311. Can Church Boards Dispense with the Vice-Chair Position — and Should They?

In a recent blog D. Brown (Governance Solutions June 2017) indicates that the position of vice-chair has “all but disappeared in the corporate/private sector, and even much of the public sector,” although they still are prevalent in not-for-profit agencies. Church boards would be included in this last category. In my experience most church boards still have a position designated as “vice-chair” and do not give any thought as to whether this role still has relevance or value. As your church board reviews its operations, perhaps it is time to review this position. Is it still necessary?
Often church boards will have three or four officers — chair, vice-chair, treasurer, secretary. In larger churches where they have a financial officer on staff, the board does not need a treasurer. Sometimes a staff administrator assistant will function as the secretary. So if a church board dispenses with the vice-chair position, the only officer some church boards might have is the chair. This can work reasonably well providing the board has competent members who can step in as necessary to provide different kinds of leadership. Those leading standing committees, for example, could assist in that way.
If you reflect on the number of meetings during the past two years at which the vice chair had to fill in for the chair, you might be hard pressed to remember any instances. Further, if that necessity had occurred, there was no guarantee that the vice-chair would have been present to fill the chair’s role.
The major negative that Brown mentions is that the board members might assume that the person filling the vice-chair role is in fact the designated successor to the chair. This might hinder a board from making the next chair selection based on merit. While this might be true in some instances, if a church board does regard the vice-chair role as the manner in which board leadership succession is managed, then they will appoint a person to this position who has potential to serve as future chair. Further, if this succession process is understood, then it gives the person who is vice-chair a year or two to be mentored by the current chair for that anticipated role. Of course, a board does not need the position of vice-chair in order to mentor a person for the position of board chair, but it might a simple and useful expedient.
Often individuals selected to serve on church boards have little previous experience and it takes several years for them to figure out how to accomplish their responsibilities well. Few church boards have any formal means for developing new leaders, other than placing them in more limited leadership roles, i.e., committee chair, and giving them opportunity to gain experience. So there may be wisdom in maintaining a vice-chair role, especially if it functions as a leadership succession process. If this is the case, then the board should make this clear in the vice-chair position description and appoint individuals to this role who indeed have the confidence of the board as potential board chairs.

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