In blog article 40. ‘Black Swans’ In the Board Room I explained this term and how it relates to the operations of a church board. In the last two months the world has encountered another ‘black swan’ event in the form of the Coronavirus. When 2020 started, few in the Western world had any inkling that this disease would emerge with its devastating consequences. However, its appearance requires church boards in North America to prepare some kind of response to the probability that this epidemic will affect your congregation in some form. In other parts of the world Christian leaders and boards already will be engaged with the full impact of this pandemic.
It seems appropriate to revisit this topic and suggest ways and means that church boards and leaders might use this opportunity to develop better responses to such unexpected, serious events that materially affect their institutions and missions.
I think the primary principle for church boards in such situations is this: develop good policies for normal times and operations, but be flexible in their application when crises arise. Values and vision usually drive policy development. Similarly in the midst of crisis, boards need to keep clear focus on their values and vision, adapting their operations and strategies in the light of these essentials. Risk-management becomes elevated as a priority, clarity around leadership responsibilities is essential, and care for staff, clients, and members has to be a central focus. Be sure you know what resources, particularly financial resources, the board can draw on in emergencies. Determine a simple, easily managed communication process that keeps stake-holders informed in a timely way. The board should revisit policy regarding who speaks for the board to which stakeholders or external publics. This will avoid potential confusion and misunderstandings.
During crises church boards have to make decisions without having all the information they desire and usually under unusual time constraints. Church board chairs will have to help boards discern the appropriate process that such decisions have to follow, as well as lead the boards in sorting through the possible options. Once the board makes its decisions, then the chair or the lead pastor, whoever the board designates, will have responsibility to communicate the decisions and implement them. It is quite possible that the board will need to meet several times over the space of a few weeks in order to process all that is happening.
Given the nature of the Coronavirus pandemic, church boards should make sure that their operational policy enables them to hold virtual meetings and make decisions through that medium. The chair will need to ensure that all board members can access such online meetings. Church staff should be able to make such meetings operational.
Undoubtedly some disruptions will occur. If congregations cannot meet for several weeks or a month, how will spiritual encouragement and counsel be provided? Can virtual services be live-streamed on Sunday morning? Should community groups still meet? What about youth events? If congregants become quarantined, how can the congregation care for them? If staff become sick, does the sick leave policy for staff cover this situation? If they are quarantined, is it possible for them to continue their work from home or should they be ‘laid off’ so that they can collect employment insurance during that period? What guidelines should be implemented regarding staff travel? How will the congregation continue to fund its ministries during this period? Does the congregation have an active line of credit with its financial institution to support operations when cash-flow may be depleted? What about funding for missionaries? Can that continue?
Black Swan events can result in some new, creative ways for an institution to pursue its mission. It might be time to try some innovations and experiment. Church boards have opportunity to demonstrate to the congregation in a special way faith-filled, wise leadership. Board unity will be an essential feature.