I can tell a lot from the size of a congregation’s governing board:
- If a smallish congregation has a huge governing board, I assume there are trust issues. (They don’t trust a small group of elders to lead them.)
- A large board could be good (i.e. the congregation is also large and this board works like a creative, well-run machine along with the church staff.)
- A large board could be not-so-good (i.e. committees and ministry teams are ineffective and this large group serves as a committee of the whole congregational system.)
- A large board often = long meetings of the elders. (Note: no elder meeting should be longer than an hour and a half – and this includes at least 30 minutes of prayer and theological reflection.)
I’ve been taught that church boards should be sized according to the size of the congregation in this way:
- Six elders on the board for a congregation of 50 – 150 members, not counting the pastor.
- Nine to twelve elders for a congregation of 300 members, not counting the pastor(s).
- No more than 24 elders for any congregation over 300 members.
Our boards are more than receivers of reports. In a perfect world, our boards are comprised of spiritual pillars who represent the diversity of the congregation. They welcome faithful discernment and generate big themes for the ministry of that congregation.
Examples of Big Themes are:
- addressing the opioid addiction in our community
- addressing homelessness in our community
- addressing the digital divide in our community
- addressing systemic racism in our community . . .
. . . all to the glory of God who calls us to address what loving our neighbor looks like in our particular neighborhoods/towns. God calls us to be good neighbors and so we act accordingly – in the likeness of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Too many times, the reality of our boards is that:
- people are bored on the board.
- people are uncertain what their role is.
- people are comfortable doing practical tasks (picking curriculum, replacing the boiler) but are uncomfortable being spiritual leaders (praying for each other, sharing their faith stories, disclosing their doubts, discerning together what God is calling the Church to be.)
I love being Presbyterian because we are an elder-led denomination. There are ruling elders (who serve on the board) and there are teaching elders (who are ministers of the Word and Sacrament.) Or at least that’s our historic lingo.
Sitting with church people called to lead a church should feel like a room full of light bulbs. But too often it feels like a life-sucking waste of time.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Teaching our governing boards how to do generative ministry makes all the difference. Nobody – except the people who seek power – wants to serve a church board that focuses on committee reports and congregational minutiae. I’d rather sit through a reading of Calvin’s Institutes. Seriously – I totally would.
Elders rule. They have the power to bring light to the everyday ministry of their congregation. And those not currently serving on the church board are not exempt from responsibility. They, too, have a role in participating in the ministry of their congregation. It’s just that the elders are looking at the Big Picture.
What’s the Big Picture in your church? Do you see it? Do you agree on it? Or are you frazzled over the artificial flower arrangements for next Sunday?
What would it take to change the culture of your church’s governing board to make it more enriching, exciting, and energizing for the sake of your congregation’s ministry?