Make church meetings work
- 2001 16 Aug
How to run a good meeting:
- Start on time. Starting late disrespects those who arrive on time and is unconsciously supportive of those who come late. Starting late becomes the norm so there is no motivation for being there at the appointed hour.
- Deal with tardy members. Meet privately with them and stress why arriving and starting on time is necessary. This applies equally to clergy as well as to laity.
- Set the tone. The leader sets the tone in the first few minutes. Opening remarks need to motivate the attendees. Display enthusiasm, interest, objectivity, receptivity, and hospitality. Avoid negative opening statements like: We'd better get started because we're already running late (negative); or I know you're thrilled to be here (satirical); or Before we actually begin our meeting there are a few housekeeping chores I need to discuss with you (boring).
- Open with prayer and/or faith sharing. This is a time for rebonding as a group and setting the focus on God's agenda. Ask a member of the group to prepare an opening devotional: a scripture, a reading and a reflection, a prose or poetry reading, a song, or a taped reflection. Members may be invited to share their thoughts on the material.
- Set guidelines and ground rules. These should be prepared in writing and passed out at the group's first meeting where they can be discussed, modified, and agreed upon. Here are some suggested guidelines:
- Start and end the meeting on time.
- Stick to the agenda and time frames established.
- Don't interrupt when someone has the floor.
- Don't engage in side conversations.
- Everyone's ideas are valuable.
- Build on the ideas of others rather than jumping to new ones.
- Take notes of key ideas.
- Deal with issues and not personalities.
- Don't be repetitive.
- Be brief in your remarks.
- Everyone participates, no one dominates.
- Remain open-minded and nonjudgmental.
- Stress confidentiality.
- Complaints are welcome when they are accompanied by a suggested solution.
- The leader is empowered to enforce the guidelines and ground rules.
- Review and take minutes. It's a good idea to have someone who is not a participant in the meeting record the notes and prepare the minutes. The minutes should provide a record of actions taken as well as key ideas and concerns discussed. They should be specific about defining problems, alternatives presented, solutions agreed upon, assignments made, deadlines, and follow-up actions. Don't get bogged down in correcting punctuation and spelling. This can be done privately and not take time from the meeting.
- Make announcements brief. An endless stream of announcements converts the meeting into a parish newsletter.
- Lead. You must retain the power to stop what is happening and change the format, clarify roles, push for accountability, and focus the group on the issues. Encourage everyone to participate, deal with problem people, and remain neutral during disagreements. Set the standard of behavior by your own behavior.
- Delegate responsibility. A leader supports, persuades, and encourages the members of the group to take on and complete the work of the group.
- Emphasize the key idea. The progress of the meeting is best served when the leader captures a key idea or central issue that needs to be considered, discussed, and possibly voted on. A leader will help the members get past the emotional aspects of the issue and focus on solutions.
- Handle old business. Written summary reports that are distributed with the agenda before the meeting work best. This prevents old business items from developing into major issues.
- Handle new business. Weighty new business items should not be left for the end of the meeting when people are tired and anxious to leave. Consider moving important items to the top of your agenda.
- End on time. Close the meeting noting some positive accomplishment. If the meeting was difficult strive for some words to help heal the hurts.
- Close with prayer. Put the meeting into a faith perspective. Ask a member of the group to offer a prayer. Spontaneous prayer might be appropriate as well.
Excerpted from Making Parish Meetings Work by Medard Laz. Copyright (c) 1997 by Ave Maria Press, Inc. Used by permission of Ave Maria Press, Inc., P. O. Box 428, Notre Dame, IN, 46556. This book is available from the publisher (1-800-282-1865, fax: 1-800-282-5681 or email: avemariapress.1\@nd.edu) or at your local religious bookstore.
Medard Laz is a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago and founding pastor of Holy Family Parish in Inverness, Ill. He is the author of seven booklets including Helps for the Separated and Divorced, Helps for the Widowed and the book Love Adds a Little Chocolate. He is also co-founder of Rainbows for God's Children, a worldwide program for children of the divorced.