#328. Complexity and Communication — Continuing Board Challenges

Church boards and their leaders are encountering new internal and external challenges during this Covid-19 pandemic. Two of these are increasing complexity in decision-making and the need to increase the quality and quantity of their communication. Of course, both of these elements characterize the work of church boards at any time, but the pandemic has created an overlay that affects normal board work in many diverse ways.

Increased complexity affects especially the internal decision-making process of a church board. The number of factors board members must now consider in reaching decisions about rather mundane matters has multiplied. For example, the issue of risk has emerged as a much more overt element in assessing all proposals, because of health and safety factors, as well as legal fiats that must be accommodated. In addition, the processes that church boards employ to reach decisions become more challenging because boards often cannot meet together in person. This creates a whole new set of dynamics in board operations that board chairs have to learn and navigate. As well, it requires more information to be circulated in advance so that all board members equally are informed. Conducting good discussions using zoom technology or other video platforms taxes the best of leaders. And when online board meetings extend beyond ninety minutes it becomes almost impossible to keep board members engaged. Lastly, I will mention the increased complexity that colours the board–lead pastor relationship. Caring for church employees and enabling them to remain productive, focused, and aligned to the vision requires significant energy and discipline.

One way to deal with complexity is to try and simplify board operations. For example, instead of trying to manage a monthly, three hour online meeting, why not schedule two monthly, one hour meetings. This might enable the board to focus on one or two key decisions, keep better informed, and maintain connection with one another. Church board chairs can simplify the agendas and use tools such as ‘consent agenda’ procedures to help the board members deal with multiple responsibilities under one motion. Perhaps prayer time might be managed more astutely by having the lead pastor share two or three items and then lead the board in prayer. Use powerpoint presentations to track the agenda and then employ the “share resources” function on zoom to share the agenda with the board members, one slide at a time. Draft possible motions in advance and include them in the powerpoint agenda. They can easily be adjusted as board member discuss them. Allow five minutes at the end of the meeting for board members to share their perspectives on how the congregation is faring and then end with prayer about these matters. Keep it short, keep it moving, and keep it focused.

The other challenge is communications and this largely concerns the church board’s external messaging to the employees and the congregation. Before the pandemic church boards could communicate with many in the congregation during the weekly worship services. This could be formal communications or, more often, informal communications. In the context of the pandemic church board members have far fewer opportunities to interact informally with members of staff and of the congregation. A decrease in person-to-person communication causes feelings of isolation and may lead some to feel neglected and no longer connected with their worshiping community. Seniors particularly may experience this. So church boards have to figure out how to communicate with their congregants and employees more frequently and more effectively during the pandemic.

Many congregational leaders are relying on their church websites to carry the load in this regard. And it can be one of the effective tools, if people have the motivation to check and then to read or view the material posted. It is hard to know whether the communication is successful because feedback can be difficult to collect and then to assess. As time-consuming as it might be, consistent repeated phone conversations probably represent the best vehicle for maintaining connections. Achieving this will require a re-ordering of staff priorities and responsibilities and some staff may resist such change. Staff and board members should be able to connect with everyone in the congregation by phone at least once every two weeks, if this is managed properly. The lead pastor and church board chair need to set the example and also ensure that similar messages are being communicated to everyone. These contacts can be supplemented by information on church board websites. Perhaps this networking will persist as the pandemic gradually eases.

Church boards operate in a very different environment today. Internal complexity and external communications are two significant elements that must be managed well if church boards are to fulfill their responsibility to preserve the mission and advance the vision. 

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