Mack Tennyson

The church board is composed of the principal officers of the church. It has a number of important responsibilities, but its chief concern is the spiritual nurture of the church and the work of planning and fostering evangelism in all of its phases.

The great commission of Jesus makes evangelism, proclaiming the good news of the gospel, the primary function of the church (Matt 28:18-20). It is therefore also the primary function of the church board to serve as the chief committee of the local church. When the board devotes its first interests and highest energies to every-member evangelism, most church problems are alleviated or prevented. A strong, positive influence is felt in the spiritual life and growth of the membership.

There are several meetings types. If we understand them, we can choose the right type for a specific purpose. The different types of meetings function differently. The meeting types are (1) action, (2) decision making, (3) information trading, (4) conflict resolution, and (5) governance.


Action groups are the most common type of meeting. They fulfill a specific task. This is their life cycle: We set them up; the members meet and decide how to do their task; they carry out the task; then they decide how well they did.

We organize them. This step is vital. A successful business skillfully blends the success factors: labor, capital, and raw materials. A successful shoe company needs people who know how to make and market shoes: This is the labor part. The company also needs equipment and buildings: This is the capital part. It needs leather, packaging, and so on: This is the material part.

Throwing these three elements together carelessly does not bring success. Too much capital or labor is costly and makes the company unprofitable. Too much raw material does the same thing. Having the skilled factory labor, but not the right raw materials is bad. The successful entrepreneur skillfully blends these things.

Some ministers see the church the same way and think of themselves as the church's spiritual entrepreneur. Suppose the church needs a program for the youth. The minister can make plans, promote the program, drive the van, watch the kids, and be the spiritual leader. Or he can bring the needed elements together. The successful church is one in which the minister blends the requirements necessary to get a job done. He can recruit good workers, line up some money, and get materials. After he assembles these components, he works to start the process. Once it begins, he is freed to start another program. The program can run without his constant care.

The workers make their plans and carry them out. They use the resources they or the minister generates. The group runs the youth program differently from the way the minister would do it himself. The program reflects the committee's personality. Good ministers like these results.

Leading an action meeting is different from leading other types. The focus is getting the job done, so members' suggestions and plans must be concrete. For example, one can do away with high theories about youth development. It is more a question of "Where are we going, and who is driving?" The decisions are very joboriented. So let the group members make the decisions.

Group leaders whose style is too overbearing may find themselves alone because members do not sense ownership for the plan. They simply find other things more pressing. If they feel that they did the planning, they work harder at making the plans work.

Another trait of action groups is the way they make decisions. With action groups, majority rule is not good enough. Suppose the youth committee has ten members. Some prefer to take the kids to an amusement park, and the others think it is wrong. There is hot debate. Finally six vote for the amusement park trip. We should expect only the six to take the kids to the park. The other four will not feel a responsibility to carry out the plan.

Action groups must work toward consensus, that is, a situation in which there is overwhelming agreement and those who disagree do not feel their position too strongly. In action groups, do not expect hard work from members who do not help make the plans or who oppose the program.

A well-run action group must have a self-evaluation method. After the group decides what it is going to do, make a check list. List the outcomes that will show success and the results that will demonstrate failure. When you finish the project, go through the check list to see how well the project worked.


Decision-making groups decide the way the church will proceed on an issue, but they do not carry out the decision. Some examples of decisionmaking groups are the church nominating committee, the building committee, and the finance committee. They all follow certain steps: (1) they clearly state the problem, (2) they identify the facts needed to make a good decision, (3) they gather the facts, (4) they work out the options, and (5) they decide among the options.

The church needs a new photocopier. The correct choice may be simple-the minister presents his favorite to the church board, and the board votes on it. However, the situation may be more complex than that. The copier may be used by the church school, so it will be hard to decide on the needed size. Don't expect the minister to take a risk and decide. That is unfair. The board should form a subcommittee, and it should select the right copy machine.

The copier committee must clearly state the problem: Which copier to get? They must identify the facts it needs: How much copying is required by the church and the school? Which copiers handle that output? What special features are needed on the copier? How much money is available for a copier? The list goes on.

Then the committee gathers the facts and begins stating options: any of three particular copiers could nicely handle the work load , and could be either bought or leased. The committee then chooses among the options.

Think about this process before assembling the group. Choose people who know how to work through options and can make good decisions. But include some unseasoned group decision makers, for this will enable them to learn the process.

The group leader's job is to shepherd the group through these steps. A domineering leader blocks the process so that the best solution may be missed. Suppose the group leader thinks one option is best. He should reserve his opinion until the group has done its homework, developed options, and has matured in its thinking. A weak group leader, by contrast, fails to keep the group moving. The group gets little done, and members become angry. Often they choose an inferior option just to get a decision made.

Sometimes church leaders form a decision-making group even though they have a clear idea what they want done. Their purpose is to build support and validate their idea. They do not really want the group to make a decision. This strategy usually backfires. Bringing together a supposedly decision-making group and stubbornly directing the decision is a mistake. It is far better to be honest and say, "I have an idea I want to sell you."

As with action groups, decision groups need more than a majority vote. The decision of a strongly divided group reveals itself as weak even if the majority support it. Sometimes, it is true, a simple "majority rules" may be the only way out of a serious dilemma. However, the committee should review widely split votes to see if the problem needs more work.


The next type of meeting is information trading. Everyone contributes to the information pool, and everyone draws from it. Many church board meetings allow a place on the agenda for this. Each group reports what it is doing and talks about its concerns. The purpose is to let all the church leaders know what is going on so they can give counsel and help.

