America, its culturally sensitive. Those churches that split when they went to elder rule failed to set up a structure to hear the people and build consensus. I don’t think “elder rule” and “congregational rule” are necessarily exclusive to each other. There is a way to have spiritual leadership that leads the people in consensus.

      If you want to get Baptists going, Dr. Rainer, put up a post on governance. That might be very interesting!

  • I suppose I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been in Baptist (non-SBC) churches all of my ministerial career (over 30 years) and I’ve never had to endure monthly meetings. For a good portion of my career, I was on the West Coast where things seem to be a bit more progressive. My experience has always been quarterly meetings and, generally speaking, they’re non-events, short, and somewhat tedious. Occasionally, we have a real issue that we need to deal with. Though I’m not a fan of these meetings, they do keep people updated with financials and any other initiatives the leadership is considering.

    If you are “stuck” with monthly meetings, some in the comments have suggested reframing them as congregational ministry updates…in other words, frame them spiritually rather than as a “business meeting.” The church is not a business, but a Spirit-empowered enterprise. These meetings are difficult because Jesus doesn’t get a vote. In many places, he may not even attend!

    Thanks for this post. I wasn’t aware that so many were still having monthly meetings.

  • We did away with monthly business meetings years ago. We now have quarterly business meetings and do so after our Wed. evening activities. We have to have a quorum of at least 20 people present. The meetings last less than 10 minutes and most of that is me encouraging or bragging on a ministry. I am working on getting to an agenda based business meeting which will prevent random things from being brought up – although that has not been a problem . The longest business meeting we have is when we respond to questions about the budget. My thoughts are this: If the church approves a budget once a year – the staff and ministry leaders are bound to work within the budget – that takes a lot of need for monthly meetings out of the way. I call special business meetings from time to time to vote on staff; or other issues such as major renovations to buildings and etc. I have learned this when presenting something major: do your home work; get a team of laymen to write out the reasoning and resent it to the church; and get it done asap. Also, the church voting on certain things is a good thing – I would rather say, “This is the policy of the church, I have to carry it out” rather than, “This is just the way we do things.”

  • In 2007 we considered several amendments to our Bylaws that were sorely needed. Many were voted down. One I was able to get passed allowed for us to change the time and frequency of the business meeting. Unfortunately, the older members still have not relinquished the monthly meeting, which interrupts ongoing studies and are a total waste of time. Most months we have only the regular reports from standing committees and ministry teams along with the minutes and monthly financial report – all of which could easily be printed and made available on a monthly basis without the need for a meeting. Very seldom do we have actual business items to be considered. The biggest barrier to eliminate the monthly meeting and going to a quarterly or semi-annual meeting is the attitude of the long-term members that this is how Baptists do church governance. It is the “seven last words of the church” ruling – We’ve always done it this way before!

  • David Coggins says on

    As Baptists, we strongly believe in congregational polity, but that has to come mean only one thing for most people, that is the business meeting where they get to debate and vote. But we need to teach and disciple church members on a better understanding of congregational polity and that the most important element of that is not in the business meeting, but what happens before the business meeting where church members serve in their area of giftedness in ministry areas and on ministry teams and committees and have opportunities to make decisions based on approved ministry plans and budgets. Then we only need a few business meetings a year, to approve ministry plans and budgets and for any special needs. The rest of the time can be reporting and celebration and fellowship based on what God is doing in our ministries.

  • I remember telling my wife that boring business meetings (with no fighting, etc.) are usually a sign of a healthy church.

      • I feel when there is TRUST in the leadership – a church can forego the business mtg. I’ve been in a church where there was NO trust – and the business meetings were even “staged” to prove “all is well.” Painful to say the least when we knew the “real story.” Currently, in a church where the leadership from the Pastor down is trustworthy, has the best for the church in their hearts and actions. So there is no concern and everyone relaxes in that. When we’re together it’s time for prayer, worship and the Word. Not the “word” from trouble makers. (As far back as my childhood, I recall those “scary business meetings.” So I’m grateful NOT to have them anymore.

  • Thom,
    Just to clarify – these monthly meetings of which you write are general “congregational” meetings and not boards or councils, correct? The church board or council still meet monthly, correct?
    Another question: what is your read on how many congregations have adopted some form of “policy-based” governance?

  • Christopher says on

    We use business meetings as an opportunity for fellowship including sandwiches and deserts. This mitigates some of the time wasting. My biggest gripe at our meetings is reading the minutes from the last meeting. It’s tedious enough to deal with the current agenda without having to rehash the last agenda.

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