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.
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.
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.
More from Thom
Business meetings at our church are an incredible celebration of what God is doing. We have missionary updates, music, hear from church members about gospel conversations, and are encouraged from staff. There is also a time for new and old business, but it is not the bulk of the meeting at all. We also have a meal together. These are done 4 times a year and are incredible time of spiritual encouragement!!!
Celebrate what God is doing!!!
We hold our voting for our annual meeting between services. I have made the transition that our monthly board meetings are 10-20% & 80-90% strategic planning for ministry.
Please run with this topic. Our church is in the process of rethinking our business meetings. We need a resource to consult. Thanks for all your help.
Will do. Thanks, Nathan.
Some of my most negative church experiences have been Baptist business meetings.
Our church still does monthly business meetings. When I came to this church about three years ago, we did the monthly meetings after evening worship (yes we still do that, but that that’s another issue). However we moved them to replace one service a month. Generally they are rather mundane report times where little is accomplished. I would love to move them to quarterly meetings, but haven’t gained much traction yet.
Thanks for the info, Mike.
We had our first ever business meeting as a church plant in December. Our format is an ANNUAL meeting where we had a fellowship dinner, an annual report was shared celebrating all God did in the life of our church in 2014. A brief vision casting was done. The budget was presented for vote without discussion (discussion was held in a pervious meeting with out vote).
From reading the responses I believe some folks are confusing the Annual Church Business meeting which is required by most state laws and the more frequent committee meetings where actual committee business needs to be discussed on a fairly regular basis.
That being said, I have some comments regarding these more frequent committee meetings which is what I think is the main focus of this discussion:
Presently our church has a monthly Ministry Heads Meeting which I believe could use some tweaking.
Presently all the ministry heads and ministry members come together once a month to discuss committee issues that need to be addressed in order to plan for future church functions. This part of the meeting lasts for an hour and seems to be working pretty well. After the individual Ministries meet we then gather as a group for another 30 minutes to an hour where each Ministry head just gives a brief overview of what their committee is involved in and what their future plans consist of. This is good because sometimes the activities of two or more ministries may overlap requiring the involvement of two or more ministries within the church that will need to work together on future projects. These monthly meetings help to keep all ministries communicating with each other which helps to create a good flow of activities within the church. Concerning budget issues: each ministry is allowed to function within their budget and only large expenditures outside of budget would require prior approval from the church leadership especially in the event offerings are down for some reason.
A couple of things that I would like to see changed would be:
Number one I don’t think doing this monthly is necessary and bi-monthly or quarterly would suffice.
Secondly, these Ministry Heads meetings can oftentimes be used to recruit members within this group of ministries for more and more additional responsibilities rather than trying to recruit help from the lesser involved general congregation. If ministry heads and their members, who are typically already very involved in the local church, discover that these ministry meetings are going to turn into more- or- less a monthly arm-twisting session, this will cause ministry members to avoid attending these meetings all together.
Thom, lots of good insight and questions. I have a few more:
What is the Biblical basis for a church business meeting?
Does denominational ecclesiology requires business to be conducted different from worship, prayer or leadership?
Is there some teaching of Jesus that says “business” is “wordly” so it should be handled apart from the spiritual leadership of the church body?
My view is that the business of the church (ie. structure, leadership, process, direction, finance, planning, etc) should be handled by the godly leaders of the church…but I may be biased there as an executive pastor. This would make the purpose of most business meetings irrelevant. Now you are down to a communication question of how best to let the body know the results of the above decisions.
This is just observation..no hard data or proof of causation, let alone correlation….my experience indicates that the more things voted on, the more divisive and unpleasant “business” meetings are and the lower the attendance. The fewer things voted on, the higher the vision of the church, unity, and joy.
I think you are right, Dave.
I’d say Acts 6 does caution that the Pastor/elders should not be too focused in financial matters (the HCSB gets this right in my mind), and to turn those over to others. When the Bible says “It is not reason that [Pastors] should leave the word of God, and serve tables,” the “table” is the modern Greek word for “bank.” It is the money-changer’s table that might supplant spiritual focus, not the allure of table-side serving.
That’s not to take away from your point about delegation of responsibility; some decisions aren’t suited to a group meeting, and should be entrusted to smaller groups. But the Bible does seem to say part of church life is learning to love each other while making decisions together — more than being told what to do. Meetings reveal dysfunction more than cause it, I think.
