This weekend (January 2015) I am going to enjoy another annual church board retreat. I am not leading it this time and so I will be able to interact and reflect as a participant. In my view the annual church board retreat is a critical part of the board chair’s toolkit. This is the one occasion in the year where the board members can concentrate on building relationships, praying together, discerning God’s direction regarding key issues, and educating themselves about their role as the key spiritual leadership team in the congregation. It allows the board chair to provide an enhanced and concentrated level of leadership and direction.
The board chair should begin thinking, praying and planning for the board retreat at least three months in advance. You might need to begin earlier in order secure a good venue for the retreat and ensure that the accommodations and hospitality will be more than adequate. You do not want the venue to detract from the goals you want to accomplish through the retreat time. There is rustic and then there’s really rustic! What is important is that the retreat be scheduled at a place somewhat removed from daily work of the board members. They need space to focus themselves spiritually for the work that the retreat will require. Also make sure that the retreat centre can provide good video-projection equipment and if necessary internet access. You do not want presentations to be marred and hampered by lack of equipment or poorly functioning tools. Make sure the meals will be great and the snacks abundant.
Fairly early in the process have a conversation with the lead pastor and collaborate on establishing the goals for the board retreat. Two or three are probably adequate. Share these with the board members so that they grasp how crucial this time will be and mobilize them to pray for the retreat. When you develop the schedule, included times for prayer, worship and informal interaction. Board members will need a bit of time to unwind and get comfortable with each other. The times when board members will have the greatest energy and focus will be Friday evening and Saturday morning, so schedule the most important issues for those periods.
Try to arrange for other board members and the lead pastor to lead the various discussions. This will give you time to focus on helping the board members achieve consensus. It will enable you to gauge when they are ready to make decisions. If the discussions are about complex matters, then try to make sure materials are circulated at least a week in advance and give the board members time to read and reflect upon the matter. If you know that an issue will generate controversy and perhaps some heated exchanges, then think strategically how you might defuse the tension, encourage deep listening and honest dialogue, but enable the board to come to consensus. For example, you might schedule a prayer walk or a team-building exercise or some other diversion that has purpose, but enables board members to centre themselves in the pursuit of the mission and God’s purposes.
You will cover a lot of ground in the course of ten hours of intensive discussion. Many “rabbit trails” will be explored and these will give you some clues to the issues in congregational life about which board members have concern. So make sure that your board secretary takes good minutes and keeps track of these things. All important decisions should be appropriately minuted so that you can follow them up at subsequent meetings. This is one of the great challenges with board retreats — ensuring that the things decided actually get implemented during the coming year. Be committed to this because lack of progress will affect board member engagement at the next annual board retreat.
When the annual church board retreat works well, it will set the tone for board member commitment and energetic engagement for the remainder of the year. So plan the event well, pray hard, and expect the Holy Spirit to do some amazing things.