Thursday, July 6, 2017

3 Common Decision-Making Mistakes Church Boards Make

Last week I was one of a handful of pastors that received an invite to a day-long Church Board
training session.  Since then I've been reflecting on a few common blunders church boards make in decision-making.  Here they are.

Mistake #1.   Decisions are made by the wrong people.

When people get elected or appointed to a Church Board they're they usually want to make things happen in their church and community.  Unfortunately, that zeal can result in board members' bringing forward items for discussion and decision-making that aren't the jurisdiction of the Board.  Boards can overstep in a few ways: they can overstep the authority of staff members by making decisions about ministry logistics or preaching themes.  Boards can overstep their denomination by hiring a pastor that hasn't been screened or credentialed.  Boards can even overstep the membership of their church by making major budgetary changes or deciding to acquire buildings or land without the consent of the congregation.

Each church functions a bit differently and Boards have varying degrees of authority.  However, a good rule of thumb when sitting on a church board is to ask these questions: "are we the right people to be making this decision?  Have the right people addressed this (first)?"  If the answer is no then drop it.  If the answer is yes, then you're ready to move on to mistake #2.

Mistake #2.  Decisions are made in the wrong place.

There's only one 'right place' board decisions should be made: at the board table during a duly called meeting of the board.  Unfortunately, that's not always the case.  Sometimes church board members like to use the phone, e-mail, their kitchen table, or the church parking lot to share their thoughts on a particular decision that needs to be made or, to figure out how to reverse a decision that's just been made at the duly called board meeting!!!  However, like it or not, the only acceptable place for a church board decision to be made is during the board meeting.  The problem with making decisions and having vigorous discussion anywhere else is that other board members with perspective and insight may be left out.  Not only is it unwise, it's a slight to the members of the church that appointed each one of the board members as their representatives.

So, the next time you find yourself discussing important church board decisions outside the duly called board meeting, ask this question to your fellow discussion partners: "should we be discussing this decision right now?"  If the answer is no, then drop it and ask the chairperson of the board to add the item to the next agenda.  Then, watch out for mistake #3.  

Mistake #3.  Decisions made at the wrong time.

I've been to too many Church Board meetings where an item is added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.  Then, when it's time to discuss the item, the board member that added it to the agenda addresses it and quickly calls for a decision.  Sometimes there are written materials to support it but other times there are none.  If it's a small item, it's not a big deal.  But if it's something important, whatever you do, avoid the decision.  Save yourself and your fellow board members endless grief and make a motion to table it until the next meeting.  I've seen church boards move too quickly on things that sound good in the moment but over time burns like suicide wings the morning after.  I've seen 'good' policy decisions made that end up shackling staff members to needless methodology and I've seen hasty appointments that position people in places of authority who 'serve' to undermine others.

So, avoid this costly mistake by making it routine to have the agenda and supporting documentation available in advance of meetings.  3 to 5 days before the meeting is ideal.  If there's an important decision to be make then make sure there's clear documentation in the hands of board members before the meeting.  It gives them time to read, think, pray, and even ask for feedback from people, before they sit at the Board table.  And, if someone brings something new to add to the agenda (with our without documentation)... and the discussion starts going... and going... and going... Take a moment, sit back, and ask this question to your fellow board members: "would it be alright if we table this until our next meeting?  I'd like some time to think, pray, and reflect so that I have good and helpful questions and comments to contribute to this discussion."  You'll likely get someone to happily second that motion.  Then watch.  Don't be surprised if board members thank you and the whole Church Board will make much better decisions in future meetings.

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