As congregations grow and develop, their boards also mature and their work becomes more complex. During the initial years of growth the same people tend to be part of an emerging board and everyone knows and remembers the decisions made regarding policies, ethical issues or leadership relationships. However, over time the membership of a church board changes, the policies made multiply, and the responsibilities of a church board develop. How does a chairperson help a church board to keep track of these policies, procedural choices, and leadership relationship decisions? The simple answer is a “church board manual.”
You may be blessed because a previous chairperson took the time and energy with your church board to develop such a repository of board actions, congregational statements of mission, values and vision, and written descriptions of how the board has decided to operate. Your task then becomes one of keeping this manual up-to-date, working with the board within a regular cycle to review policies and procedures to see whether they are still beneficial, need revision or perhaps even should be removed. Policies grow stale over time and need to be renewed. Implementing a regular rhythm of policy review has the added advantage of educating the entire board regarding the policies that are in place. For example, reviewing annually the policy statement regarding board roles and responsibilities or a board member code of conduct keeps such fundamental concepts within the operating vision of the board members throughout the year.
However, more likely your board does not possess such a manual and as chairperson you have a difficult decision to make. Should you make this one of your priorities to assist your board in its development this year? You know that policies and procedures have multiplied to the point that they are slipping “off the table” as it were and board members are beginning to “reinvent the wheel” because they have forgotten what policies are actually on the books. You as chairperson struggle to keep abreast of all the details and a board manual will enable you to serve the board more effectively as the board faces new decisions. It is probably time and an important necessity to bite the bullet and make it priority for your work over the next twelve months.
As you begin you should consider the following issues:
1. What should it contain? — We will consider this question in greater detail in article #194 (Part II).
2. How public will this document be? –I think the board should develop this manual in such a way that any member of the congregation should be able to access it. This contributes to the “transparency” of board operations.
3. What should be the organizing principles that guide its development? — We will consider this question also in article #194.
4. Where will you deposit once it is completed? — I would strongly urge you to develop it as a digital document and post it in a password protected section of your church website. This will allow board members to access it as they have need. It also makes it easy to keep it up-dated.
5. How will your board keep it up-to-date? — As I suggested earlier, a regular rhythm of policy and procedure reviews should be implemented once the manual is completed. This can be done easily by placing a “date by which” a review should be conducted at the end of each policy or procedural description.
Finally, you should establish by motion who is able to change the board manual and through what process. In my view the board as a whole owns the manual and should through its normal operational processes have the authority to change it. However, certain policies within it, such as the congregation’s bylaws, will require the approval of the congregation before any changes become official.