Church board members experience two or three, widely different situations when it comes to information — too much, too little, or too confusing. Without truthful, relevant data presented with knowledgeable analysis board members will struggle to make the appropriate, strategic decisions necessary to sustain and enhance organizational health. So what kinds of information do church board members need and who is responsible to provide it?
Let’s deal with the last question first — what sources provide information to board members? When board members delegate to a standing committee responsibility to help formulate a response to a particular issue, the board members have the right to expect said committee to provide all information pertinent to the recommendation they will make. In addition, they should provide some analysis of this information and indicate which aspects board members would be advised to consider most carefully. Some information will come from church staff. Normally the lead pastor will be responsible to provide it and ensure that it comes to the board members in a timely and well-expressed way. Sometimes it is helpful for written discussion briefs to be supplemented by personal visits to the board by the staff person who is seeking the decision. With some issues a standing committee will work with the lead pastor to generate the appropriate information requested by the board. In cases where the board members consider that the issue requires third party input, then the board itself will determine what information is required and how to receive it. Sometimes this will be through a denominational office, or a consultant, or another church board. The board ultimately is responsible to make sure it has the right and relevant information it needs to make a good decision. If a board seeks to make a decision when it does not have good information, then it is neglecting due process and putting the congregation and itself at risk.
At each board meeting members are receiving information. If board members do not think they are getting the right information, then they must take action, define what information is required and mandate its development and presentation. A church board cannot delegate this primary responsibility and the board leadership are the board’s servants to ensure that the board’s information needs are being met.
What kinds of information do board members need to access in order to carry out their responsibilities properly?
- Information that assures the board members that the organization is accomplishing the board’s stated goals within the executive limitations it has prescribed. This would include reports of the lead pastor (detailing dashboard data related to performance) to each board meeting, quarterly financial reports, policy variances, board minutes, etc. This kind of information normally is reviewed and dealt with in the consensus motion that begins a board meeting. It should include some data that helps the board discern the spiritual health of the congregation.
- Information that forms part of the annual report to the church membership. The annual audit or financial review and report necessarily is reviewed by the entire board; reports that outline the degree to which annual board goals have been achieved; annual reports for government and other external agencies.
- Information that pertains to the board-lead pastor relationship. Normally the board personnel committee will handle the annual performance review of the lead pastor and prepare a report for the board. It will recommend any actions, including position description changes, new performance targets, compensation adjustments, etc. In a sense this board function is where the board becomes a “management” group, engaging directly in organizational issues.
- Information to assist the board establish its annual goals, strategic directions, policy development, risk management — the big picture, future-oriented decisions necessary for the advancement of the mission. The kind of information required will depend upon where the board is in its strategic planning cycle, the opportunities or threats the board thinks the organization faces, and the place of the congregation in its institutional development cycle. Often this is the kind of data boards need for discussions at the annual board retreat, when generating multi-year financial forecasts, or when seeking to understand what the next phases of organizational development must be.
Determining what information is needed requires clarity about the question being asked or the nature of the decision that must be made. As well, unless board members read the information, it provides no assistance to the board members. Some board discipline may be required here. Data, analysis, knowledge are important contributors to the development and expression of board wisdom. But in all of this sensitivity to the direction of the Holy Spirit has to be a key value.