Tomorrow afternoon I do another consult with a church leadership team on significantly modifying their governance system. I have at least one conversation with church leaders every week over the frustration governance systems that are out of sync with the current size and needs of the church. So what are the classic signs that it is time to look at how you do governance? 

1. There is frustration by staff on how long it takes to make ministry decisions or changes. Here is the funny thing. Many  board members do not realize how frustrated their staff are on the decision making process. After all, they check in for a board meeting once or twice a week while staff are chomping at the bit to move things forward. Several weeks ago in a dialogue with a board one of the board members gave me the classic line, "Our system works great." I looked over at the senior pastor and asked, "Do you see it that way?" He shook his head NO!

When decisions cannot be made in a timely fashion by the right people it is time to rethink your leadership/governance system.

2. There is confusion about who is responsible for what. This is a common problem as churches grow. Is this a staff responsibility or board responsibility? Where there is confusion there is also room for conflict and misunderstandings. How often do staff make decisions only to be second guessed by a board member who was not in on the decision? That means that the decision has to be rehashed after the fact because there was not clarity up front on who had the authority to make it.

Confusion over who is responsible for what creates conflict and misunderstanding and it is a sign you need to rethink your governance.

3. You have long interminable board meetings. One board I spoke with recently, told me that they had two board meetings a month that went from seven PM to midnight or after. I would have been stunned except it is all too common. No church board should have to meet for more than two hours twice a month on a regular basis!

Long board meetings are a sure sign of a broken decision making system.

4. Permission must be obtained from multiple groups before a decision can be made. Any time a leadership board has to get permission, funding or assent from another committee or board in the church, you are operating on a redundant system that has toll booths built into the decision making process. It is a waste of time, talent and energy.

Toll booths rather than easy pass is a sign you need to revisit your governance.

5. The board has a hard time making decisions. How many boards revisit the same issues over and over again either because they didn't make a clear decision or because they didn't make any decision. It is no wonder that good leaders often decline to serve on the board. 

Revisiting previously made decisions over and over is a sign of a broken governance system.

6. The board does management rather than providing leadership. How many times do we need to say that staff manage the ministry while boards set the overall parameters of the ministry. Yet most boards spend most of their time dealing with management minutia that someone else could be doing. In doing so, they have abdicated their more important leadership role of ensuring that the church is maximizing its ministry impact.

Management by committee (board) is a sure sign of a dysfunctional governance system.

If any of these six markers characterize your board, pay attention and consider re evaluating your governance and leadership systems.
  • May 05, 2011
  • Category: News
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