I’m a big believer in planning. But I’m not a fan of meetings.
Yet planning requires meetings. So what’s the answer?
We can do more effective planning by having more effective meetings.
In fact, when the meetings are more effective, we can usually have fewer of them. That’s what I call a win-win.
Planning Is Different In the Small Church
There’s been a lot written about effective planning meetings from a big church perspective. But very little has been written with the challenges of small churches in mind.
For instance, most church planning advice assumes that everyone will have no problem showing up, because they have a paid staff.
That’s not the case in a small church. In many situations everyone is unpaid, including the pastor, making even the most basic assumptions moot.
Since planning meetings are harder to do in a small church, it’s even more important to make them matter. That’s why, when our church has planning meetings, I make sure to meet these 12 criteria.
Meetings must be:
Whether your meetings are weekly or monthly, when people know that the meeting will always be on such-and-such a day, they can plan further in advance. It’s very helpful to be the first thing on the calendar.
(For more info on long-term planning, check out The 3-2-1 System for Better Annual Small Church Planning.)
The difference between teams and committees is that committees talk about things, while teams do things. Some committees may be necessary for your church’s polity, or for legal reasons. But, other than those, I recommend having task-oriented teams, not committees.
3. About Solutions, Not Problems
Effective leaders keep meetings from descending into gripe sessions. The way to do that, when working on problems, is to constantly guide the conversation towards answers. And never allow it to be about blame.
And while we’re at it, I highly recommend ditching the popular ‘don’t raise a problem unless you have a solution’ rule. That’s often why a lot of important issues never get raised. Besides, if someone already has a solution, why are we having the meeting?
Unless the church is in emergency mode, most well-planned meetings should last an hour or less. People who want to do things won’t sit for long meetings, and the people who love long meetings aren’t the ones who are doing things.
If you’re wondering how to keep meetings short, here’s rule #1. Have an agenda and stick with it. Sure, there are always last-minute additions that come up. But they should be the exception, not the rule. All major subjects should be on the agenda in advance.
Never leave one meeting without confirming the date for the next meeting. Do it while everyone is in the room. It will be almost impossible to do later.
If they stop working, stop having them. The value and effectiveness of every ministry planning team should be assessed regularly.
Set team meetings at a time that works for the greatest number of team members.
In our church, that often means following our Sunday services, since they’re already in the building. Or on the nights when we have our children’s programs, so parents don’t need to get a sitter.
Mission-drift is a constant danger. If we’re not careful, getting the meeting done becomes a greater priority than accomplishing the mission.
The leader’s primary job is to keep the team focused on why we’re meeting in the first place.
We’re all on the same team. When meetings descend into bickering over who gets a bigger part of the budget, the building or the schedule, planning is the least of the church’s problem.
Keeping the mission front-and-center (see #9) is the best way to keep collaboration from becoming competition.
Work to keep an atmosphere of positivity in the room. In addition to solving problems, take specific time in every meeting to ask ‘what’s going well?’ Then celebrate that together.
12. Next-Step Oriented
Team members should leave with more answers and help than when they arrived. They should know what they’re expected to do next, what help is available and what’s needed from them for the next meeting.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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