Is It Time to Rethink Church Business Meetings?

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It is unwise to assume all churches do things the same way. I certainly know that the readership of this blog includes leaders from tens of thousands of different churches. Even within the same denomination, there are countless different approaches to church practices.

Such is certainly the case with church business meetings. You may be in a congregation that does not have any business meetings. But if you are in a church with these meetings, please stay with me through the remainder of this post.

The Questions

I have been observing churches for decades. And I have been observing how many congregations conduct and utilize church business meetings. This process has led me to ask a few questions. Are we utilizing these meetings effectively? Should they be dramatically changed? Should they be eliminated altogether?

While I certainly don’t have the answers to these questions, I am seeing lower participation and greater dissatisfaction with business meetings in many churches. That is the reason I am asking these questions.

The Observations

While recognizing the diversity of churches represented by the readers of this blog, allow me still to make some observations about business meetings in many congregations. I make them in no particular order of priority.

  • There are still many churches today where the business meeting is primarily a gathering of critics and malcontents. The happy church member tends to avoid the meetings for obvious reasons.
  • There is a clear trend toward less frequent business meetings. Quarterly meetings are becoming common, and many churches have moved to annual meetings only.
  • Though I have not actually done a precise statistical study, I am confident in saying that there is a high correlation between the size of the church and the way a congregation does business meetings. Larger churches tend to have less frequent meetings. And smaller churches are more likely to require votes on more issues than larger churches.
  • Most pastors and staffs dislike, even dread, church business meetings.
  • The most common item covered in church business meetings is the finances of the church. For those congregations with annual meetings only, the church budget is the primary item brought as business.
  • Relatively few churches discuss ministry in these meetings.

Is There a Better Way?

I love local churches. I desire to see God’s glory manifest in these congregations. And I desire to see these churches be the best possible stewards of the resources God has given them.

With that in mind, I am asking the simple question: Is there a better way to conduct the business of the church? Some congregations have already responded by having less frequent meetings, and by empowering staff and lay leaders to make most decisions.

Should we totally rethink the way we conduct the business of our churches? Are there practices that would better protect the unity of the church while making certain accountability and decision-making are working well?

Please let me hear from you.

What is your church doing? What is it doing well in this area? What would you like to see changed?

Posted on February 18, 2015


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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153 Comments

  • Thom,
    We have one “Annual Church Conference” in the Fall barring any unforeseen need for a special called conference. During that time we worship, show a video of highlights of the previous year’s ministry events and activities, including every baptism! I also typically have the staff leaders share highlights of their ministry WINS for the year. I then share a recap of our goal attainment for the year and share a forward vision talk (brief 10-15 mins). This is all outside of our conference session so as not to invoke RRO. Then we go into session, elect officers, adopt a stewardship strategy, and have deacon elections (the only closed ballot part of our meeting). Often time I will close out the business part of the meeting 20-30 minutes tops with a reminder of our oneness in Christ by celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It is about a 2 hour event on a Sunday in November before Thanksgiving. [Our church is 240 avg. attendance and is pastor led, deacon served, and team ministry. Teams make decisions on ministry within their areas, so there is no need for congregational consideration of when to clean carpets or when to buy a new mower blade.] MINISTRY and primarily ministry wins are the bulk of our annual meeting. It is the best way I know of to honor our congregational rule distinctives and guard unity while shaping vision. God bless, CA

  • Thanks for the article Thom. Another extreme that I observe as a negative in such meetings is the silence that ensues when open discussion is invited. Perhaps this is out of a fear of being perceived as a ‘critic’ simply by speaking openly and honestly. One practical suggestion would be to perhaps share something regarding this in a devotional format before ‘business’ commences.

