The ability of a non-profit church board to ensure that all the activities engaged by the staff and volunteers are adding “value” to the community is a most daunting and often frustrating task. The chairperson works diligently to ensure good risk management occurs, sound decisions are made, and the necessary staff and financial evaluations are completed, as well as attends to the spiritual life of the board. However, most of this work is “compliance” work, i.e. ensuring that policies are being followed and implemented in accordance with the congregation’s values and vision. When and how does a church board act to “create value,” i.e. build the value of the congregation’s resources (people, facilities, expertise, products) and in this way create value for the owner? Theologically speaking we would put this in terms of “adding glory to God” and “developing a healthy congregation.”
Probably an important part of this question is what “creates value” from God’s perspective and how do we pursue such value intentionally and worshipfully as a church board? I would suggest the following might be some of the critical things that would be included:
1. Developing and nurturing a healthy congregation — having a clear sense of what defines a healthy congregation.
2. Enabling the influence of the Good News to penetrate the local community in positive ways.
3. Leading as a church board in ways that demonstrate and model integrity, ‘agape-love’, and commitment to Jesus Christ, enhancing the reputation of the faith community.
4. Ensuring that all that can be done is being done to enable the growth of the faith community within the mission, values and vision of the congregation.
When people begin to apply Carver’s model of governance, they sometimes assume that the division between governance and management means that once broad policies are in place that the board has nothing to say about strategic or operational plans. Those become the domains of the Lead Pastor/CEO. All the board is interested in knowing is whether the “ends policies” are being met in accord with the “CEO Limitations policies.” Personally, I think this is a misreading of Carver’s intent. If a church board is using Carver’s model, to ensure that the ends policies are being achieved this board will attend to strategic planning and perhaps in some cases operational plans. Otherwise their ability to exercise transformative governance will be limited.
In other contexts where no specific governance model is being followed, church boards in my experience tend to follow the lead of the Lead Pastor. When a new initiative is proposed, most likely it will be approved. However, it is the rare church board that will delve into the details of how such an initiative truly adds value to the life and goals of the congregation. Devoting time in an already bulging agenda to discerning such questions becomes a fierce struggle. It is easier to “trust” the wisdom of the Lead Pastor and go with the flow, as they say. This means that most of the responsibility for “adding value” to the life and vision of the congregation falls upon the shoulders of the Lead Pastor. And if board members do decide to take some responsibility for ensuring that value creation is occurring, this often can be interpreted as interference or lack of trust in the administration.
How does the exercise of good chairmanship enable a church board to give appropriate attention to “value creation” in its work as a board?
1. Perhaps as a first step the chair should engage some conversation with the board members about the role and responsibility of the board in creating value for the “owner” through the life and work of the congregation. Defining what “value” means and discerning ways of measuring increase in value would be important steps forward. As well, the board needs to have a clear sense of who the “owner” is. Ultimately in the case of the congregation it will be God, who is the owner in the more immediate sense and what responsibility does the church board have to create value for those owners? With some definition and understanding supported by the whole board, the chair has a basis for developing appropriate agendas.
2. Another positive action would be to require all new proposals to include a brief paragraph indicating ways in which the implementation of this new program would add value to the life and health of the congregation. Some means of measuring that achievement of that value should also be proposed. This reminds the board that in the evaluation of all proposes the question of value creation remains a significant issue. Within church circles we are good at using the theological jargon, i.e. talking about the glory of God, but are challenged to discern in real life terms how exactly the activities and operations of our congregations are enhancing God’s reputation.
3. Church boards talk frequently about contributing to the health of the congregation. All of their board work has this outcome. However, has your church board defined what church health looks like for your congregation? Does your board have measures by which it discerns whether the health is improving or decreasing? As some say, “what isn’t measured doesn’t get done.” Are these indicators being monitored by the board regularly through accurate reporting by the Lead Pastor?
4. At some point in the annual cycle of the board meetings there should be significant opportunity for the board members to receive and evaluate a strategic ministry plan. They should ensure that such plans are indeed adding value to the life of the congregation.