With all due respect, here’s the reason I differ. Too often church leadership is a closed group with a finite amount of knowledge and which is impenetrable. If a church has “undesirable” members with expertise in finance, engineering, employment law, etc. why not use that knowledge to the benefit of the church? Your “godly leaders” may not have expertise in every area. The refusal to use some members’ expertise makes them feel unwanted and not willing to offer their help again.
Mark, in my phrase “godly leadership” both words have meaning. Godly meaning they are full of the spirit and demonstrate the fruit of the spirit and life required by Scripture (1 Tim.3:1-10, Titus 1:6-11). Leadership means they lead, which includes all the things good leaders do: consult, empower, delegate, develop, listen, teach, etc. If a person is not being listened to, it could be the leadership is insular and refuses to listen to anyone. But if the leadership listens to some, but not others, the “others” should consider if there is a reason they are not listened to, consulted, or invited into a process. Having been on both sides of that equation, it’s easy to blame others when we should be looking at our own heart and character.
“But if the leadership listens to some, but not others, the “others” should consider if there is a reason they are not listened to, consulted, or invited into a process. ”
Too often it is because the “others” are of the wrong gender, age, parental status, marital status, and/or didn’t donate enough.
We have quarterly business meetings and our largest problem is getting people to attend the meetings. After asking the church, we’ve moved meetings to different times and different days to make it easier for people to attend. We also promote the meetings and humbly ask church members to attend. Our church attendance is 250 and we at best will have 25 people (10% or less) to show up for meetings. We don’t have bad meetings or very long meetings, nor do we have problems within the church. I think there can be 2 reasons for the lack of attendance.
1. The church trusts the people in leadership. As a result, they feel they don’t need to attend because the leadership has earned the trust of the people in making ministry decisions. Our staff has been static for over 12 years and God has richly blessed our church (salvations, baptisms, disciple making, financially, facility expansion, etc). Maybe since we’ve earned the trust of the people, the people don’t feel the need to come to meetings.
2. Apathy. People in the church don’t care about the meetings. They would rather do something else with their time.
Our church has an open door policy and we are transparent with the questions/concerns people have. If at any time somebody has a question about anything, they can talk to the staff, finance team, building & grounds, deacons, other ministry team leaders, etc. People take advantage of this opportunity instead of waiting to do so at business meetings.
We want people to come so they can hear about what’s happening at their church. Getting them to come is the biggest struggle.
We have one ‘business’ meeting each year, but two years ago we started having ‘cottage meetings’ 2-3 prior to the congregational meeting. We set up 5 different times for people to gather and we discuss anything anybody wants to talk about regarding the congregation, including the proposed budget. What we have found is that while these cottage meetings take a lot of my time, the congregation gets to ask a lot more questions and get deeper answers (even if I have to do it at 5 different meetings), therefore, our business meetings are a lot shorter. Fewer questions (because they have already been answered) and (almost) no surprises – which I greatly appreciate. The cottage meetings also give members a chance to dream and hear others’ dreams about the future. I believe the cottage meetings are well worth my time.
Great idea, Greg. Thanks.
After reading the many comments here it seems like we’ve all tried to find ways to make this process better. I am part of the pastoral staff (worship) or a large EFCA church in California (1000+) and we have these meetings twice a year. One if for the announcing and voting on of elder candidates (spring) and one is to vote on the new budget (late summer). We have tried to put some other things in there to draw people in, but at the end of the day, they aren’t well attended and most of us as staff hate them. We generally only have about 55-65 people at these things. MAYBE 100 if there’s something that people really want to talk about.
I like the idea of a change and like some of the things I’ve read here. I can only hope that we may adopt some of these things. I plan on sharing some of what I’ve read. My heart for the local church compels me to keep fighting for us in hopes that we find a better way to get our people involved in the life of the church and what we are doing.
Thank you, Harry. I really appreciate your love of the church.
Great post! I was reminded to inquire as to how many business meeting and Church’s are led by Evangelism and Discipleship Team/leaders? I work with a multi-ethnic Church in our region which formed an ethnic association of Churches it has planted in Western Washington and Canada were we hold an associational monthly meeting. Predominantly we seek Church reports and missions reports for prayer, encouragement and supports as may be needed, there are no committees. We include a financial report and seek fellowship with a meal every time for bonding and ministry/family unity, of course yet another opportunity to pray and give thanks. All the member Church’s have some sort of monthly business meeting and leadership fellowship. some of these Church’s represent multiple ethnicities (small groups in their home Church’s, few are even close to one-hundred members, usually half that or less.
Good input, Kismet. I hope some will respond to your question.