How long has it been since your church board has examined how it goes about doing its work? Five years? Ten years? Never? Perhaps it is time for a serious review. How much has your congregation changed in that period of time? Has your staff changed? What about the external community? Can your church board afford to maintain the status quo and still expect your congregation to flourish when so much is changing?
The cycle for organizational renewal is being shortened and even congregational leaders need to be assessing church governance principles, policies and patterns at least every five years. To do otherwise is to risk hindering or harming your congregation or limiting the ability of your board members or staff to fulfill their roles and responsibilities well. If you are a board chair, this is something your board needs to understand, accept and deal with.
Perhaps you lead a church board which is constantly assessing its ability to serve and lead. If this is the case, then the board you lead will be changing and developing regularly in response to this assessment. We know that assessment is a great motivator for change because it tells the board where it has gaps in the fulfillment of its responsibilities. With this knowledge a church board can enhance its capacity to lead. Without assessment the board does not have the capability to discern how it needs to change.
Developing clear outcomes — an essential board operation — will motivate change. If a board sets clear direction, then it has to evaluate what it needs to do as part of the congregation’s leadership team to achieve those outcomes. Often this review will lead the board to discern areas of its internal operations that have to change if it is going to achieve these outcomes. However, if a church board lacks clear direction, again it runs blind if it seeks to change.
The reports and insights presented to a church board by its lead pastor can catalyze change. A lead pastor, more than any other person in a congregation, sees the big picture. A wise lead pastor also knows that any significant change in the life of the congregation has to start with that church’s board. Without their support no major change will occur. Church boards must become part of the “guiding coalition” if congregational leadership is to achieve good change.
Intentionally adding new members to a church board on a regular basis will also provide stimulus for change. As these individuals enter into the work of the board, they will discern things that more seasoned board members may be overlooking. Giving new board members permission to ask questions and suggest changes is a wise move for a board chair.
Be cautious of seeking to make major changes in the midst of a crisis. Usually such a strategy increases complexity and adds confusion to an already difficult situation. Deal with the issue as best you can and then a few months later, invite the board members to reflect and consider lessons learned and whether it is time to consider some significant changes in church governance and/or board operations.
In the next blog we will consider indicators that church board leaders can use to discern whether it is time for church board renewal.