Meetings. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’re going to have them – especially if you are a pastor. The question is how to have them profitably. Here are 20 things I’ve found helpful in overcoming my fairly severe meeting-phobia.

1. Prune them
We have to prune our trees and bushes of the excess branches in order that stronger branches can grow stronger and more fruitful. There may be a proliferation of meetings in your church that are actually weakening the whole church and need to be pruned back to make for a stronger and more fruitful church.

The first question to ask is, “What meetings are necessary?” Just because “we’ve always had these meetings” does not mean that we need to have them forever. It may be possible to stop some meetings altogether. However, usually you are looking at cutting down the frequency of them, combining them with other meetings, cutting the length of meetings, or cutting the number of people attending them (including yourself).

2. Protect them
In our crusade to prune meetings, we must avoid the temptation to view all meetings as unnecessary evils. They are an essential part of any ministry, and in fact provide ministry opportunities. They are certainly sanctifying opportunities (hopefully not backsliding opportunities!). Protect and value the necessary and profitable meetings.

3. Plan the place

  • If small group and informal, then perhaps meet over lunch
  • Larger groups will need larger and quieter space
  • If papers or reports are distributed, then a large central table is ideal
  • If discussing confidential matters, ensure the timing and location will protect all parties
  • If more of a conversational/fellowship type meeting, then less formal (lounge/living room?) area is best

4. Plan the agenda

  • Review previous minutes
  • Review running checklist of issues, recurring events, and diary events to see what is relevant for this meeting
  • Give participants opportunity to add items to the agenda (check place and time suits participants at this point)
  • Send out agenda in plenty of time together with any other relevant documents
  • State beginning and end-time on the agenda (with perhaps some target time marks along the way)
  • Request apologies for planned absences

4. Get there on time
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. 

5. Pray and read the Bible
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 chapter and a prayer that asks for wisdom and guidance.

6. 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.

7. 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 do not push out the far more important matters. After 90 minutes, meetings usually start going downhill.

8. Know the rules of order and keep to them

Every church should have an agreed procedure for introducing items. Usually it involves the following steps:

  • Proposal: person explains the issue and his opinion and presents a motion
  • Seconder: someone else seconds the motion and may be permitted a short time to add a few words
  • Questions: The proposer should then be ready to take questions or negotiate amendments to his motion
  • Motion: The proposer reads out his motion
  • Counter-motions: The chairman invites any counter-motion that follows the same pattern as above
  • Discussion: once motions have been made, you should invite discussion from everyone else with time limits on speeches
  • Vote: Once the time has run out or once there are no more speeches, the chairman calls for a vote
  • Review: Some churches will also have a method of taking important decisions to another body for review.

Make sure you know the rules, or make them and agree them if there are none – and stick to them.

9. 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. You will eventually be able to anticipate potential flashpoints and take the heat out of situations before it gets too hot. You will also be able to see if there are any personality clashes that need to be addressed. Tomorrow I’ll give you a list of meeting personalities.

10. 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. 

11. Involve everyone
Obviously some are going to take more prominent roles than others. However, you should make every effort to involve everyone in the meetings. Sometimes you can 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:

12. Don’t abuse your position
The pastor will usually enjoy a degree of status in the group. He will often be more educated and be more fluent in speech. He will gradually gain a lot of experience in church meetings. Some people 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.

13. Defuse tension
There will be tense meetings and even hot meetings. Prayer can often be useful to relieve tension and cool temperatures. Gentle humor can sometimes be used similarly. 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.

14. 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.

15. End meetings at the agreed time
Unless the circumstances are exceptional, end the meeting on time. That will build discipline for future meetings, allow officebearers to plan their time, and also prevent late-night decisions that may be regretted.

16. 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 v them” attitude

17. Assign work
Before the meeting ends, make sure that ongoing work is assigned, 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.”

18. 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.

19. Follow-up with relationship issues

If you have been involved in any significant disagreements with any elders 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.

20. 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.

Although I probably fall too much on the anti-meeting side, I must say that, when well-conducted, meetings fulfill spiritual needs as well. In my last congregation we sometimes had 10 elders and 12 deacons in the same meeting. And although we often had controversial issues to deal with (like building a new church!), these meetings were actually much more like spiritual fellowships than board meetings. Spiritual bonds were deepened and appreciation for each other grew as we saw the various insights and gifts God had blessed different men with. I usually arrived home with the sense that God had once again kept His promise that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in the midst. Ultimately that’s what makes a meeting good.