Avoiding Murderous Meetings

Kris BarnettKristopher Barnett, Ministry Ideas

Meetings. The word sends a wave of angst through my body. This is unfortunate because meetings abound in the church and the academy; the two worlds where I reside. Observation tells me I’m not alone in my visceral reaction. Others cringe at meetings, too. Their questions reveal their emotions:

“Do we have to meet today?”

“Will this meeting last long?”

“Who called this meeting?”

In spite of the negativity surrounding meetings, we keep meeting. Ironically, as church leaders, we often call the meetings that we despise. Why do we torture ourselves? We subject ourselves to the torture of meetings because the group process enables us to accomplish more than we can accomplish on our own. The meeting problem will not be solved by canceling all meetings. (Though, I confess, I would second such a proposal in a business meeting!) Instead, we should work to improve the atmosphere in our meetings. Here are a few tips that might keep your people from dreading your meetings:

1. Get the right people to the right place at the right time!

The next time you plan a meeting; first ask yourself, “Do we need a meeting?” Many conversations and even some decisions can take place through technology. I’m not even referring to virtual meetings or Skype, although those are available. I am thinking more in terms of telephone and email. Most people would choose to reply to an email strain over traveling to the church for a three-minute decision crammed into an hour long meeting.

If you determine that the group needs to meet, consider carefully when and where to hold your meeting. Time and location play an important role in meetings. While in ministry, I tried to cluster meetings around pre-existing church gatherings. Rather than asking people to give up time on a weeknight, I scheduled meetings before and after services on Sunday or Wednesday night. This system made better use of my time and the time of my congregation. Of course, your context might look different. Take a few moments and ask the members of your team what time works best in their schedule. Though you can’t accommodate all requests, you can show your team that you are concerned about their life outside the team or committee. In addition, location can make or break a meeting. Try to schedule meetings in quiet locations so the group can work without external distractions.

Once the meeting is scheduled be sure you notify the team. Clearly communicate the time and location of the meeting. Utilize the limitless technological resources at your disposal. Don’t let anyone use the excuse that they were uninformed.

2. Come with an agenda!

We quickly discover in ministry that some church members have an agenda. Their personal agendas often come to light in business meetings or in confrontations in the hallway. When we walk into a meeting without guidelines to shape the conversation, we are opening the door for another agenda to dominate the discussion. If you called the meeting, you should enter the meeting with a prepared agenda outlining the conversations that will shape the meeting.

An agenda serves several functions. It helps you determine if the meeting is even necessary. It also solicits input from group members because they can begin thinking about the topics to be addressed at the outset of the meeting or even in the days leading up to the meeting if the leader provides the agenda in advance. An agenda also helps people see the items that need to be covered. This can help team members stay focused on the topic at hand. They will be less likely to introduce something new into the discussion if they can see that the agenda calls for five more items of business.

Of course, developing and disseminating an agenda is only one part of the equation. The leader must also follow the agenda. Committees and teams tend to chase rabbits and rehash decisions that have already been made. An agenda enables the team leader to focus the attention of the group. This should be done gently but with firm authority.

3. No warm bodies!

Committee and team members often accept their position with an assumption that their attendance is optional and their input is unimportant. The nominating committee or the individual in charge of recruiting inadvertently fosters this attitude when they downplay the position to their target. In order to solicit an affirmative response, recruiters often imply that the position requires few meetings and little stress. What a disservice to the team and the individuals on the team! Each team is valuable to the church or organization. Therefore, each team member is valuable to the group. You must communicate the value of each individual early and often or the team members will skip meetings or sit in silence when they do attend. People will be more involved in your meetings if they recognize their value to the group.

The team leader also needs to actively solicit input from all group members. Some group members are naturally introverted and hesitant to speak. Often these introverted individuals possess the wisdom and insight needed to improve a situation. You should gently seek input from the entire group in order to utilize the talents and passions represented in the room. Don’t waste the wisdom and expertise available to your church or organization!