This type of committee can be larger than the other groups already described, and its membership can comprise a wide cross section of the congregation. Voting is not the focus. Informal answers are sought through the exchange of information and the discussion of problems.

An information-trading meeting requires leaders who inspire others to share information. The leader ascertains beforehand that there are enough problems to warrant a meeting. This can be difficult to discern, because sometimes the problemsharing process brings to light even more problems. During the meeting the leader leads the process by drawing out the timid and managing the talkative.

Churches have all too often been the victims of a cheap trick. Someone disguises an information meeting as a decision-making meeting. A church leader, perhaps the pastor, has designed a new youth program he wants adopted. He could honestly say, "I have a new program that I think you will like. Let's meet and look at it. Let me try to show you the good things about it." Instead he says, "I want to meet with you, so we can decide what we want as a youth program." The young people show up expecting to develop a youth program. Instead they end up seeing a performance by the pastor. Then to validate what he is doing, he calls for a vote. Often such a vote is meaningless. This kind of deception reduces everyone's trust in the leader. The next time he really needs help in planning a program, no one will respond.


Sometimes churches must ignore conflict between members. The Bible admonishes us to talk out problems with those who disagree. This action in submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit usually brings peace. However, in some cases we promote conflict resolution by pulling the people together.

This drawing people together can be done informally. Suppose some church members are arguing about what kinds of music are appropriate for the main church service. One group wants older hymns, and the other wants modern music such as Scripture choruses. One strategy is to gather all the concerned members and let them work out a solution.

Or the meeting may be formal. Imagine a church dispute so complex that it is difficult even to describe it-yet this really happened. Brother Bob introduces Brother Jim and other members to Mr. Smith, a nonmember, who is raising money to start a business. Brother Jim and others lend Mr. Smith some money. But he runs off with it, and they never see Mr. Smith again.

Brother Jim and others claim that back when they were making the loans, Brother Bob said he would stand behind them. They feel that Bob should repay them the money they lost. Brother Bob denies securing the loans. The arguing and hard feelings are tearing apart the church.

Many of the members think the church should ignore the war. They say, "The church is for its members' spiritual development-not solving all their problems." Time does not heal this wound. Every day it looks more and more as if someone will sue.

Finally the minister, with the blessing of the board, gets all the parties to agree to binding arbitration. Three respected denominational lawyers are brought in, and the parties meet and explain their positions. The pastor instructs the lawyers to decide the issue, using both the technical legal applications and the principle of fairness. That is, the law may require signed papers that guarantee the loan, but this should not be a loophole that lets Brother Bob off the hook if he made pledges about the loan.

The binding arbitration agreement includes a provision that stops the parties from talking about the conflict with other members. The minister moderates the proceeding and, according to the agreement, invites the entire congregation to attend.

The process proves highly successful. Everyone agrees that the settlement is fair. The parties are spared high legal costs. They preserve a moderate degree of church unity, and amazingly, the minister emerges as the great peacemaker.


The last type of committee is governance. Earlier we compared churches and businesses, pointing out that some ministers see themselves as entrepreneurs who pull together the various elements that are needed to get a job done. We must not carry this analogy too far, because we can also compare churches and governments.

A church is a group working together for common purposes, interests, and standards. The only church meetings recorded in the Bible were for governing church standards, as in Acts 15. Governance meetings are the church's legislative process. The focus is on seeking God's will for his people in church discipline, church goals, membership policy, ordination policy, and so forth.

The real work involved in a legislative type of meeting takes place beforehand. Someone identifies problems and drafts a solution. Then the legislative group amends the proposal as needed and ratifies the solution.

Here the model of majority rule makes more sense than in the other types of meetings. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal is not "What do most people want?" but rather "What is God's will for His church?"

Because the group is acting on recommendations and not problem solving, it can be larger than other kinds of groups. But it should be small enough that members feel responsible for their actions. And because it involves governance, it should be representative.


Choosing the right committee size and makeup is a combination of art and science. Many factors must be balanced.

1. The more complex the decision, the smaller and more specialized the group must be. For example, a group for setting up the church's retirement program will be smaller and more specialized than a group working on the missions program.

Another small, specialized type of committees might be a committee that selects music for the main service-a small committee that should have members who are gifted and knowledgeable in music and worship. A committee that plans a church banquet should be small and have people who know how to organize such an event.

2. The wider the committee's impact, the larger and more democratic it should be. A committee that chooses the sanctuary carpeting should have a broad range of members selected from the church's subgroups. This provides diverse input and encourages a large support base for fund-raising.

3. The more the activity depends on volunteer help, the larger the group. The principle here is that the people who do the work should make the decisions. Conversely, the people who are not doing the work should not make the decisions.

4. The more governance the group exercises, the larger the group. A large group can better represent the congregation's different interests.

5. The smaller the group, the better. There are several reasons for keeping groups as small as possible for the task. Small groups will often make better decisions and make them more quickly than larger groups. Members of small groups will feel responsible for their decisions. They are more careful thinkers and will work harder to follow up on their decisions and make them work.

Think about committees on which you have served. If you were one of several score, you put less thought into the decision making than if you were one in a dozen. This is because you feel less influential in the large group, so why work to develop and debate a position? Also, if the group is large, you will feel little shame if the group's decision proves wrong. Moreover, you would not feel a great sense of responsibility to follow through and make the decision work. With small groups, the opposite holds true.

Weigh the size factor of each group when determining the group's composition. Some factors may work at cross purposes, so you need the right balance for size, representation, and expertise. Skillfully balance all the factors as you develop the right group for the job.

Mack Tennyson writes from South Carolina where he works as public accountant and associate professor of accountancy.