In this report Boardsource indicates that this is their “eighth census of nonprofit practices” taken since 1994. The respondents included 846 chief executives and 246 board chairs. The survey occurred between May 20, 2014 and July 14, 2014. You can review the entire survey at the Boardsource website. Three quarters of the respondents represented small and medium sized nonprofits. The average tenure of board chairs was 7.2 years.
One of the key sections of their report concerns board dynamics, i.e. board engagement, dynamics and culture. Boardsource affirms that “board chairs set the tone for the collective culture of the board. Chief executives give their board chairs good, but not great grades on their leadership of the board” (40). Two areas of board engagement captured their attention. One concerns the degree to which the whole board demonstrates “shared leadership” [“a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or organizational goals or both” (41)]. Only 75% of CEO’s and board chairs agreed that “the majority of board members are actively engaged in overseeing and governing the organization” (41). A similarly percentage acknowledges that all board members participated in discussions, but this means that in 25% of the cases such interaction was less than desired.
I suspect that a similar result would occur if lead pastors and church board chairs were surveyed and asked similar questions. Measuring board engagement receives little attention and realizing that it is crucial for good governance often escapes the notice of board and organizational leaders. Do the members of your church board really take ownership of the governance exercised by the board? Do they come prepared and with committed hearts to the meetings? Do they challenge one another to make the best decisions and ask probing questions? Are they intentionally relating their decisions to the advancement of the congregation’s mission? Do they respect and seek to develop each other’s strengths?
Several other measures should be employed in assessing the engagement of church board members in their work together. One of these would be the degree to which board members are praying for the work of the board and the individual members. If we do believe that evil forces are at work to weaken and eliminate kingdom influence, then presumably this can happen within church boards. One of the “duties” of a church board member is to pray for the board, its leadership and its members. This is a kind of engagement that is unique to church board members.
Another aspect of board engagement somewhat specific to church boards relates to their responsibility for spiritual oversight of the congregation. This responsibility might be assigned to a group of elders or the pastoral team, but the board has to ensure that it is occurring. In other words the care of the members requires constant attention. Other kinds of non-profits pay little attention to the condition of their members because they are focused on the clients that the agency serves. Within church non-profits the members form the most significant part of the clientele in most cases. However, the services provided primarily are of a spiritual nature. Church boards demonstrate their engagement as they make good decisions that will enhance the spiritual life of the congregation and protect it from harmful factors. This means that “risk management” has a spiritual dimension to it.
Church board engagement may also be reflected in the degree to which church board members are active in various congregational programs. It is true that church board work carries heavy responsibility and requires considerable commitment of time and energy. However, the board members are spiritual leaders in the congregation and there is expectation that this leadership will be demonstrated not just by their board work, but also by some significant leadership in other areas of congregational life, e.g. small group leadership, pastoral oversight, fund-raising, etc.
If church board chairs are to be significant leaders among the board members, then they too must demonstrate their engagement in the governance responsibilities of the board.