Five Ways to Improve Council-based Governance

Improve Council

I recently made a plea for churches to improve their governance before changing to a new model of governance. Here are five ways council-based churches can improve their governance system.

Recruit fewer board members and more task force leaders.

Time is the most valuable currency for a majority of church members. The number of people willing to make long term commitments has significantly decreased the past decade. They are much less willing to serve two or three years on a committee on board.

Instead of asking members to serve on boards, encourage them to form short term teams for specific tasks. Does the Vacation Bible School coordinator really need to attend twelve months of meetings? How about the team that decorates the sanctuary for Advent?

Empower leaders doing ministry to make the decisions for their ministries.

Ownership of ministry matters a great deal today. Personal responsibility is integral to ownership.

When members want to start a new ministry, they must pitch the idea to a church board. The board chair takes the idea to the church council. The council might approve the idea. Or shoot down the idea. Or pass the buck to the Voters’ Assembly.

Improve the system by pushing decision-making as far as possible into the front line. At the very least the make decisions at the board level. Better yet, boards should empower members to make decisions.

Obsessively communicate why programs and ministries exist.

There is an interesting confluence of generations right now. Baby Boomers have reached the “fall season” of life, where they are interested meaningful or purposeful service. Meanwhile, the Millennials in general want to know why programs or ministries exist.

Churches usually focus on “what” needs done. Members are asked to bring a desert to a fellowship meal that is open to the community. The “why” implied is the church needs help doing a church function.

How about wording the request this way: “This fellowship meal could be the first impression our church makes on people from the community who don’t have a church home. Some may not even know how Jesus is. Please bring a desert. What food could make our guests feel more welcome than homemade desert?”

Continually improve programs and ministries.

In some churches the programs resemble a dying orchard. Some trees are dead, others barely bearing fruit, yet the orchardists keep fertilizing the entire orchard year after year.

There is a price for uncritically maintaining ministries. Resources are used unwisely. Sometimes leaders stop serving. In some cases, leaders quietly leave the church.

Find ways to consistently evaluate and improve ministries. Leaders could do ongoing self-assessment and improvement for their programs. The church council could focus on incremental improvement of ministries. The congregation could hold a yearly retreat to evaluate and improve programs.

Simplify the Church Structure

There are few tasks churches avoid more than updating the Constitution and Bylaws. It’s a tedious and often contentious process with results that rarely pleases everyone.

Yet simplifying the governance system can help the congregation institutionalize the above four points. It also can reduce the risk of making improvements only to fall back into old leadership patterns.

In the Ohio District – LCMS we created the “Effective Governance Seminar” to help churches implement such improvements. Leaders should contact me for more information on the seminar.

If you were interested in this post, also consider:

Church Governance: Improve before Change

Five Ways to Improve Policy-based Governance


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