“We’re now addicted to meetings that insulate us from the work we ought to be doing.”
—Al Pittampalli, Read This Before Our Next Meeting
Leaders who don’t like meetings are like dentists who don’t like teeth. Leaders who don’t think critically about their meeting cultures are like dentists who don’t know their tools.
Most church leaders find themselves in a wide variety of meetings on a regular basis. But are all these meetings helping push the mission of your church forward? My suspicion is that a bunch of these meetings actually hinder our churches from reaching their full potential. Here’s how I see meetings holding back so many of our churches:
• Your Meetings Are Making Decision-Making Fuzzy. Leaders make decisions … meetings don’t. Leaders use meetings to gain input, build consensus and move toward decisions. But ultimately, meetings where leaders don’t take a position and work through it slow down the mission with sideways energy. In an effort to build consensus, leaders can mistakenly look to “group think” to arrive at the best decision. This short circuits a leader’s gifting and responsibility to the group.
• Your Meetings Are Wasting People’s Time. Stop using meetings to update people with information. There are a million better ways to keep people up-to-date on what’s happening in the ministry: email, websites, blogs, podcasts, dashboards, text messages, voice mail, etc. If the meeting is primarily a one-way passage of information, you are wasting people’s time. The information could be expressed and consumed more efficiently in other formats.
• Your Meetings Are Built to Avoid Conflict. Church leaders hate conflict. We’re worried that people will abandon the mission if they see people in conflict. The reverse is actually true. Great leaders lean into conflict. They understand that anything worth doing is going to require leaders with different approaches. Rather than having healthy conflict in meetings, we often resort to “the meeting after the meeting” with complaints about somebody on the “other side.” This is a sure sign that your meeting culture is suppressing conflict, building unhealthy division and slowing down the mission.
• Your Meetings Aren’t Outsider Focused [ref]. One of the peculiarities of church leadership is that we should be obsessed with people who aren’t a part of the church yet … we do believe we have the greatest message in the world … however, we have no way to gain insight from the people we are attempting to reach and serve. We’ll spend a tremendous amount of time, effort, energy and money on working out how to serve people who are already here, but we barely invest in those who aren’t. Our meetings don’t pause to look at the trends outside our four walls. Instead, we debate what’s taking place inside of them. If we want to reach people who aren’t here yet, we need to find ways for them to be voices at the table.
• Your Meetings Don’t Harness People’s Best Thinking. Often people arrive at meetings ill prepared to contribute their best thinking. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure they are ready to dive into the discussion with their unique insights to help us make the best decisions. Yes, a part of this is having a written agenda before the meeting, but it’s so much more than that. It’s connecting with the team to clarify any tension points. It’s providing auxiliary reading material to support the conversation. It’s planning the meeting at the right time of day so everyone has maximum energy. It’s ending the meeting before people are worn out. It’s having snacks ready and a great meeting space that encourages conversation.
• Your Meetings Aren’t Action Oriented. So the meeting comes to an end and you’ve debated the issue at hand. Now what? If the meeting doesn’t end with a clear sense of who is responsible to take action, any momentum will be lost. You called the meeting because it was needed to push the mission forward … so articulate what everyone needs to do next in light of the conversation. Document the next steps, make them publicly available and then hold everyone accountable. If there isn’t a sense of momentum coming out of your meetings, you are slowing down the mission.
• You Talk Too Much in Your Meetings. Can we have an honest moment? Leaders like to hear their own voices. They are often most interested in ensuring other people know what they are thinking. But the point of a meeting is for a leader to present a point of view and then have the people collected debate the decision at hand. You know what you think already. Take some time to frame the meeting so people will contribute much more than you do. Like your Mom always said, “God gave you two ears and one mouth; listen twice as much as you talk!”
• Your Meetings Aren’t Special Enough. Your mission is incredibly special. Do your meetings reflect that? Take time to craft meetings into something special rather than routine bores. If you don’t have time to invest in making your meetings a special gathering, cancel 50 percent of your meetings this week to use that time to make the other meetings more special. Watch what will happen! You spend time, effort and energy in crafting weekend services, kids’ environments and special events that push your mission forward. Your meetings need the same level of intensity.