Meetings are often the bane of a church’s life. They can be such a waste of time. Indeed, I rather like the suggestion that every committee should discuss its own dissolution once a year, and put up a case if it should continue for another twelve months! Nonetheless, some meetings are inevitable. The fact is that iron sharpens iron. The cut and thrust of debate in decision-making is vital if good decisions are to be made.
So the question arises: how can we improve our meetings? It seems to me that the key to meetings is how we structure the agendas.
In the first place, agendas need to be circulated before the meeting – giving people an opportunity to come to the meeting prepared for the subjects under discussion. In this regard, it is vital that the agenda makes clear what the actual issue is. For instance, it is not good enough simply to have ‘membership’ as an item on the agenda; rather people need to know who are wanting to join the church, and who are leaving the church! Nor is it good enough to have simply ‘church boiler’ listed as a fabric item; rather people need to know before the meeting what is wrong and, if necessary, how much it will cost to replace the boiler. Sometimes an item on the agenda needs to be expanded by the presentation of a paper detailing the issues involved. Again, the paper needs to be circulated before the meeting – and should normally not be longer than one side of A4 in length. The shorter the paper, the more likely it is to be read.
In the second place, agendas should list items for solution and decision. Items for information only are normally best dealt with by sending out an email. It is very easy to clog up a meeting by updating everybody on this matter or that. Note too that no item should be on the agenda simply for ‘discussion’ but rather for ‘solution’ – to solve an issue means that a decision has been reached which moves the issue forward. It may not be a complete ‘resolution’ of the issue – sometimes more information is required – but least progress should have been made.
In the third place, agendas within a church context should be prioritized in terms of spiritual importance. IN too many churches the top three items on the agenda of a leaders’ meeting are: i) finance; ii) fabric; and iii) correspondence. Clearly issues of maintenance have their place, but they must always be subservient to the wider goals of the church. When Jesus gave the Great Commission, he did not say ‘Keep the doors of my church open’, but rather ‘God and make disciples’ (Matt 28.19). Church agendas need to reflect the mission of the church.
In the fourth place, the order of the meeting should also reflect the fact that the early part of a meeting tends to be more lively and creative, so if an item needs mental energy, bright ideas, and clear heads, it is better to put it high up the agenda – especially if it is an evening meeting.
In the fifth place, at the end of each agenda item, it is helpful if the person leading the meeting could give a brief and clear summary of what has been agreed. This ensures that there is clarity in the decision-making. Just because one or two people may speak somewhat forcibly on an issue does not necessarily mean that their contributions reflect the consensus of the meeting. It is also helpful if everyone knows who has committed to do what, and when they have committed to have it done!
In the sixth place, there is no place for AOB. If members have an issue they wish to raise, then they need to raise it before the meeting. AOB tends to deal with trivia and almost always extend a meeting unnecessarily. This, of course, does not preclude the person leading the meeting to announce an extra agenda item at a meeting – but only if it is really urgent and unforeseen.
In the seventh place, meetings need to begin on time – and end on time. Very few meetings achieve anything of value after two hours, and an hour and a half is enough time for most purposes. In this regard it is useful to put the finishing time of a meeting on the agenda as well as the starting time! I like the suggestion that to encourage punctuality at future meetings, late arrivals should be listed in the minutes – people don’t want that sort of information about themselves published too frequently! To ensure that meetings finish on time, there is something to be said for the person chairing the meeting to have a timed agenda.
Finally, I like the suggestion that as the final agenda point everybody is asked to rate the meeting 1-10, and that anybody who rates it less than 8 explains what it would have taken for the meeting to be a 10 to them. That would certainly improve future meetings!