Church council meetings can be full of inspiration and heart. We believe that the administration of church councils shouldn’t get in the way of that. A frustration we have seen with some churches is that the organisation of the meetings seems overly bureaucratic, with the focus on getting the administration right, in ways that sometimes diminishes the enthusiasm of church council members. We think having meetings that “flow” and are inspiring means paring back the administration so that it serves the interest of the gathering, and doesn’t drive or overwhelm it. Here are our tips for writing up church council meetings that keep the focus on the heart of what you are trying to do!
- Begin with prayer! God is with you. Starting with prayer opens the focus of your meeting with your big intentions to do God’s work in your church and community.
- After your opening prayer take the attendance list and apologies. Many church councils begin with the attendance list, but we think that starting with prayer, rather than with a housekeeping task, creates a more positive opening. Of course the attendance and apologies are important for your records, but get this done after you begin with prayer and focus.
- At this point you can get another, usually straightforward, housekeeping task out of the way — that is approving the Minutes from the last council meeting. Usually there are just minor corrections to note.
- Matters arising. More housekeeping, so try to get it done quickly! Matters Arising is sometimes where things get out of hand and lengthy discussions are opened up before the meeting has even got to the Agenda it is meant to focus on. We think it helps to treat Matters Arising as just another housekeeping item. Ask anyone who raises a “Matter Arising” what item on the Minutes their point relates to. If it doesn’t, then note it down to be discussed within Any Other Business, and keep going!
- Another housekeeping task is to ask is whether there is Any Other Business. This is an opportunity for someone to add something to the Agenda for discussion in the course of the meeting. This item may fit within an existing Agenda item, or it may need a new space. Either way, keep this discussion “housekeeping-like”; note the item, but this isn’t the point to get into a long discussion about it. It’s time to get to the Agenda — the reason you’re gathered here!
- From here, meetings will tend to follow an established pattern relating to the interests and focus of a particular church, with people who lead on those areas usually giving some kind of report — for example, Mission, which may include a report from the person leading Children’s Ministry, another report from the person leading Music, and another report from the person leading Mission giving.
- In terms of taking Minutes, we suggest dividing Minutes into “It was Noted That” and “It was Decided That”. There are usually two or three key points from each report which should be recorded for future reference; this goes under the “It was Noted That” header. If a decision relating to an area has been taken, for example, to move the toddler group from Wednesdays to Thursday, this is recorded under “It was Decided That”. Invariably, the “It was Noted” list looks longer by the end of the meeting, with several points for each topic area; while the “It was Decided” list usually has a relatively small number of new decisions listed. Everything that’s worth noting from the meeting should fit comfortably into one or other of the headers —if something doesn’t fit under either “Something to note” or “It was Decided that”, it might be helpful to ask whether it needs to be recorded for posterity. Not every single view expressed in a council meeting needs to be recorded!
We think making church council minutes accessible and less daunting is part of promoting healthy democracy within church governance. Minutes are part of mission! If your church or organisation has done its meetings and minutes in the same format for years, maybe think about trying a new approach; make it as simple as it can be, and see what happens!