Your church board manual becomes a repository of operational procedures, policies and bylaws, as well as key statements of mission, vision, values and ends, which guide the board members collectively in their work. It is a great resource for orienting new board members and a wonderful reference tool to assist current board members keep attuned with the board’s ethos.
Too often board members remember that some policy exists, but not the details. However, no one has the policy to hand and so decisions are made presuming board members have recollected the policy correctly. Having a church board manual available to the board members online dispenses with such guesswork. It avoids collective amnesia.
A side benefit of developing this resource is that it brings additional discipline to the board’s work. Members feel that their meetings flow in an orderly way and decisions become cumulative in their impact, rather than haphazard. Further, a manual prevents the board from wasting time developing policies that the board has already created, but which get overlooked for some reason.
What should your church board manual contain? As indicated in the initial sentence, your church board manual should include everything that the board needs to guide its work and so fulfill its stewardship trust on behalf of the congregation. Brief sections about the history of the congregation, denominational affiliations, and information about the church’s address, phone numbers, website and general congregational annual calendar are helpful for board members. Perhaps as well a statement of how the board understands its role in the life of the congregation would be helpful for board members.
If the board’s primary task is to advance the mission, then the manual needs to include all elements that express and define that mission. This would include the mission statement, the values of the congregation and board, the statement of faith, the congregation’s vision, the ends statements the define how the board knows the vision is being accomplished, and risk management guidelines. The congregational bylaws might be placed in this section or at least included as an appendix.
Secondly, the manual should contain all of those policies that define how the board works with the lead pastor (executive limitation policies in Carver’s world). This would include his position description, performance evaluation process, hiring and dismissal policies, professional development policy, etc.
In the third place should come those policies that define internal board operations, i.e. how the board determines to conduct its business. This would include the role of its various officers and their appointment, board role and responsibilities, board code of conduct, policy re conflict of interest, decision process, confidentiality issues (e.g. defining executive sessions), description of board committees, strategic planning document, financial policies, policy re directors’ and officers’ insurance, program evaluation, rhythm of meetings and evaluations, etc.
A fourth section would include general policies that relate to congregational life and employee relations. This would include position papers on matters such as member restoration, gift acceptance policy, worship practices, harassment, privacy, use of IT equipment by employees, employee manual, facility rental, approval of short-term mission trips, investment policy, etc.
What organizational principles should guide its development? There are no hard and fast rules for this, in my opinion. You probably want to begin with information that orients a person to the specific context of your ministry so that a board member understands some history, the community setting, and the primary mission and vision that your congregation is seeking to accomplish. I think it is useful to focus on the key elements that define board operations secondly. This would include the board’s relationship with the lead pastor, as well as the board’s role and chosen means of decision-making and working together. Beyond that the structure is up to you and your board. If you follow Carver’s mode of board operations, then his system has its own structure which will define the board manual by and large.
Once it is completed, who is responsible to maintain it on behalf of the board? I think this should be a responsibility shared by the board chair and the lead pastor, with the lead pastor’s administrative assistant providing the logistical support. The board chair as a volunteer usually has little administrative support to assist in fulfilling the role and is dependent upon the office of the lead pastor to accomplish board chair work.
By the way, it is useful in the manual to indicate the date when a policy was approved and the projected date for its review. This will enable you to develop a three or four year schedule for reviewing all of the policies and keeping them in the mind of board members, as well as updated.
An easily accessible resource to use is “A Guide to Developing your Board Handbook” by Tracy Shier. This is available at the website of www.intrust.org. under the tab “online resources.”