In this blog article I tackle a very serious question, but one that only infrequently in my experience receives focused attention on the part of board members, board chairs and lead pastors. Several factors contribute to this:
- Board leaders and members do not know what an engaged, effective church board looks like. They only have their personal experience to use as a basis for comparison and analysis, a resource that is too limiting.
- Lead pastors often do not take seriously the potential that an engaged, effective board brings to mission advancement and vision fulfillment. More often than not they see the board as a limiting their freedom to lead or do what they want to do, believing they already know what should happen.
- Congregational leaders may be suspicious of engaged, effective boards, because they diminish their ability to influence decisions.
Despite these significant obstacles, healthy congregations usually develop when church boards are engaged and effective. Some church growth can occur with a strong leader, but often this is short-lived because leaders change and the board has not been trained to step up and provide strategic leadership for the congregation.
You may not agree with my analysis, but I think by and large it is a fairly accurate portrayal of church board reality. This is not to gainsay or put down the desire board members have and efforts people make to improve board operations.
So what defines an engaged, effective church board and how do board leaders, board members, and lead pastors contribute to its development? Let me offer a few ideas in the next several blog articles.
First, let me offer what I regard as the characteristics of an engaged, effective church board:
- Such a board is always focused on advancing the mission, regardless of personal interests. It continually asks whether outcomes are being met, what evidence supports this, and how these outcomes demonstrate mission advancement. Decisions in the end come down to this key question — will this action by the board advance the mission significantly and better than another option?
- Such a board makes time for prayer and worship consistently in its agenda as seeks divine guidance.
- Such a board is consistently concerned with hiring effective leaders and looking after their welfare. This is particularly the case with its primary employee, the lead pastor. It provides them with defined scope for responsible action, but always requires accountability. Performance evaluation is based on effectiveness in achieving stated outcomes that advance the mission. It requires staff to create ministry plans that tie directly to the outcomes and mission.
- Such a board knows how to communicate well at all levels and gives attention to building and improving this capacity.
- Such a board discerns risk, manages it well, and is not afraid act even when risk is significant.
- Such a board keeps kingdom values central and acts with integrity, transparency, and confidentiality. In this it models spiritual maturity within the congregation.
- Such a board accumulates and conserves resources necessary to advance the mission.
- Such a board develops effective policies for itself, for managing staff relations, for defining vision and outcomes. It keeps renewing such policies on a timely basis.
- Such a board attends to its own operations, evaluating them consistently, and implementing changes that will improve its decision-making capacity and strategic leadership.
In this article I want to focus on the role of the board chair in developing an engaged, effective church board. In fact I would say that the key responsibility board chairs possess consists in achieving this outcome. If this is not happening in measurable terms, then the chair is not providing the leadership a church board requires. This responsibility would include:
- Ensuring that the church board’s role and responsibility is defined clearly and its operational effectiveness is being evaluated annually to provide a knowledgeable basis for improvement.
- Ensuring that board operational policies are in place and up-to-date. This would include such basic policies as a board member code of conduct, board operations policy, board member conflict of interest policy, board ends policy, etc. If these kinds of policies are not in place, then the board has no means by which to evaluate its operations and seek improvement.
- Ensuring that the board agendas are focused on board business and that board members are receiving the right kind of information for making informed, mission-relevant decisions.
- Ensuring that board minutes are conserving an accurate record of board decisions, including who is responsible for implementation, timelines for reporting, etc.
- Ensuring that the board evaluates risk associated with any decision and safeguards the congregation from unnecessary liability or loss of assets.
- Ensures that the board reviews strategic plans to assure itself that they are directly related to board established ends policy.
- Ensures that the chairperson and lead pastor have a good working relationship.
- Ensures that the educational needs of the board are being addressed whether through orientation or other kinds of learning.
I do not pretend that this is a complete outline of chairperson actions, but if these are attended to well and consistently, then a church board will have a much better opportunity to be engaged and effective.