280. Communication #1: An Essential for Effective Church Board Operations

The church board meets at its regular monthly session. An agenda, circulated a week in advance, has set out the work the board needs to do. At the meeting the board reaches decisions on several issues. The board members go home feeling good about their service. In the midst of all of this activity, however, no one gives specific thought to the communication of these decisions to appropriate individuals and groups.

Somehow the board members assume that the decisions incorporated in the minutes will get transmitted and implemented. But that assumption frequently remains unfulfilled or only haphazardly attended to. Good communication internal to the board, internal between the board and the staff and congregation, and external between the board and individuals and groups outside of the congregation creates major challenges for the average church board.

Let me give you a simple example. A friend recently told me of a case where a church board member learned about a staff member’s resignation on U-tube. While you might say that this was not the board’s fault, ultimately it is the church board that sets policy and holds individuals accountable for implementing policy. Breakdown in communication happens — sometimes unintentionally. However, all too often the lack of communication occurs because those responsible do not consider good communication to be a church board responsibility and priority. I would suggest that when board leaders and members give appropriate and consistent attention to good communication, it prevents many misunderstandings, hurt relationships, frustrations, and crises.

In this blog-article I consider briefly:

Internal Board Communication

Internal communication, along with trust, are the lubricants that enable a church board to operate smoothly. When communication breaks down, boards cannot function effectively. As a result their agency suffers. Beneficial internal board communication involves clear, accurate minutes circulated in a timely manner; good agendas shared with the board at least four or five days before meetings, along with necessary documents; informative and responsible reporting from board committees and staff; well-moderated discussions in which board members feel safe to ask tough questions; open sharing of information because of commitments to confidentiality; clear declarations of conflicts of interest; equal access by all board members to the same information at the same time; processes for resolving conflict; and acceptance of the principle that the chair person speaks for the board.

The board chair on behalf of the board members carries the responsibility to manage this complex, internal communication network. Today email and other media make the communication process work with much greater efficiency and ease. However, it also carries with it potential for harm. So board members need to develop protocols that will protect the board from circulating potentially litigious material. Discussions about the boundaries regarding confidentiality should occur at least twice annually to remind all board members about these limitations.

Board Communication with Personnel and People in the Congregation

The board members also have to consider communication with staff and members of the congregation. While board members may give this special attention because of current issues, in fact it is a constant factor in board leadership. And it is a two-way street which has to be cultivated with care, respect, and openness. When it comes to personnel a primary concern for the board is good communication with the lead pastor. If communication breaks down in that relationship, then nothing much can go right within the congregation. Once more it is the board chair who bears considerable responsibility in sustaining such communication.     Frequently a church board will appoint a personnel committee to ensure that staff matters are heard and addressed carefully and expeditiously. Whether it is matters related to personnel or the general congregation, the board chair is the one who speaks on behalf of the board. During congregational meetings the board chair will be reporting on behalf of the board. Other board members may be asked to speak to particular questions, but the board chair speaks for the board in such discussions. What should be communicated, how frequently communication should occur, and using which media to communicate with the congregation are matters that the board should discuss. It may delegate various board members or staff individuals to manage the communication. When a church board fails to communicate with the congregation well or listen to their concerns, the board’s ability to lead will be compromised through a breakdown of trust.

So you can deal with communications up front and well or deal with the consequences. I think the principles that support biblical community and also the principles of risk management encourage us to tend to communications as an essential matter of effective church board operations.

See blog-article 281 for further reflections on communication.

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