If you have served as a church board chair for some time, then undoubtedly you have discerned areas in which the board could improve its work. But why do some boards consistently under-perform? What factors contribute to mediocrity? Surely Christ’s church and its people, particularly board members, deserve better. One place to start is by understanding what marks an under-performing board. A little analysis can be a significant stimulus to change. In your role as chair you have the opportunity — and responsibility — to help your board move to a new level of worshipful work.
Let me suggest a few factors (not in any priority) that might indicate to you as chair that the board is not performing to its potential:
1. decisions are made without reference to the church’s mission, values or vision.
Over time, because there is no guiding framework, decisions are made in a haphazard and inconsistent way. Church health suffers because people sense lack of coherent direction.
2. no intent to measure effective implementation, i.e. no accountability.
When a decision is taken, its implementation is not assigned to any person or group and there is no time line for reporting the degree of success. The result is a board making decisions but not measuring the effectiveness of their decisions.
3. inability to understand the collective work of the board as spiritual work contributing to the health of the church.
The board lacks awareness of the connection between their work and the spiritual health of the church. The seriousness of their work and the importance of their leadership becomes diminished over time. Further, they only see some parts of their work together as spiritual, which says to the congregation that Jesus is only Lord of part of our lives.
4. failure to require annual evaluation of all ministry staff.
The board is unable to communicate to the church that the mission is being fulfilled because the board does not know how effective the ministry staff are in their work and whether their work truly is contributing to the mission of the church.
5. inability to communicate its decisions well.
Although the board may make some good decisions, there is no collective understanding about how these decisions will be communicated to staff, to the congregation or to external groups. These groups hear different messages from different board members and confusion grows.
6. inability to address a crisis well and learn through the experience.
As Peter Drucker is reported to have said, you only know who’s wearing a bathing suit when the tide goes out. Crises test the metal of a board and reveal how well it is working together. When a crisis catches a board by surprise and it has no policy with which to deal with it, then the board has the opportunity to discover how well it functions as a ministry team, discerns God’s will together, and provides prudent direction for the congregation. When it is all over, does the board take time to reflect and ask whether a policy might be developed to guide the board in similar, future situations?
7. allowing what has been to define what will be.
Theologically what the Spirit has given in Scripture has to define what will be. However, when it comes to practice or traditions, this is another question entirely. When a board continually defaults to what traditionally has occurred and refuses to risk change and new direction for the health of the church, then it is shirking its responsibility.
8. unwillingness to maintain confidentiality.
A sure sign that a board is not functioning well occurs when the content of board discussions seeps into the general congregation. Lack of confidentiality signals deterioration of trust in one another. When board members cannot trust one another, it is only a matter of time before the congregation loses confidence in the board as a whole.
9. lack of discipline to prepare well individually and collectively for each board meeting.
When board members come to meetings constantly unprepared, the board cannot do its work well. Vital information may be overlooked and poor decisions result. Misunderstandings occur because a board member has failed to read the reports and comprehend what the issues truly are. Unless it is addressed, it will be a contagion that damages the ability of the board to work well together.
10. failure to act in the interests of the whole congregation.
In every decision that board must demonstrate that it has the good of the congregation at the centre of its concern. If the church perceives that the board is acting in its own interests or only in the interests of part of the congregation, again trust will soon evaporate and the board’s credibility will be destroyed.
When a chair discerns some or all of these things occurring, then he or she must find ways to motivate the board to embrace better, more productive ways. Ignoring these matters will cause good board members to become frustrated and leave the board.