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Committees Don’t Do Ministry, People Do Ministry

Death by Committee

Death by Committee

Committees meet. They schedule a meeting to talk about all the stuff there is to do and who could possibly do it. I was reading this morning from John Maxwell’s Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading. In chapter 18, entitled “the secret to a good meeting is the meeting before the meeting,” Maxwell quotes Harry Chapman as giving a list of how to handle being on a committee:

  • Never arrive on time: this stamps you as a beginner.
  • Don’t say anything until the meeting is over: this stamps you as being wise.
  • Be as vague as possible: this avoids irritating others.
  • When in doubt, suggest that a subcommittee be appointed.
  • Be the first to move for adjournment: this will make you popular – it’s what everyone is waiting for.

I love that last line. When it comes to committee meetings (or business meetings too), everyone cheers on the insides of themselves when someone moves to adjourn. We’re ready to leave when it starts.

I was chatting with a friend yesterday who helped influence his denomination to take the three days they normally spend doing all of their reporting and denominational business and turn those days into informative and inspirational sessions with practical and usable seminar-like material. Attendance nearly doubled.

I’ve seen some churches with more committees than Sunday School classes and more actual committee members than church members (since most were serving on several committees). Again… committees meet. Committees talk.

So what’s the alternative? It’s funny how many churches still steeped in the tradition of electing far too many committees acknowledge the inability of committees to accomplish ministry, but those same leaders have an innate fear that letting go of the ineffective will somehow render them even more ineffective.

Here’s my suggestion:

Empower people. Give individuals the freedom, the budget, the tools, and the co-helpers necessary to do the things that committees spend way too much time talking about.

I could identify with a Pastor I heard once talking about his rather large church. He bought a house to use as a missionary cottage and spent $110,000 without permission and reported on it the following Sunday. He explained there was no time to discuss it, the deal would be gone by the end of the day. They were not only okay with his decision, they celebrated it. Then they spent 45 minutes discussing, as a committee, how they could get the best possible price in town on new tires for one of the church’s vans.

Committees meet. Committees talk. People do, especially when leaders empower them to do what they do well.

photo credit: clagnut

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  • http://timothyfish.blogspot.com Timothy Fish

    I'll agree that some committees spend way too much time talking and not enough time in action, but from personal experience I know that this isn't true of all committees. When handled correctly, a committee is one of the best ways to get things done. There's more than one type of committee. Some committees exist for the purpose of discussion. We need these committees to discuss broad topics, such as “What will be our master plan for the next ten years?” These committees need to be larger, giving us a broader representation of the body. Other committees are committees for action. These committees are usually three to five people, but they could be two or even one person in number. These committees might handle something like, “Publish a book of guidelines for our teachers.” Because of their small size they are able to do more with less discussion and compromise. A large committee, when asked to accomplish some action should elect a subcommittee to do the action rather than trying to discuss the action into being. The chairman has a significant influence on the effectiveness of the committee. It is the chairman’s job to guide the discussion in such a way that the committee is focused on what is relevant, rather than chasing rabbits. When the committee is kept on track and the members feel that what they are discussing is accomplishing something, the members don’t become frustrated with the meetings.

    • http://www.brandonacox.com Brandon

      Timothy, I do agree with how you've broken it down. In many local church situations I think it's smart to use committees for things like building and grounds, finance, and policies and procedures. But I still see churches operating with a "youth committee" or a "children's committee" and the presumption is that this small group can lead an area of ministry better than an individual. I think we rarely use committees wisely.

      • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

        I suppose you could say that our church has one of those. Our full time Music and Youth minister decided he needed a youth advisory committee, so we elected one this year. It’s only a few weeks old, but we’re already seeing fresh ideas as a result. Which is why a church would want something like that to begin with—two heads really are better than one when it comes to creativity.

        You compare an individual to a committee and talk about the assumption that a small group can lead a ministry better than an individual. I don’t think the comparison is quite that simple. In a committee, there is always a person who is more active in the work than anyone else. Usually this is the chairman. If the committee just approves the chairman’s ideas the committee is much more inefficient than the individual. However, when the chairman creates an atmosphere of respect for the members’ ideas, the creative power of the committee offsets the overhead. Also, committee members gladly work to implement their own ideas while they may balk at the individual’s idea.

  • http://kevinmartineau.blogspot.com Kevin M.

    Great thoughts Brandon.

  • Anonymous

    Good article but I disagree with a few of the bullets about surviving a meeting (hopefully these were meant tongue-in-cheek).

    -First of all, I generally arrived first and more importantly, ON TIME.  One of my pet peeves is the accepted practice of arriving and starting late.  I arrived on time ready to do business.

    -I do not like vagueness and will often press people to explain further.  Again, I’m there for business so I want to get as much as possible out of the meeting.

    -As for adjournment, I served on a board with someone who when he joined the group that had already been together and developed a cohesiveness, pressed for ending our meetings earlier.  While there are times to do so, there are times, particularly in senior leadership when time is needed to discuss weighty matters.  Ironically, when this person became the interim leader of the group, meetings weren’t any shorter under him.  I think he found out that it was easier said than done. particularly with long agendas for meetings that were typically only held once a month.