The church board chairperson acts as a catalyst and instigator, bringing new ideas for improving board operations to the attention of the board members. Every idea may not be adopted, but the chair will not let the board get complacent with its current level of operational effectiveness. Boards can always improve and become better at their ministry leadership. With this mindset they provide an important example to the staff and congregation demonstrating the essence of worshipful work that honours God.
One of the ways that a chairperson provides this kind of leadership is through a process of continual review of key aspects of church board life, i.e. how agendas are structured, how the annual retreat is organized, the way that reports and proposals come to the board, how the board measures and enhances the spiritual health of the congregation, annual review of the board’s work, how the board participates in strategic planning, processes for program assessment, implementing risk management, etc.
Annually effective boards will host an orientation process for new board members. Perhaps this is the year you as chair should review the current orientation process and see how it might be improved. You might begin by asking informally new board members what their take on their orientation to the board is. How helpful was it? What did they appreciate about it? What did they wish it had covered but didn’t? They will probably share some helpful insights.
Another question to consider is whether it would be helpful to have the entire board participate in part of the orientation process, particularly those segments that deal with board members’ roles and responsibilities, the code of conduct, and decision-making processes. Sometimes board members lose their focus after several years of service and it is helpful to have everyone thinking and reflecting together about these things. It will contribute to board coherence and can be useful in shaping the culture of the board.
So you might consider dividing the orientation process into two sessions. The first session would only include the new board members. Your agenda in this session will be to discuss how board agendas work, how a board member gets an item onto the agenda, what your expectations of board members will be, your role as chairperson, where the board fits into the governance structure of the congregation, reviewing key policies, how the board gets its work done, including the function of board committees, updating them regarding current board business, talking about risk management, encouraging them in their spiritual life as a board member, etc.
At the first regular session of the church board meeting when the new members are present, schedule a thirty – sixty minute orientation for the entire board in which you review the board role and responsibilities, the code of conduct, processes of decision-making and the role of the chair. Give some window of opportunity for experienced board members to share their insights.
As you review and revamp the process for board orientation, other creative innovations will emerge. Experiment and find the best ways for your board to improve their spiritual and operational effectiveness.