Is It Time to Rethink Church Business Meetings?

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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  • I am a pastor of a second church plant. The first church plant went nine years without a business meeting. It was GREAT! We would meet and pray when a decision had to be made concerning the direction of the church. The decision was not “how many are in favor of this or that” but “after all the information is in, we would spend one week praying and coming back the next week and people would share what God had laid on their hearts”. It WORKED and the church was growing, reaching 280+
    This worked great for nine years until Satan got involved. People would show up who had not prayed and would voice their opinions. I had to constantly remind the people, its not about what you want or what I want, its what God wants and the only way to know that is to pray.
    A few deacons got together and waited until the summer when the majority of the people were away on mission trips, camps and vacations and “called” a “prayer Meeting”. It was disguised as a prayer meeting when in reality it was a “let’s all share what we don’t like about our pastor” meeting. It was one horrible “business” meeting, lasting five hours with only a handful of malcontents, critics and “tares”. It was a screaming match from the few men and women in the church who hated what God was doing, reaching People for Christ. The church was getting too big. They voted me and my family out.
    When the smoke cleared, a God-called group of people got together, sat down with me and my wife and said “we want you to be our pastor, lets plant another church”.
    We did and God has been blessing!!!
    New Spring church in Mars Hill, NC has been growing with over 18 baptisms, lots of re-dedications, people flocking to hear the gospel all because of what God has done.
    The “other” church went back to tradition, regular business meetings and the church is dying, slowly declining, but that is what “the people” wanted and it’s a funeral dirge.
    At New Spring we have “leadership” meetings three times a year where we discuss where God is leading us and to share ministry ideas that come from the Body and where if God lays a ministry on your heart, then you have the responsibility to take the lead with support and encouragement from our staff. Things are much better. We have a business meeting once a year to vote on the budget and the only ones who stay are the finance team who put the budget together; no one else stays nor do they care. Godly people do not want maintenance, they want to do ministry, Satan wants the church to do maintenance and not ministry.
    Business meetings can be a tool of SATAN!
    Pastor Gray

  • We are an average size church. I am just completing my 5th year as pastor. Business meetings were quarterly when i arrived.
    During the process of updating the constitution & bylaws it was decided to move to twice a year because of lack of participation.
    The bulk of the meetings are led by ministry leaders each giving a report of activities and upcoming events. Ministry is the heart beat of our meetings and they push the other agenda items like facility use, outreach, equipment, even budget issues/recommendations.
    In this regard I am a blessed servant of the Kingdom.

  • I was the youth pastor at my church for almost 8 years and have been the pastor now for over 2 years. In the last 3-4 years we have seen a successful revitalization effort. One of the things that snuck into the new constitution and bylaws was the continuation of quarterly meetings. Not my preference at all. So we keep them very informative, not many votes for approval (mainly just the budget). It has been helpful to keep people in touch with the fast changes that have occurred. We’ve done a building renovation project in the past year, some process changes with membership, etc.

    The one thing that helps the meeting experience is a meal. We typically have the Sunday service, then eat and then we have Lords Supper at the tables together. We started this when I began as pastor and as a young guy, I needed anything I could to squash the old contentious spirit that used to dominate our meetings. It’s hard to be sharp, mean and difficult after being reminded of the cross.

    So far so good. I still would like to go to a biannual or annual meeting. Since everyone has been posting numbers, we are 200+.

    Thanks for all you do for the Kingdom!

  • Harry Nelson says on

    Our church’s “business meetings” are nothing like I’ve seen anywhere else. Thom, you should really interview our Pastor, J. Josh Smith. I joined MacArthur Blvd. Baptist Church in the DFW area about a year and a half ago after I moved there to accept a position working with GuideStone. We have “semi-annual meetings”. He will sometimes refer to it as a family meeting. The agenda includes financial updates and votes, but it also includes testimonies from recent missions trips, singing from the children’s choir, other special worship music, updates on the building program, a very open discussion on potential upcoming staffing changes, etc.

    I’ve heard from Pastors (and members) that they dread these times for the potential conflict that may arise, etc. Our whole church looks forward to these times with great anticipation as a result of the fellowship and worship that lie ahead. It really is a great model that works very well.

  • Garland Honeycutt says on

    My church went from having monthly business meetings (where the congregation voted on matters ranging from launching new ministries to deciding if we should have a church clean-up day or a church Christmas program) to quarterly members’ meetings. Under this new structure, our congregation annually elects a church council (comprised of the pastor, deacons, and lay-ministry leaders) who handles administrative matters and congregational life affairs, and then reports its actions to congregation at the quarterly members’ meetings. Ultimately, our members vote on leadership, the annual budget, and church membership. This new polity and procedure has worked and continues to work effectively in our church!

