The first congregational meeting I attended in a church I was a member of was a disaster. A staff member had been let go, and a delegation came to defend him and skewer the church leaders. In the heat of the moment, the church chairman told someone to call the police! It went downhill from there.
The tone, behavior, and tenor of congregational meetings say a lot about the health of the church. If dysfunction exists in the congregation, it is likely to show itself here. Because it is here that leaders either choose to be properly transparent or to hide their agendas and where the congregation has a chance to say what it wants to say in whatever way they choose to do so. Here are some markers of congregational meetings and what they say about the health of the church.
One: Leaders have the opportunity to craft public meetings, which means that they have the ability to control the agenda in ways that are either healthy or unhealthy. When leaders surprise the congregation in public meetings in large ways, they have led poorly, as this is not the place to drop something large on the congregation, and expect that they will act on it quickly. Usually, surprising the congregation in a public meeting means that the leadership did not have the will or the courage to lay the groundwork ahead of time.
Two: How transparent leaders are on issues that they can be candid about says a lot about their leadership. When they are secretive, don't answer the concerns of the congregation or will not explain issues that deserve an explanation, they are usually working from defensive, fearful, or authoritarian positions. Where there are complicated issues to discuss, such as budgets or bi-law changes, good leaders will provide venues prior to the meeting so that all concerns can be addressed. However, in either case, their willingness to listen, respond and be honest is a key indicator of their health.
Three: The attitude of the congregation in public meetings says much about the health of the body as a whole. When public charges are made in a less than loving matter, when opinions are expressed with anger or where there are personal attacks or hidden agendas behind comments and questions, it does not come from Jesus! The fruit of the Spirit in all congregational deliberations is a sign of its health and the absence of its dishealth.
Four: This is one that many leaders don't get. When they don't provide adequate communication, don't listen to their congregation, or have an agenda that the congregation does not desire to follow and does not feel right about, they will be challenged where there is an opportunity, and this is one of those opportunities. When leaders will not address the concerns of many, there will be an eruption somewhere, and it is often in this venue. While I don't condone any eruptions that don't display the fruit of the Spirit on this one, I don't blame the congregation but insensitive leaders who have not done their job well. If you frustrate the congregation long enough, it will come out at some point.
Congregations are families. When families get along, it is because they are operating out of health. When they don't get along, they are operating from dishealth.
How do you know if your meetings are healthy? Ask yourself if you want to go to them. If you have anxiety over them or feel the tension in the room, there is dysfunction afoot. Leaders, especially, ought to be aware of those tensions and do what they need to do in order to lead well.