5. The Challenge of Sustainability

At our recent "Best Practices for Church Boards Workshop" held in Langley, one of the groups attending had also participated in the first workshop we presented two and half years ago. What was remarkable to note was that none of the members of that church board were the same. Over that short period of time the whole board had changed.

I began to wonder what the average term of a church board member is? If there is a constant change in the composition of a church board, how can the congregation sustain its mission, vision and ministry? It is not just pastoral leadership change that can be debilitating for a local church, but significant and ongoing board changes can be equally detrimental.

Sometimes a significant turnover of church board members occurs because there is a church crisis. The entire board thinks it best to resign and allow a new leadership team to regain the trust of the congregation. However, such events thankfully are infrequent. More frequently the composition of a church board changes gradually but consistently from year to year. But this means that over a two to four year period half of the board members will be new. Such a rate of change requires the board leadership to pay particular attention to several factors.

First, careful orientation of new church board members to the work of a church board generally, and to the issues that a particular church is considering, becomes more critical. If it takes six to twelve months for a new church board member to learn how function well in and contribute substantially to the church board’s leadership, then reducing this time lag and enabling a person fully to participate more quickly is well worth the effort.

Second, discerning potential, new church board members becomes a significant part of the leaderships’ responsibility. Encouraging a person to accept the ministry of church board membership requires investing time, helping the individual to understand their giftedness, dealing with questions, communicating clearly the responsibilities, and engaging in prayerful discernment.

Third, planning and leading church board meetings that accomplish significant ministry, engage the mind and heart of the members, and effectively blend worship and work, requires dedicated attention to details. When church board members see the contribution their collaborative work is making to the health and advancement of the church, then they are motivated and eager to continue.

Fourth, balancing the workload among the various church board members becomes an important factor, because each feels that they are contributing to the work of the church board. If a person knows that their skills, knowledge, and/or competence is helping the church board make good decisions and establish effective policy, then motivation is increased.

Other factors could be elaborated. The message, however, is simple. We have to work hard at sustaining a church board and its ministry. If this work is done well, then many other aspects of church life will operate smoothly and happily, as God’s Spirit blesses and leads.

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