Kill Committees

Derek Penwell, Disciples of Christ, writing at the DMergent blog reflects on church organization and whether we need to change the way we do the “business” of church:

In a post-World War II era, when the country was heavily invested in manufacturing as the life-blood of the economy the functional church model–based on the industrial organizational model, which privilege efficiency and production–appeared perfectly natural … almost like the universe itself was organized that way. So, when churches started to have a “board of directors” that oversaw the work of “departments” and “committees,” modeled after the indisputable success of Ford and GM, it seemed to make good “business sense.” In fact, early visionaries of this model of church organization went so far as to understand the church’s work to be production, not of durable or household goods, but of “spiritual” goods.

…the culture, which during the mid-twentieth century was friendly to the church, has since fallen out of love with it. People increasingly quit coming—especially young people. The precipitous decline in church membership has left most churches with only fond (but distant) memories of the halcyon days. Fewer members in this case mean a lack of people to populate the numerous departments, boards, and committees that we’ve grown to feel are necessary to the existence and operation of any self-respecting church. Churches have fewer people, but the same number of bureaucratic spots to fill; and the inability to fill them causes not only feelings of anxiety (“We have to have the committees staffed, because …”), but also feelings of inadequacy (“Surely all the other church have fully staffed committees.”).

Penwell suggests:

The church needs to shed its attachment to any method of organization that drains energy rather than amplifies it.

If you spend more time talking about the failure of the organization than actually doing something, you’re going backward. Do the hard work necessary to change and move on.

If you spend too much time researching, thinking that there’s a perfect system other people are using that you’re missing out on, you’re stuck. There are no perfect systems. The only system you need is the system that helps you get ministry done.

If your system of organization makes you guarantee an initiative will work before it gives you permission, you’re always going to be playing catch-up. There are ten failures for every success. So, the more success you seek, the more you’re going to have to learn to live with failure.

If you need total agreement before making a decision, you’re guaranteeing mediocrity. Programming, organizing, ministering for the lowest common denominator of agreement will never excite anyone for long.

If nobody wants to do it, don’t do it. Quit wasting time trying to gin up the enthusiasm to do ministry nobody cares enough to do. (Possible objection: “Some things have to get done, even if nobody wants to do them–like say … worship and paying the bills.” I’ll stipulate that some things have to get done for the church to continue in its present form. But if there isn’t anyone who can muster the enthusiasm to do those things, it’s time to start thinking about changing forms or closing the doors anyway. I’ll defend the assertion that if nobody wants to do it–VBS, Women’s Circle, etc.–there’s not much point in wasting time and energy trying to manufacture the passion.)

The church needs to re-think what work meetings are supposed to accomplish.

Meetings and brainstorming are two different things. Meetings are about decisions. Brainstorming is about ideas. Both are necessary, but many church meetings toggle between the two as if they were the same thing. They’re not; and when you mix the two, you introduce confusion and drift–which keeps people from wanting to come back.

If you’ve scheduled a meeting, make the decisions necessary, then figure out how to support those decisions. If you’ve scheduled a brainstorming session, throw it open to all ideas. Then, after everyone has had a chance to reflect on the options, reconvene at a later time in a meeting to make decisions. Don’t try to do both at the same time.

Inasmuch as possible, try to do work on-line. There doesn’t have to be a meeting to decide who’s going to bring the congealed salad to the potluck. Email, Twitter, Facebook are great tools for avoiding frivolous meetings.

Produce and distribute an agenda. It shows you’ve thought beforehand about the things you’ve asked people to gather to decide. It communicates that you take your meeting seriously, and you want everyone else to take it seriously also.

Stick to the agenda. If there are important items that come up that aren’t on the agenda, you should seriously consider calling another meeting to address them. Having an agenda provides a tangible instrument that everyone can refer back to, in order to hold each other accountable for keeping to the task at hand.

Announce the length of the meeting from the beginning, then honor that time commitment. It shows that you value everyone’s time. Habitually going long in meetings communicates a belief that whatever thing you’ve called people together for is more important than anything else they could be doing with their lives.

As much as possible, schedule meetings to address decisions that need to be made, not because the calendar says it’s time to meet. Meeting for the sake of meeting is a sure recipe for losing young leaders (and old too, for that matter).

Has your congregation changed its way of doing business?

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