  • Thanks Brother Thom, for bringing this issue to light. Everything you said was right on target and painfully accurate. I have seen things go on in business meetings (BM’s, as I refer to them) that made me ashamed to say I am a Christian. If un-churched people knew the truth of what often happens in business meetings, and many probably do, they would have ample reasons for avoiding church. In my years as a pastor, I have witnessed people nearly come to blows, I have seen shouting matches, and I have been verbally attacked myself on a number of occasions. In every case, it was about something that had no bearing whatsoever on the greater issues of God’s Kingdom. It was always about some building renovation, a group wanting to use a room in the church, my salary, or something along those lines. The stories I could tell, brother, but none of it would surprise you.

    Church business meetings are the bane of church life. They have caused more trouble, division, and strife than any other aspect of the church. Something must change if we are going to reach the next generation with the Gospel. The comments I have read are extremely helpful, insightful, and as always I feel encouraged.

    God bless you, my Brother.

  • I’m very curious if my church is the exception to the norm. In my small rural church, our weekly attendance is actually smaller than the attendance of our quarterly business meetings. And there are members who attend more business meetings than they do church services. And when these meetings happen, they are explosive. People bullying others to the point of crying, yelling at one another, name calling, storming out if a vote doesn’t go your way, attending other churches of differing denominations for a few weeks to protest decisions, etc. And this is no secret in the community. As a matter of fact, it was this sort of thing that seems to have dropped the size of the church from about 100 to 10-15 over 2 decades. This is honestly the only church I’ve experienced business meetings in so I don’t really have much to compare to. But, I am coming to the realization that after 3 years of refusal to change or submit to God, there may sadly be very little hope of survival for this church.

    After reading of several posters where x were in attendance for services and a small portion of that were there for business meetings, and none to the opposite effect, is there any correlation between having a healthy church and having a smaller percent of people making decisions? Seems like the more people who have their hands in the decision making process to me, the worse things are.

    • > In my small rural church, our weekly attendance is actually smaller than the attendance of our quarterly business meetings.

      Given the low size you cite, which I’m assuming is Sunday Morning attendence, then your experience is normal.

      Typically, Sunday Morning attendence is between 50% and 70% of the church members. At around 20 congregants on Sunday morning, business meetings have more attendees than worship services.

      >there may sadly be very little hope of survival for this church.

      With 15 on Sunday mornings, the financial future of the congregation is bleak. One, perhaps two funerals, and the church doors are permanently shuttered.

      If the church owns the building, or has a mortage on it, then it probably has less than five years, before permanently clossing its doors, regardless of any funerals.

  • Dr. Alan Mizelle says on

    I have always had difficulty with pastors who say they don’t like business meetings. A church business meeting should be entered into with a spirit of WORSHIP! I remind my congregations before every business meeting that it is an important part of worship, as much so as the singing and preaching. While I have been involved with some rather disheartening meetings, God blesses us for our worship!

  • Melvin Wilson says on

    I am a Presiding Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). My main responsibility is to hold a quarterly meeting (Quarterly Conference) with the local congregation. Our current church law requires that the Official Board of the congregation meet monthly, and the Pastor can call a Church Conference (Meeting) whenever he or she deems necessary. We also have a number of other regularly scheduled meetings that happen within our Annual Conference and Episcopal District. When you add them all together, there probably are too many meetings. I have found, however, that when a meeting is focused, fruitful and substantive, people will come. I always want people to leave the Quarterly Conference saying, “this meeting was worth me coming, and I will come back for the next one.”

  • Hal Hunter says on

    We are a SBC church of about 425 attending.

    You must first answer the question, “Why do we have meetings?” They (ought to) exist to make decisions or spread information.

    In today’s environment, there are better and more efficient ways to spread information. That’s why God invented the printing press and the internet.

    The other reason goes to basic questions of how and by whom decisions are made. Having suffered several bloodbath meetings in past years, we transitioned our decision-making model, and created new By-Laws. Today, the only decisions requiring a congregational vote are buying or selling real property, incurring debt over $25,000, ratifying the call and selection of Elders, calling or dismissing the Lead Pastor, amending the By-Laws, and adopting (not debating) the annual budget. The annual meeting is usually over in five minutes. No blood has been shed in years.

    The church is lead spiritually by Elders, served by Deacons, and legally administered by Corporate Directors. The day-to-day affairs are handled by staff, with review and oversight from the Stewardship Committee (our only committee) and Directors. The Lead Pastor hires and fires (vocational and volunteer), with advice and assistance from the Stewardship Committee.

  • We have a large church with 1400 book membership, 550 attending weekly and maybe 75 folks who attend church business meetings held annually. Having observed business meetings in our church for years–it seems that good business meetings have more to do with the acumen of the meeting chair and the content presented than any other factors. Our Pastor, E.C. Polite, is an excellent chairman and should teach meeting chairmanship skills to other pastors. He is one of the best I have seen in managing the gross negativity and malcontent behavior while actually chairing a meeting with some positive productivity and outcomes to move forward. Business meeting attendance has actually increased during his tenure at our church. He is also considering ways to incorporate more ministry related reports to put a mission focus in our business meetings. With good chairmanship and good meeting content, a business meeting can actually transform from a ‘gripe session’ to a forum where members can feel informed, energized and actually enthusiastic about where the church is, what the church has accomplished and where the church is going by the power of Christ.

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