Around the world this fall, boards gather at their online tables to ask, “What kind of congregation can we be in this strange time? When and how can we return to ‘normal,’ and what will that even look like?” Some deny the possibility of planning in such times, but without deliberate planning, habit and momentum rule. Without structure, planning conversations run in circles or explode in conflict. At this time even more than most, boards need structured ways to talk about the future.
“I wish we were more transparent about our finances.” For almost every problem congregations face, transparency is one proposed solution. Treasurers and business managers—who work hard to produce honest, accurate reports—often are surprised by the implication that they’re hiding something. Transparency is good, but flooding people with more data rarely solves the problem. True transparency requires a plan to give financial information to each of four distinct audiences.
Last March as we began to realize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, congregations entered a creative frenzy. We found ways to offer worship, pastoral care, group fellowship, and education online. Long-range plans went out the window as we rose to short-term challenges.
Governing boards—even those that generally spend time planning and discerning—have understandably become preoccupied with short-term matters. Board members are busy finding groceries, caring for children out of school, and helping out with this or that around the congregation. But “this or that” is not the work of governance. Eventually boards and clergy leaders must return to their core work and formulate a fact-based and compelling vision of the congregation’s future.
Talking openly about occupational subcultures helps make board conversation richer and more fruitful.
Churches and synagogues often serve as incubators for soup kitchens, food pantries, nursery schools, retirement homes, arts programs, and other worthy ventures. Once those ventures are established, how much control should a congregation have over them?
Most congregations have at least one jerk. You know who I mean—the one who takes up far more than one person’s share of time and energy and leaves the group feeling discouraged, disempowered, and exhausted. How can you be sure it isn’t you?
Inviting neighbors to serve on our boards may be unusual and even scary, but this kind of ministry can be life-changing and life-giving to the mission-seeking church.