  • Sarah McCormick says on

    The church I attend is mixed, in the sense that it is an old Baptist church that’s trying to re-establish itself and attract younger people. So we have one group that is of the mind set of traditional thinking, they’ve been going to that church since they were kids, and it worked back then, so their belief is that everything should just stay the same. But then we have a group of younger people who want to see change, believing the church can be more effective if it does make changes. This makes for very interesting business meetings (which are held a few times a year). There is very little talk about the ministry itself and how we can work together to make it better and more effective, most of it’s about finances and then arguing about change. It can be tense at times, and I know of at least one woman who was brought to tears in the middle of a meeting because of the differing views on how things should be done. It’s very frustrating. How can we make an impact in our community, and the world, if we’re not united, and instead too busy fighting against each other?

  • It took me five years, but in one country church I pastored we transitioned to qtrly church family meetings. It opened with worship and a five minute message. After that every staff member and ministry leader came up and gave testimonies about what was doing in their area or motivated everyone with a vision of what they wanted God to do. It was very upbeat. Then we had a very organized, well planned, almost choreographed time for business where we tried to answer every question before it was asked. We also tried hard to foster ownership in the congregation. Our family meetings became a highlight. Haven’t done much right over the years but that worked very well.

  • Being the pastor of a small church, the monthly business meeting is very important to the core membership (those who are involved in most of the life of the church). While we do not necessarily vote on everything, the members find it helpful to be in the know on most matters. They simply want to know what is going on. Sometimes reviewing – and voting on – matters that might seem small to me is everything to the one that is trying to belong to and be engaged in the life of the church. I am reminded that the Scriptures place the governance of the church in the hands of the church…not the pastor, the elders, the deacons, or some other group of people. In our efforts to make business meetings more fruitful and meaningful, somehow we need to make every effort to retain this system. If we are not careful, we inadvertently set up a sort of papacy where the local congregation does not really have much of a voice in what happens in the life of the church. I think the danger here is that it can create a disconnect and perhaps – over time – a lack of responsibility towards the church.

    On the negative side, business meetings tend to focus on money instead of ministry – even when ministry is what we are trying to accomplish. My conviction is that we should gather to share what God is accomplishing! This ought to be what we spend the greatest amount of time on in our meetings. As leaders, we should make every effort to utilize this time to review ministry happenings and cast vision for things to come. This kind of discussion gets God’s people energized!

    I have often thought that the best time to get people to attend and be spiritually prepared for a business meeting (which would be better served to be called a ‘ministry’ meeting) is right after the Sunday morning service. By this time, you have a captive audience and hopefully people’s hearts have been pierced by God’s Word. I realize there are all sorts of conflicts with this, but I wonder if there are some solutions that could make it happen such that the body is more engaged in the decisions (visioning) of the church.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Shawn.

    • >While we do not necessarily vote on everything, the members find it helpful to be in the know on most matters. They simply want to know what is going on.

      A monthly, digitally distributed publication will enable more members to know more about the various minstries within and without the congregation, than a monthly business meeting will. This publication does not, unless legally required, contain any financial data. It is purely a report on the spiritual/physical state of health of the various ministries and projects.

      If a ministry or project has nothing to report, then it has nothing to report, and no report has to be included in the monthly publication.

      I will grant that for some ministries, for legal reasons, all that can be reported is numbers, and, if pertinant, dollar amounts. Even there, the mode of distribution (oral, printed) is irrelevant. All that can be said is “We served ten people. We spent five dollars. We appreciate your prayers for our ministry.” Or, “We had 50 requests last month. We appear to have met all fifty requests. Thank you for your continual prayers for this project.”

      A separate, quarterly publication can include the financials, in all their gory details. Or at least as much of the gory details as is legally allowed. Not “legally required”, but “legally allowed”.

      By way of example, there is no legal requirement that the pastor’s salary be disclosed, but it is legally allowed. (If one does that, there should be an accompanying explanation of how their taxes, social security, and other things are calculated, alongside their “net income”. Too many people don’t realize that a pastor’s gross income of US$50,000, might be as much as US$25,000, but more probably is closer to US$20,000 after all voluntary and legally required contributions are made.)

      As an example of financial data that can not be legally made to the general public, is payments made on behalf of a patient in hospital, to the hospital, or other medical professionals. Even naming names (“We paid some of Janet’s hospital bill”), has triggered law suits against a church. This information could not be legally disclosed in a business meeting. Consequently, for these projects/minstries, writing the report, vetting it for legal issues, then publishing it in the monthly publication provides for the greatest possible transparency, without inadvertantly straying into a legal minefield.

