Kill the Meetings. Set People Free.

One year when I was a parish pastor, we gave up meetings for higher consil

Seven weeks.  No meetings – except for prayer and study gatherings.  We prepared ourselves for this (traumatic) shift by getting business done in advance and giving people permission to do what needed to be done between Ash Wednesday and Easter without calling the Boards together for debate and discussion.

Two things happened:

  1. People loved it. (We were free to be with our families and friends all those week nights and weekend days.  Church became more about “get to” and less about “have to.”)
  2. People hated it.  (There were complaints of “I don’t know what’s going on!”  and some of our leaders felt like their power had been taken away.)

We in Church World have entered the season of Meeting-Palooza.  Stewardship Meetings. Capital Campaign Meetings.  Thanksgiving Service Meetings.  Advent Planning Meetings.  Christmas Pageant Meetings.  2016 Budget Meetings.  Staff Review Meetings.  And then all the usual staff/elders/deacons/trustees/area clergy meetings continue as well.  We complain about them perhaps but then we keep meeting.  It’s what we do.

This article recently jolted me back to organizational sanity.

Our lives include both horizonal and vertical meetings.  Most are well-planned. Some are not.  Many have clear purposes.  Some are a waste of time – except for the fact we can say we met.  Management happened.  Order was maintained. Sacred assumptions about What-We-Are-Supposed-To-Be-Doing were achieved.

Dear Pastors and Other Leaders: what if – instead of scheduling and requiring meetings and more meetings –  we managed our ministries in a different way?

John Donovan, Executive VP of AT&T defines the role of a manager as “removing roadblocks and recognizing excellence.”  What if we set our people free to do their work, with quick check-ins or planned “stand up meetings” at the coffee pot (“What’s going on with you this week?”)  Healthy churches, for example, set leaders free to do ministry with two basic parameters:

  1. Is what we’re doing within the budget?
  2. Is what we’re doing within the core values of the church?

Beyond that, leaders have permission to do their work.  Excellent.

What are you finding about the culture of meetings in your church?  Do committees even meet anymore? (Or is everything done digitally?)  Are meetings well run?

Imagine an institutional world in which formal meetings were rare and ministry was set free.  Would that work in your context?

8 responses to “Kill the Meetings. Set People Free.

  1. I’m pondering this in the context of a Presbytery search committee that I’m chairing. We’re seeming to need meetings to act as a deadline. That is, without the looming prospect of a meeting, we just aren’t getting things done when we need to. We’re only meeting as needed, but I know we could get some things accomplished electronically. Emails aren’t providing the push we need to stop procrastinating, though. Hmmm.


    • You are totally right re: the scheduling-a-meeting-to-set-deadlines trick. I literally just had a meeting via phone this morning which forced me to finish some assignments so that I could report what I’d done.

      The difference was that it was via conference call. Lasted about 10 minutes and we got “everything” done.


  2. I totally agree that many churches have way too many meetings. Patrick Lencioni, big name coach and consultant, has written a very helpful book, Death by Meeting, which distinguishes between different types of meetings. Here’s a link: His book “The Advantage” summarizes this and other writings. I find his stuff really helps leaders.


  3. My committees meet when someone has an idea they would like to discuss with the group. That’s it. Otherwise, we use our time to actually minister to the congregation. Informal hallway meetings work well. I’d say that we get the urge to meet as an entire group about 3-4 times a year. It helps us regroup and reorganize which makes those meetings meaningful.

    The only monthly meeting I maintain is Deacons. Every other month we meet as a Board. In the “off” months every Deacon meets with me individually. This gives me a chance to really get to know church leaders and learn how to better support their ministries. We’ve had some amazing ideas come out of those one-on-one sessions and each Deacon feels personally supported. It may seem like it takes a lot of my time, but honestly it works better at empowering church leaders and their empowerment means less work for me. With better results.


  4. About 5 years ago, I had an epiphany about church meetings — we were meeting just to meet, same agenda, nothing different happening…exhausted people. We started meeting on an as needed basis. Session meets about every 6 weeks – 2 months. And, we don’t meet in the evening unless absolutely necessary. Most meetings take place Sunday after coffee fellowship and we bring in lunch if necessary. Folks are much more relaxed, awake, and in a better mode for reflection and vision casting. And the other time that is popular around here for meetings is to meet over breakfast before work. Now, Presbytery…. that’s a completely different story. The commission meetings are often and never ending….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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