3 Ways to Stop Wasting Time During Board Meetings

  • 5 April 2018
  • Keith Reed

Man checking watch during meetingTime may be a church board’s most valuable commodity. There are limited opportunities for a board to gather together and when the collective hours of each person are considered, we realize just how high the stakes are to use this time wisely. 

You are likely aware of the ways that time can be poorly used during church board meetings. We know that time is sucked up when rabbit trails are blazed and when irrelevant questions are asked. We understand the inefficiencies of starting late and having members “contribute” when they haven’t prepared. But there are other ways that boards waste time even though they may seem like essential elements. Here are three ways your board can stop wasting time during your meetings: 

Use Your Agenda as a Tripwire  

Your board’s agenda is a powerful way to manage your meeting time. Make sure to sequence the most important items first. All too often, critical elements are listed at the end when time is running out and the board’s capacity to reach a decision has already expired. 

In his book called Governance and Ministry, Dan Hotchkiss recommends asking two questions before a meeting begins: “When will we go home?” and “What will we accomplish before we go?” This strategy will force your chairperson to set a deadline and work backwards when the agenda is being created. When this is done, you’ll find that the unimportant items will be left to the end which is where they rightly belong. Hotchkiss explains that the goal is not to end on time, but to use your time well. A properly prepared agenda will help you stick to your priorities and be faithful to what’s critical. 

You may find it helpful to include time limits for each agenda item. Doing so will give your chairperson the permission to stop the discussion and ask if the board is ready to reach a decision. Larry Perkins explains, that this tripwire will empower the chair to decide if and when additional time will be granted instead of having one discussion dominate the entire meeting (refer to his recommendations on agenda preparation and management). 

Eliminate Verbal Reports  

Reporting is a necessary function of church board life. But reporting is always focused on the past whereas board leadership should be primarily concerned about the future (I credit Larry Perkins for making this excellent point).  

Giving a verbal report during a church board meeting is a poor use of time and the solution is simple. Mandate that all reports be written and submitted to the board in advance (one-week is a good guideline). With the material already circulated and read, your board can then focus its time on the items in the report that require discussion and a decision.   

Include Action Items in Your Minutes 

It can be easy to think that board meetings are the time when the board does its work. Instead, these meetings are the time for the board to make certain decisions so that the board (as well as the staff and congregation) can do its work. One of the most frustrating aspects of a board meeting is when members leave without a clear sense of what’s happening next or who is responsible to carry out action. 

One way to eliminate this inefficiency is to empower the person keeping minutes to ask what the action item will be before moving on to the next agenda item. This will force the board to define what action items are required and who will take ownership of these responsibilities. Once these pieces are clarified, they should be included in the minutes to ensure proper follow-up. This will help everyone stay on task when the minutes are circulated after the meeting (within a week is a good guideline). 

Keith Reed is the Associate Director of MinistryLift at MB Seminary

>>> Looking for other resources on board governance? You’ll find a number of training options on the Healthy Boards page that MinistryLift can customize to fit your needs.