You may already know about these ideas and even be attempting to implement them. However, it is my experience that many board leaders long for fresh ideas to help them enhance church board operations. So here are five that might assist you.
1. Reports to the Church Board. Reports are a fact of board life. They are a primary means by which board members assess compliance with policy, strategy and mission. However, reporting in a board meeting eats up an incredible amount of time, unless it is controlled rigorously. Reports are important because they reveal actions done in the past. However, if the focus of a board’s responsibility is upon where the agency is going, i.e. the future, then spending inordinate amounts of time receiving reports does not advance the mission. By all means have board members receive written reports at least a week in advance of the meeting. Require board members to read them and address questions to the lead pastor for clarification prior to the meeting. However, restrict verbal reporting to the essentials and no more than ten minutes per report. This is the only way to secure the board’s time for considering decisions related to the next steps the agency must be taking.
2. Effective, timely minutes. The person who takes pleasure in recording minutes is rare indeed. If you have such a person among your board members, you are blessed. However, this function makes one of the most important contributions to good board operations, a contribution that often goes unrecognized. As chair you know how helpful good, timely minutes are for your leadership within the board. If you need to train someone to do it well, then make sure that training is made available. Several key things to bear in mind about minutes:
- they need to be circulated within a week of the meeting so that those responsible for action items know how to fulfill such responsibilities.
- they should focus on an accurate record of motions made and action items stipulated, indicating who is responsible for each. It is important that before minutes are approved the board members have read them and assured themselves of accuracy.
- they should record who was in attendance at each meeting.
- once the minutes are approved a copy signed by the chair should be deposited in a safe place. The minutes express the voice of the board and have significant legal importance. Electronic repositories are fine, so long as they are not tied to one person’s computer and vulnerable to data loss.
3. Agenda preparation and management. The agenda is perhaps the most important tool that the chair and the board have to guide their operations. Time taken to construct an effective agenda pays significant dividends. Make sure the key items have priority of place in the agenda. The management of the agenda is equally important and this is the chair’s responsibility on behalf of the board. The board owns the agenda and delegates to the chair its effective management. It is helpful to allocate time limits to discussion about every item on the agenda. This signals to the board the need to be focused in discussion. It also gives a natural point for the chair to ask the board whether they are able to come to decision. If more time is needed, then the board must decide when and how this will occur. I think the chair should be rigorous on behalf of the board in resisting attempts to parachute items into an agenda that already is circulated. There should be a clear process by which board members can ask for items to be included in the agenda and this should be adhered to.
4. Managing discussions about issues tangential to the agenda. Inevitably in the course of discussions other issues will emerge which while important in themselves are tangential to the matter at hand. The chair, again on behalf of the board, has to exercise careful but firm management of the meeting when such tangents threaten to divert the board from achieving a decision about the matter on the agenda. If the board thinks it is an important matter, then reserve it for future discussion. However, sometimes tangents become a means for derailing appropriate board decision-making. In discussions about critical issues make sure every board member speaks and try your best to ensure that the board has all the necessary information to make a wise decision. A key to good decision-making is the provision in advance of the board meeting of decision briefs that outline the nature of the issue and the decision desired, as well as pros and cons related to this proposal.
5. Following up on action items. One of the more challenging aspects of chairing a board is tracking the implementation of decisions. It is important that when the board makes a decision, that incorporated within it are these factors:
- who is responsible to implement the decision?
- what timelines are to be followed for implementation and reporting?
- what are the indicators that implementation is successful and when will the board evaluate the success of the implementation?
- what will be the cycle of reports related to implementation over time, i.e. once every year or every three years or monthly?
If these things are not clear in the motion or board minutes then as chair you are in a vulnerable position. You have no authority from the board to require reports, etc. Further, the board loses control of its decision.
These various aspects of board management, if attended to consistently, will raise the level of board effectiveness, help to control unruly board members, and require good accountability from board members and the lead pastor.