For three years, I served as moderator of our church’s business meetings. For the most part, this was a rewarding experience and I must have done something right since I received a standing ovation when I stepped down (or maybe they were just glad to see me go).
In churches with a congregational polity, the church business meeting is where important (and sometimes unimportant) decisions are made. As moderator, participant, and observer, I have seen people at their best and at their worst in church business meetings.
Let’s consider potential negative aspects of such meetings.
Very often, those participating are not prepared to make decisions. They come to the meeting with little or no information and are asked to vote on the spot. To have more informed body, church leaders can use town hall meetings and small groups for discussions about a topic before it comes to the floor for a vote. Often, consensus can be built in this way.
Committee don’t give good reports. Although a church committee may understand an issue and have immersed themselves in preparing a response or proposal, they provide either too much or too little information. An executive summary of key points should be provided ahead of time and then the committee can share additional information as needed.
The most verbal people sway the decision. A wise moderator and church leaders find ways to hear more voices before the meeting (see town hall meetings and discussion groups above).
Remember that people more often decide an issue based on their emotions than their reasoning. Committees and church leaders who fail to make an emotional connection with a proposal can expect a negative response.
Prayer is rarely seen as an integral part of the gathering but only a way to “book-end” the meeting. What might be different if the moderator stopped during the meeting and asked for a time of silent reflection or called on a neutral party to voice a prayer?
On the other hand, church business meetings have positive aspects.
These meetings are democracy in action. All may speak and vote. A wise moderator will use rules of order in such a way that free speech is facilitated rather than hindered and all are encouraged to take part.
Church business meetings give us the opportunity to do the right thing. In more than one meeting, I have observed a wise member of the congregation stand and insert a word of compassion or encouragement that tempered the decision-making process. This is the Spirit of God at work.
If there are healthy relationships in the congregation, there will be a healthy atmosphere in the business meeting. Dysfunctional families show their stress at funerals (and sometimes at weddings). If the church family is not getting along on a daily basis, we should not expect harmony in a business meeting.
Finally, we must seek “win-win” decisions. A vote in a church business meeting is not the final word. If segments of the congregations are seen as winners or losers in a decision, fellowship will be broken. Our primary goal should be finding ways forward that all members can embrace.