[In all case studies the names and incidents are fictional and have no connection with any specific persons, board or congregation.]
Jake had served on the board of First Baptist Church for twenty years. Even though he was 67 years old, he still enjoyed the stimulus that the board meetings provided. He loved his church. At this point the seven other members of the church board were relative new comers, none serving for more than ten years. They all kidded Jake and called him the “old man of the board.” He didn’t mind.
Changes were happening in the church. In the last five years new growth was occurring because a large housing development was emerging near the church and the township was forecasting up to 10,000 new people would be moving into that area in the next few years. But of course growth brings change. Jake was excited about this. He had known the lean years of slow growth and even decline and the hardships it brought to the congregation.
The annual board retreat was happening in the next few days and the agenda held promise of vigorous and visionary discussion. Jake was praying that God would guide the new board chair to lead the meetings well. He anticipated that his wisdom would be needed from time to time to keep things in good alignment. One of the proposals was to add a second morning service to cope with the congregational growth.
Twelve years previous the church had experienced a similar growth spurt. Jake remembered that the board recommended that a second service be planned and implemented. It was done, but instead of generating more momentum and growth, the opposite occurred. Attendance began dropping and discontent with the congregation swelled. Finally the board decided to return to the single service format. The crisis passed. As a result of that experience that board passed a new policy. If God were to bless the church with similar growth in the future, then the board was committed to planting a new congregation rather than starting a second service. Jake remembered that policy motion. He assumed others would know it as well and this agenda raised a bit of concern for him.
It was late Saturday morning and the church board retreat was progressing well. The chair felt everybody was working well together and it looked like the next agenda item — the proposal to initiate a second service — could be dealt with in the thirty minutes before lunch. The lead pastor who had just completed his seventh year of ministry with the church introduced the proposal, explained why a second service seemed to be the wisest course to follow and offered solid plans to deal with the logistical issues its implementation would create. Several other board members spoke in favour and within ten minutes the recommendation had been moved and seconded. Jake was not sure what to do. Did a policy motion passed by this church board twelve years ago have any relevance? Should it just be ignored and forgotten? But Jake felt he had a duty to raise the issue and so he spoke up.
The other board members could hardly believe what they were hearing. No one had ever heard of this policy motion before. The board secretary was not even sure whether minutes of those board meetings still survived! The only evidence available at the board retreat was Jake’s memory. Soon the rationalizations began. Some thought that a board policy motion made so many years ago was not binding on the present board. Others questioned whether in fact such a policy motion existed and wanted to press ahead. The lead pastor wondered out loud whether Jake was just being obstructionist because he did not agree with a second service.
The retreat hostess just then announced that lunch was ready to be served. So the chair called a recess and asked the pastor to offer a prayer of thanks for the meal. The chair was not all sure what he was going to suggest as a direction when the board convened after lunch.
What guidance do you think the chairperson might provide to the board at this point?
1. Given that the content of the current motion did not require immediate implementation, the chairperson could recommend to the board that the motion be tabled until the secretary and chair had opportunity to do some research. They would seek to locate the board minutes from the board meeting twelve years ago and discern whether in fact the board had made such a policy motion. However, because this would be a board policy, the present board would have the authority to change the policy, should they so choose. Now if the board knew that a significant number of people in the congregation would remember this prior situation, then they would be wise to communicate with the congregation their decision and the rationale for the decision at the next congregational meeting to make sure all understood the direction being taken. This would be information for the congregation, not a matter of seeking their approval.
2. This case study indicates why it is important that board records be preserved, particularly the motions made by the board. These documents represent the decisions of the board and are the only official voice of the board. It is wise practice for policy motions to be collected together so that the board and its leaders have ready access to the policy decisions that the board has made. Given the ease with which such collections can be made using Excel or other computer programs, it is just a matter of discipline to ensure that this is done. Perhaps this situation served as a wake up call to the chairperson to make sure that the board’s records were in good order.
3. How do church board chairpersons (and lead pastors) inform and educate themselves as to actions of the board taken prior to their term as board leader (or lead pastor)? Often a chairperson will be someone who has served several terms as a board member and will have a fairly good idea of recent board actions. However, the only way to develop good understanding is to read prior board minutes. It does not take that long. This will also give the chair a good idea of what board records exist in the church. If deficiencies are found in the records, then action might be taken to remedy the situation. Board minutes, once approved by the board, should be signed by the board chair and an official copy should be kept in a safe place as part of the official board records. Again, given computerization, an electronic file of such records can easily be created and copies of old minutes scanned into the database.