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Fixing the Church Board Problem

Some churches call them deacons, some call them elders, some have trustees, and others probably call them by other names, but for this post let’s just lump them all together as the church board.

These are the men and women who are elected or appointed to support the church, make decisions, and protect the mission and unity of their local church.  At least that’s what they’re supposed to do.

Most churches have some version of this board in place. This board holds power, so the health of this board is very important to the health of the church.

So, you would assume that the process of putting this board together would be very well thought out, and in many cases you would assume wrong.

Hence, the need for this post.

Pastors, it’s often easy to place blame with those on the board who frustrate us the most, but the root of the problem lies much deeper than that.

The problem isn’t the people you have in place. The problem is the system by which they got their position.

So, if you want to fix the problem, you have to fix the system.

Let’s look at some questions that will help us do that.

  • What is the role of the board?

What decisions do you want them to make? How much control do you want them to have? What kind of relationship do they have with the pastor? Are they his or her boss, or do they work together under the pastor’s leadership?

The more control you give the board, the harder it will be for your church to grow. That’s not my opinion; that’s been proven through researching thousands of churches.

  • How are board members appointed?

In many churches this happens through a congregational vote with little thought for who would actually be a good fit. These people make decisions that often affect your family and community, so maybe it shouldn’t just be, “Well, Bob seems like a nice guy, and it would be mean to vote against him.”

Think through what process would be best to make sure only qualified candidates can be voted on or appointed. I’ve heard of people being voted on to boards who never tithed, never volunteered, and rarely even showed up to church.

  • How are board members developed?

Even the best candidates will still need to be developed. They don’t know what you know. Chances are they’re not spending their free time reading church leadership books or listening to Andy Stanley’s latest podcast.

In most small town churches, that development needs to come through the senior pastor. If you have a board member who’s been with you for a while, you may be able to delegate it to them. Either way, you need to make sure someone is doing it. Otherwise, the board stops growing and the church won’t be far behind.

  • How long will board members serve?

This can be a tough decision. On one hand term limits are helpful because if someone isn’t a good fit, they will be coming off the board when their term is up. On the other hand, you may have someone who is a great board member that you never want to leave the board.

I lean more towards term limits that allow board members to serve consecutive terms if they are doing a good job. You’ll need to decide what works best for you.

Whatever you decide, you’ll need to remember to have everything documented in your church constitution and bylaws. This may take some time and some difficult discussion, but it will definitely be worth it.

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