A chairperson has a good feeling when basic church board policies finally are in place. Some clarity and consistency now exists regarding the means by which the board can guide its operations. Of course, a big challenge is keeping the policies current by implementing a two or three year cycle of review and updating.
Another question now arises — under what conditions does a church board decide that additional policies are needed. What factors trigger the formation of new policy? Are there specific subjects that will stimulate this or changes in leadership or some other factors? I think this is an important question for the board chair to consider, because probably this individual will be the one to signal to the board that it would be good to develop a new policy about a particular issue. So what might some of these “triggers” be?
- One of the most common triggers will be the board’s perception that they keep dealing with the same kind of issue, but have no standard principles to guide them. So they operate as a “committee of the whole” re-inventing the wheel in each discussion about this kind of issue. This repetitious, board behaviour will generate some frustration, which will be a good catalyst that a board chair can use to signal that developing policy about issues of this kind would be a good move. For example, a church board may struggle to manage the annual performance evaluation of the lead pastor. It happens every year, but no policy has been developed to consolidate prior learning and embed certain principles in the process. So the board chair, discerning this, suggests to the board that it would be good to develop a board operational policy to guide them in this annual function. It may also be that the board will ask the question who among them will be responsible to implement the policy? This is turn might generate discussion about the need to develop a standing committee to handle personnel issues. This might generate another policy to define the role and function of such a committee.
- A second factor that might lead a church board to discern that policy development would be helpful would be the rise of new factors that affect the congregation and its mission. One example might be the completion of a building program. So now the question of facility usage comes into play. Will it be rented? To whom? Under what conditions? This is probably more of an administration policy, but the board may take the lead in setting the essential parameters for its development. Another external factor might changes in the labour code. The board may determine that it would be prudent to develop an employee handbook that collects all of the policies and procedures that affect congregational employees. Again, while this is more of an administration policy, the board want to have a hand in its development to ensure that the board’s “worry points” about these matters are being cared for appropriately.
- A third factor indicating that new policy may be necessary will be church growth. As a church increases in size, it also increases in complexity. Leadership roles change; the board’s role will change. So new policy will need to be developed to provide clarity in matters that perhaps for years were handled informally. For example, if the congregation is reaching 500 people, then probably the role of the lead pastor is changing substantially. So the board may need to implement a policy governance model and this will require the development of an executive limitations policy.
- Internal board conflicts may also be an indicator that policy needs to be developed. Board members have differing perspectives on key issues and the board needs to sort things out so that everyone knows what the board’s position is and the process it has discerned will be used to manage such issues. For example, there may be internal debate and difference of opinion about the role of board members, who are related to staff, in certain board decisions. No conflict of interest board policy exists and so the chair guides the board to establish such a policy in order to resolve conflicts.
- Sometimes theological issues arising in the congregation will require a church board to develop and recommend new policy to the congregation. This might take the form of a set of theological and pastoral guidelines that express the board’s best wisdom that will guide a congregation’s response. For example, various factors might lead a church board to believe that it is prudent to give leadership to the congregation in matters related to spousal abuse, divorce and remarriage. The board members study the Scriptures, discuss the matter (sometimes over several months) and seek to achieve consensus about the pastoral response to people involved in such difficult circumstances. Such policy helps the board to develop a common voice on such controversial issues.
Policies, when well developed and used appropriately, enable the board to make effective decisions, marked by integrity, and use their collective time efficiently.