[Although the story in this case study may seem to resemble a real situation, the names, places and actual circumstances do not describe any actual church, church board, pastor or chairperson.]
Jerry knew that the annual church board assessment should be done. It was the third time he had pushed his church board members to complete a simple evaluative survey. This was one of the small changes he as current board chair was implementing in an attempt to improve the board’s operations, to help the board members become more intentional about building their competence, and to develop a greater sense of accountability. He had constructed the assessment tool based upon the current role description for a board member and the policy that described the board’s primary responsibilities. He wanted to get some sense of how each board member was feeling about their role on the board, as well as their assessment of where the board might improve its work on behalf of the congregation.
Most of the seven board members completed the 10 item survey without too much static, but Gord and Dave always gave him grief at having to do this. They were always the last ones to submit their responses. Jerry could never tell how seriously they took the assignment, but he did know that they did not appreciate its value. The lead pastor provided nominal support, but he was not big on evaluations and did not really appreciate the board’s recent actions to initiate an annual performance evaluation. Jerry was frustrated at this passive aggressive response, but felt compelled to persist.
In the most recent evaluative survey the results showed that three of the board members were quite comfortable with the status quo. They made no significant suggestions for improving the board’s collective work and they seemed to be satisfied with their own contributions to the board. However, the other four responses high-lighted two areas where they desired to work for change. One concerned the verbal reading of reports in the board meetings, a practice that had long history with the board, particularly when it came to the lead pastor’s report. Some of the board members considered this unwise stewardship of board time, assuming that board members could read the report before the meeting and raise questions during the meeting if they had any. The other concerned the desire for developing an annual strategic plan for the ministry of the church. In other words a number of board members felt that the board’s work was somewhat disorganized and lacked focus and direction.
And this is where Jerry’s dilemma emerged. He knew that, based upon the survey results, if he proposed that the board would receive reports, but not have them read in the board meeting, the lead pastor would feel his work was not appreciated. Also several board members thought that this was an essential means by which to keep tabs on the pastor. Jerry also knew that several board members, including the lead pastor, thought strategic plans were all right in the business world, but this was God’s church and the Holy Spirit would guide the board month by month. No strategic plan was necessary because God already knew the end from the beginning.
Jerry was wise enough to realize that if the board did not make changes in these two areas, their ability to provide leadership for the congregation would be in jeopardy. Without a process for developing a strategic plan how could they collectively discern God’s direction for the next several years and intentionally and persistently keep in step with Him? They had no mechanism or collective process to test their ideas and evaluate their various opinions.
In Jerry’s opinion there were two options. He could go along to get along, as they say, and not press for further changes. If he did this he risked frustrating several of the church board members and losing their contributions. Or, he could bring the results of the survey to the board, articulate what they revealed and let the board members determine whether change should be made. If the board decided for change, then some of those board members who liked the current situation might resign. Jerry decided that his loyalty as a board member was to the church’s mission and as chair his primary responsibility was to lead the board to advance this mission. This required the board to change its mode of operation, regardless of what one or two board members might think.
1. Embedding assessment of a church board into the annual agenda maintains this process as a normal and expected activity.
2. Use a board self-assessment tool that is adapted to the church context. There is one on the churchboardchair.ca website. Type “church board evaluation” in the “search” box.
3. Try to develop a set of board operations policies that include annual assessment. This enables new board members to understand the way the board manages its work and to expect an annual assessment will be conducted by the chair.
4. In reporting the resources tabulate the information in an anonymous format. It is not helpful to single out a board member because of a specific response.
5. Present the results honestly. Have confidence in the board members’ desire to improve their collective performance. Where you think change will be helpful, come prepared with some suggested directions for the board to consider.
6. “What ain’t broke” still may need fixing! Just because something works does not mean it is productive or effective. A car engine can run well without being connected to the transmission, but the car will not move.