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Alban Institute

Staff Meetings in Large Congregations
Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant, The Alban Institute

We've always known a lot about small congregations. We also know that mid-size congregations are stressed by trying to do more with fewer resources. And there's growing literature about mega-churches. But we need to learn much more about large congregations-"corporate-size" churches, with worship attendances of 500-2,000 people.

According to Gary McIntosh, author of One Size Doesn't Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church (Fleming H Revell, 1999), large congregations are more driven by vision, are more organizational than relational, have pastors that function as leaders more than as "lovers" (administrators), and have decisions made more by staff and leaders than by committees. All of this suggests that staff meetings are of increased importance in the large congregation because that is where much of the vision alignment and organizational strategy take place. On that point, here are observations from Alban's work with large congregations.

In general, staff meetings have several important purposes:

  • Missional alignment: Staff meetings are occasions for staff members to remember and rehearse the larger vision of the congregation and to recognize the efforts of individuals and committees in light of that larger vision.
  • Community: Staff members connect meaningfully with each other and remind themselves that they share in a ministry of great purpose.
  • Supervision: Staff reviews typical supervisiory questions such as, What have we been doing? What are we learning? What will we give attention to in the next week, month, or quarter?
  • Role renegotiation: Staff members can negotiate what they need from each other to do their work. "John, I need you to help Mary and me to . . . ." This is the appropriate time and place for members to offer help and to get what help others can give.
Recognizing these purposes, leaders should keep in mind the following three principles when designing and facilitating staff meetings:
  1. Maintain a standard format. A predictable format and dependable agenda for meetings will allow-and instruct-staff to share information and raise questions in a helpful way. Information sharing and storytelling are not the same thing. For example, everyone does not need to hear why a particular member of the congregation is in the hospital, what tests have been done, and when she is expected home. The staff simply needs to know that the person is in the hospital and that someone on staff has the responsibility to provide pastoral contact and care. In other words, the purpose of sharing information is to prevent surprises and to align the work. But sharing information is not always an invitation for others to review the work, raise questions about how a staff person is operating, or suggest improvements to performance, unless solicited.

  2. Don't rush to decisions. Staff meetings are not gatherings in which everyone has to participate in every conversation, be involved in all decisions, and reach unanimous agreement-since decision making belongs to the staff members accountable for that item on the agenda. In fact, many staff meetings get smaller or larger as the meeting progresses. For example, a typical large-to-small progression might be:

    • All Staff (clergy, program, administrative, and support staff): Meeting for common prayer, a review of the calendar for the upcoming week/month, and a chance to see everyone in the same place at once.
    • Pastoral Care (clergy, program staff, and executive secretary): Meeting for a review of those who need pastoral care and to assign a staff member to provide the care. The executive secretary's function is to manage the list of those assigned to give care and those to receive care.
    • Program Team (clergy and program staff): Meeting for a review of program work. Supervisory questions such as those listed above (What have we been doing? What are we learning?) will be asked and addressed. This is often the right staff configuration for looking at big-picture issues or events facing the congregation in the future.
    • Worship Team (clergy and staff with worship responsibilities): Meeting for planning the worship in the coming week or season.
    Remember that when decisions are made that affect the work of other staff who are no longer or not yet in the room, someone present must communicate the decision with those absent members.

  3. Delegate and entrust. After information is shared and issues are identified, the staff members involved and responsible for a task should be asked to work "off line," or outside of the meeting, individually or in a small group to resolve issues or plan responses.

I've not mentioned several other purposes and needs that are a part of staff life and responsibility: shared worship, shared study, team building, and looking together into the larger future of the culture and community. Some staff do make room on the agenda to include these topics regularly or occasionally, while others do not. In deciding whether to include a topic in a meeting, the staff should ask themselves, Are these issues best addressed as part of a staff meeting or given more specific attention? How much time in a staff meeting is too much time?

We still have a lot to learn about large congregations. What have been your experiences with staff meetings? What seems to work for your group? Please share your observations with us by writing to me at [email protected].

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Copyright 2005 by the Congregational Resource Guide. All rights reserved. This article may be freely distributed, with the following attribution:

Source: www.congregationalresources.org 2005 The Congregational Resource Guide.