It is one thing to understand and agree with the value of developing a Church Board Policy Manual, but quite another actually to produce it. Fredric Laughlin and Robert Andringa, Good Governance for Nonprofits: Developing Principle and Policies for an Effective Board, provide a step-by-step process which a church board can use. However, there are some wrinkles that a church board chair should be aware of as a church board decides to develop such a policy manual.
Laughlin and Andringa suggest that a Nonprofit Board Policy Manual should contain five sections (see page 54ff. for more details):
Part 1: Introduction and Administration
Part 2: Organization Essentials
Part 3: Board Structure and Process
Part 4: Board-CEO/Staff Relationship
Part 5: Executive Parameters.
This outline agrees substantially with that proposed by John Carver, except for Part 1.
One modification I would suggest for a Church Board Policy Manual is that some section be included in Part 1 that explains briefly the relationship between governance and leadership within a congregation. This question often generates debate and some unease because some church board members do not see their primary spiritual leadership expressed in governance. Rather they perceive spiritual leadership as focused upon the spiritual tone and condition of the congregation. Governance in their view has to do with the mechanics of organizational behaviour and operation — not a spiritual function in their opinion. So this question needs to be sorted carefully and a paragraph or two placed within Part 1 that explains how the church board in this particular congregation understands the relationship between spiritual leadership and governance. A similar kind of description may also be helpful in Part 4 pertaining the relationship between pastoral staff as spiritual leaders and the role of a church board in the spiritual leadership of the congregation.
Laughlin and Andringa indicate that Part 1 should include a section that explains the benefits of preparing the manual and a section that commits the nonprofit board to polices that are consistent with laws, constitution, and bylaws. Here I would add that the policies should be consistent with biblical values as well. They also recommend that section be included that declares all previous policies superseded by the policies in this manual, once it is approved by the board. Included as well should be a section that describes clearly how policies are changed. Laughlin and Andringa emphasize that changes should be clearly dated and once approved should be inserted immediately into the manual to keep it up-to-date. They suggest as well that the responsibility for formulating, deciding, implementing and monitoring policy be expressed clearly. It is also helpful to define clearly which board officer is responsible for “maintenance of policies.” I think the issue of continual updating of the manual once it is established remains a constant challenge, particularly for church boards. It might be advisable for the board to delegate responsibility to the lead pastor for assisting the board in this matter.
From the perspective of a church board chair I perceive two factors that deserve special attention in the process of developing a Board Policy Manual. First, there is the tendency to strive for perfection in the first iteration of the manual. This usually means that the process takes too long and the board members lose interest or begin to doubt the value of the time and effort being devoted to the process. I think that the average church board chair will want to keep close tabs on the timeline and perhaps ensure that he or she is part of the team developing a draft for the board’s consideration. I think it is important, once the process is initiated, to strive to have a draft in place within six months. The board can adopt it provisionally for the next six months and then discuss possible modifications.
Second, the process itself will unearth areas of board governance that the board itself has not considered or which currently operate based upon unspoken assumptions about which the board members will not have consensus. The process of determining what should be placed within a Board Policy Manual can be quite educational for a church board. As the board members discern the scope of their governance responsibilities, this will stimulate discussion and hopefully also generate enthusiasm for advancing the congregation’s mission. The board members should also gain confidence that the job of governance is doable. As well, when areas of board work previously overlooked, ignored, or unknown do surface, it provides a great opportunity for board members to hone their understanding of their responsibilities and learn to work together more concertedly.