  • Churches have two different (unrelated) components, the non-profit company and the religious side. Most of the time when elders/deacons have to manage both, the religious component takes a back seat to the policies and business aspects.

    I saw some churches never have an open meeting at all. Everything was done in closed-door meetings and the people were informed of the decision after the fact. Questions were not taken nor were any explanations given for decisions. This did not help matters when people always felt left out of everything.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You are right, Mark. Transparency is paramount.

    • >Churches have two different (unrelated) components, the non-profit company and the religious side.

      The are related, in that if the money isn’t there, the odds are the other resources won’t be available for the religious side to carry out its objectives.

      When I was a church member ^1, the only aspect of the non-profit side I was interested in, was whether or not the budget was balanced, and if existing funds covered outstanding liabilities.

      On the religious side, I wanted to know how the various ministries and related projects were faring. However, the only time one found out about some of those projects, was when they submitted their budget. If they had no budget, it was possible for people to not know of their existence, much less how they were, or were not doing.

      ^1: I submitted a resignation, but, as expected, the church never acknowledged it, so I don’t know whether or not they still consider me to be a member.

  • We have monthly meetings. Two out of three are Worship & Prayer nights. The third is a Vision & Update meeting. We spend the first half with news-bursts around the ministry of the church – much, of course, happens during the week or while main services are going, so as such are unseen.
    During the second half we break into groups and discuss and pray into the vision of the church. ‘The church we see is …” This isn’t about debate so much as ownership and stimating expectancy. Once a year we have an AGM! We’ve tried to move away from making our meetings look and feel like business meetings for all the reasons discussed in your article!
    In reality, attendance at these meetings is low, even though we’ve improved them greatly. So, actually all major news and developments is now preached on a Sunday morning.

  • Sheri Menegio says on

    I grew up in a church of about 250. I loved the people there so much. That church was literally disseminated by contentious business meetings. There were personal attacks that were so ungodly. There were so many splits over “business” that eventually there were only 7-10 people left as collectors of the spoils. Due to racism among the few who were left they the building to a business rather than to a church who wanted it. That business moved and sold it again and now it is an art studio where the artists works are also sold. I went into the building about a year ago and they were literally selling idols, graven images, in what was once our fellowship hall. I have never attended a business meeting since. I strongly believe in elder/pastor led churches. If my home church had incorporated that way perhaps there would still be people there glorifying God, rather than people selling idols.

  • I would feel better about the trends you note if I saw a gospel revival sweeping the nation and churches regenerating their communities.

    Without holding up any particular method as “the one true method,” I think an important part of early church life was the body working to do ministry together. And while it isn’t “meet” for the Senior Pastor to spend all his time policing complaints about disaffected widows, the body should be able to organize and handle needs. That’s not necessarily the same as a hearty amen for an annual update on ministry.

    In a culture that wants to turn church into entertainment, and ministry into a business for professional church staff, I fear these trends are hiding something concerning. A body that can’t be trusted to discern the Holy Spirit and vote on ministry is a body that won’t be able to discern right from wrong elsewhere.

  • Everything you said is correct. I pastor a church of about 100. We have monthly business meetings which I have come to dread and hate. It is like the monthly critics meeting where nothing is done but scrutinize the checkbook, ask ridiculous questions, and fuss at me when I don’t follow Robert’s Rules correctly. They are by far the least spiritual thing we do, and sadly, our business meetings usually go pretty well by local church standards.

  • Thom, always enjoy your thoughts, thank you for permitting us to express ours. We have a yearly business meeting, we don’t do the monthly meetings and haven’t for over 18 years that I have been privileged to serve as pastor. Communication is I believe the main key when it comes to having business meetings. When you are proposing something to the church, it is best to make sure , make very sure you have all your facts straight and when it comes to the financial part you only ask once, I have seen and learned from others that you don’t keep going back asking for more money it costs you credibility.

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