Although I probably fall too much on the anti-meeting side of things, meetings can be profitable and even edifying, especially if the following guidelines are observed.
1. Be prepared: Get well organized beforehand by having all the relevant documentation, and by getting to the meeting in time to get everything set up for a prompt start.
2. Start with prayer and a short Bible reading: Do not skip this nor skimp on it. But don’t prolong it either with a long chapter, prayer, or mini-sermon. Set the tone of the meeting with a relevant reading and a prayer that asks for wisdom and guidance.
3. Agree the agenda: Agree the agenda, the timetable, and the priorities. It’s best not to start with complicated or controversial matters, but its best not to leave them until the end either. Ask if anyone has any major items for “Any other competent business,” or “Customary Questions,” so that sufficient time can be left for such items.
4. Stick to the agenda and timetable: Ask someone to remind you of the time targets you have set. This gives you extra motivation to move the meeting along and also allows you to be more objective when interrupting or shortening discussion. Group short and less important items together and make sure they don’t push out the far more important matters. After 90 minutes, meetings usually start going downhill. Google staff meetings have a large clock on the table!
5. Know the rules of order and keep to them: Every meeting should have an agreed procedure for proposing an item for discussion, discussion, counter-proposals and voting. Make sure you know the rules, or make them and agree them if there are none – and stick to them consistently.
6. Read the meeting: Try to look out for negative and positive signs in the course of a meeting. Try to interpret the tone of voices, the facial expressions, and the body language. Anticipate potential flash points and personality clashes, and take the heat out of situations before it gets too hot.
7. Listen patiently: Try to listen carefully to everyone that speaks. Try not to lose concentration and miss something important. Don’t switch off when certain people speak. Try not to read documents relating to other business, when someone else is speaking. Rather, ask for time to read before that item is introduced.
8. Involve everyone: Obviously some are going to take more prominent roles than others. However, we should make every effort to involve everyone in the meeting. Sometimes you might sense that someone has something to say, but is hesitant. Encourage them to speak. Ask people for their opinions. Be aware of the different characters you will run across and devise strategies to make their contributions profitable.
9. Don’t abuse your position: The pastor will usually enjoy a degree of status in the group. He will oftentimes be more educated and more fluent in speech. He will gradually gain a lot of experience in church meetings. Elders will often want to prove their loyalty to the pastor. All this combines to create the potential for a huge abuse of power. If you do abuse your advantages and privileges, some people will detect it right away and you will lose respect.
10. Defuse tension: There will be tense meetings and even hot meetings. Prayer can often be useful to relieve tension and cool temperatures. Humor can also be used in this way, if used sparingly and carefully. Or you can take a short break, or suggest a change of subject and come back to it again at another time, when passions are cooled.
11. Press towards decisions: While allowing sufficient time for discussion, you have to avoid just wandering around in circles. Try to detect when the discussion has run its course and press towards clear decisions.
12. End meetings at the agreed time: Unless the circumstances are exceptional, end the meeting on time. That will build discipline for future meetings, allow office bearers to plan their time, and also prevent late-night decisions that may be regretted.
13. Submit to decisions: In exceptional matters it may be necessary to register a conscientious dissent to a majority decision. However, that should be really a last resort. If at all possible, submit to the decisions you disagree with by casting yourself upon the Lord, acknowledging your own ignorance and lack of wisdom, and your own pride and need of forgiveness. Try to avoid a confrontational “me versus them” attitude
14. Assign work: Before the meeting ends, make sure that ongoing work is assigned and that everyone understands who is doing what, and when the deadlines are. Pray for the Lord’s blessing on what has been decided and for help with assigned work. As someone once said: “Nothing matters until it gets a budget, a deadline, and an owner.”
15. Ensure minutes are quickly written up and agreed: It is best for someone other than the chairman to be clerking the meetings. Try to get someone who is competent, efficient, and reliable. And try to ensure that minutes are written up promptly and emailed out to everyone for adjustment as soon after the meeting as possible. This mailing could also include the specific tasks assigned to each person.
16. Follow-up with relationship issues: If you have been involved in any significant disagreements with anyone at the meeting, make sure you contact them later or the next day and make sure all is well between you, and that there are no hard feelings. Try to make sure others do the same with each other.
17. Have non-business meetings
Make sure that you sometimes meet without any business to discuss. Have prayer meetings, seminars, training, brain-storming sessions. Such meetings encourage social interaction, keep everyone in the loop, and make people feel valued.