245. Selective Results from a Recent Survey of NonProfit Boards in North America

The October 2014 newsletter “Boardsource Spark” presented a short preview of the key findings of “BoardSource’s national survey.” While some might argue that church board members are more motivated and involved than members of other types of nonprofit agencies, these results do bear some reflection.

For example, only 36 percent of CEOs feel that, “to a great extent, board members are prepared for meetings.”

28 percent of board chairs strongly agree “that all board members participate in discussions.”

21 percent of board chairs strongly agree “that orientation is effective.”

I wonder what lead pastors might say if surveyed with a similar question about the preparation of church board members? Do church board members come prepared for meetings, i.e. read up, prayed up, and Spirit-filled? Church board members might respond that they would come to meetings better prepared if agendas and other reports were circulated prior to scheduled meetings in a more timely fashion!

I wonder if it is your experience as church board chair that about a quarter of the board members generally carry the discussion, with the remainder only occasionally speaking to issues? Do you think such a situation is healthy from the standpoint of board leadership and operations?

Does your church board have a process for orienting new board members and is it effective?

I have picked certain results presented in this BoardSource report in order to highlight once again that many church boards (as well as other faith-based non-profit agency boards) tend to function below their capacity. They are getting a job done, but they fall short of their potential for excellence. Without a doubt this influences in a negative way the ability of the congregation to achieve its mission. Time is wasted, poor decisions are made, board leaders are frustrated and lead pastors consider such boards a hindrance to their leadership. What is amazing to me is the reluctance to embrace better ways or uncertainty or lack of knowledge about more effective operational processes that the “status quo” represents. It is sad to see people who are committed to the Gospel providing less than effective leadership merely because they do not know there is a better way.

The encouragement is that things do not have to remain like this. Change is possible if board leaders and board members catch a vision for how effective board work can propel a congregation to a level of mission achievement that none thought possible. But this kind of change requires deliberate action on the part of the board and its leadership — a kind of consistent action over time moving in the same direction. In other words board members individually and collectively need to learn new habits of communication, decision-making, and collaboration. Perhaps new organizational relationships have to be shaped adn embraced. Establishing new habits takes time and repeated practice is necessary before the new behaviour becomes second nature.

Breaking through inertia requires strong leadership. People become comfortable with the current ways and resist change. Board chairs have to find ways to build a culture of innovation, adaptation and development within the board. If a church board is not developing and nurturing its capacities for strategic ministry leadership, then eventually it will delimit the congregation’s ability to flourish. When the congregation is ready to grow, but a church board does not perceive this and fails to get itself ready to rise with this tide, then the congregation’s future will be jeopardized.

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