My first meeting ever was a complete disaster. I had just joined a church staff at 18 years old as the Tech Director. I had many responsibilities involving technology, but the main reason I got hired was to build a new website for the church.
When I was hired, there was already a team in place that was working on the church website. They were volunteers of course, and these three women did a great job of updating information on the website from time to time but weren’t programmers or designers in any fashion.
I didn’t want to create a website that was just “up to date”, I wanted to create the coolest online church experience anyone had ever seen in 2005. So I made a colossal mistake; I told the three women that updated the website I didn’t need their help anymore and started searching for some programmers to work on the technology team.
I actually found three men who were professional programmers and designers at our church. I got their information together and scheduled a meeting. I don’t know what I was thinking, but that was about all the preparation I did.
You would think that a guy who has no volunteer team because he fired them all would go into a meeting like this with a solid strategy, but alas I just showed up without a single thing in hand or a single idea in my head. These three middle-aged, ultra professional, very busy guys tore me apart in there.
They made sure I knew that I had wasted their time and that no one walked away with anything except the faint memory of a nerdy conversation. I felt utterly defeated, but I resolved to turn my newly found terrible meeting host reputation around. I spent the next year studying, articulating, and refining the art of having a good meeting.
Of course, when you get a lot better at something, you start to see the weaknesses exhibited by everyone else more clearly. It became apparent to me in my second year on the job that most people I worked with didn’t know how to have a good meeting either.
In my experience, only one out of three church staffers has a good grasp of holding effective and healthy meetings. They’re not alone, though. I spent years hosting terrible meetings myself; after all, practice makes perfect.
So I wanted to share the four reasons why church leaders have the worst meetings from my own personal experiences. If this isn’t you, forward this post along to a young leader that’s just getting their feet wet and save them from learning all of this the hard way like I did.
four reasons why church leaders have the worst meetings
#1 the meeting is too casual and relational
In order to start having better meetings, you need to first understand that meetings aren’t just hangouts where people solve problems. They’re vessels for communication and vision.
In my experience, church leaders tend to take their ultra relational qualities into meetings far too often. I believe that anyone on a church staff should have highly relational qualities through and through, but I also believe every gift has an optimal time and place to be utilized.
The truth is, people have a substantial amount of opportunities to get connected relationally without doing so in a meeting. Not only is there lunch time, the beginning of the day, and the end of the day, but there are also unlimited opportunities to invest in staff relationships outside of the work day altogether.
So it seems rather silly to build a meeting that focuses on relationship building. I’m not saying a meeting should be a boot camp atmosphere where people are scared to speak their mind or slouch in their chair, but I am saying that a meeting should be considered a time where everyone present is focused on the same objective.
Time is precious, and you’re not the only one affected if you’re hosting a meeting, you’re either wasting the time of every other person in that room or putting it to good use.
So build a culture where investing in relationships is rewarded and encouraged, just not in the midst of a meeting. You’d be surprised how many hours this will save in a year.
#2 the meeting has too many goals
I don’t know how old the idea of a meeting is, but I imagine that even Adam and Eve had their own meetings of sorts way back when. The idea of congregating, discussing ideas, planning for the future, and practicing better communication applies to marriages, friendships, businesses, churches, kings, government officials, and kids playing in the sandbox.
So you’d think that by the time a person hits their stride of adulthood that they would have a learned a thing or two about having effective meetings through a lifetime of experiences.
However, the truth is, meetings are so wide reaching in purpose and possibility that most people never quite dial into meeting strategies that are anything more than talking with people in the same room at the same time conversationally. This is because a meeting can end up being so many things, but an effective meeting can only be one thing at a time.
Always set a singular goal for your meetings. Ask yourself what specific conclusion needs to be arrived at, or what specific problem needs to be solved. In my experience, when someone schedules a meeting, they have this crazy idea that it’s their one last chance to discuss everything they have on their mind as if there’s never going to be another meeting again.
Be patient, and remember that there’s always time for a follow-up meeting as long as you’re planning ahead. So instead of expecting to solve every single one of your church’s problems in one meeting, plan several shorter meetings and communicate your intentions to do so up front.
#3 people don’t know how to conduct themselves in the meeting
I believe in setting clear expectations across the board with people; it’s just a great leadership principle. Meetings are certainly no exception to that rule. If your meetings don’t seem very effective, you may need to communicate proper meeting behaviors up front.
For instance, getting repeated calls during a meeting is a poor meeting behavior. While taking notes on your iPad during a meeting is excellent meeting behavior. Talking while someone else has the floor is poor meeting behavior. While offering ideas that advance the conversation is great meeting behavior.
Create a short list of five meeting behaviors that you expect to see in your team, with five behaviors that you expect to see less of. They’ll end up thanking you in the end for this list, because effective meetings are shorter, and no one really wants to spend all day in a meeting.
#4 the meeting is too long
I don’t think I have the ability to count as high as I need to for me to recall the many times a meeting went so long that I got bored and stopped hearing anything being said.
Long meetings destroy productivity, disengage teams, and create more confusion than miscommunication. This is why I recommend setting a standard meeting length across the board; consider asking your staff, or team members, to keep their meetings under thirty minutes at a time.
Even adults have attention spans that flicker out as time goes forward. Obviously, minutes should be taken and shared at a meeting, but if the group of people at your meeting aren’t able to retain the gist of what you’re saying off the top of their head it was probably too long or complicated. Interestingly, if you follow the first three guidelines, this fourth point essentially takes care of itself.
here’s five rapid-fire bonus meeting tips
#1 Don’t ever call a meeting without a written agenda. I literally cannot think of an instance where this would be necessary besides a real and terrible emergency.
#2 Focus more on who shouldn’t be present in a meeting than who should be present. It’s easy to say that your meeting agenda affects every department and invite the entire staff, but it takes real leadership and strategy to decide what two or three individuals truly need to be present to move forward.
#3 Delight people with surprise coffee or snacks sometimes. Coffee is a miracle drug when it comes to productivity by the way. “Hint Hint”
#4 Schedule your meetings at least two weeks out, but no more than six weeks out.
#5 Don’t cancel meetings unless you absolutely have the need to do so. Let your yes be your yes, and your no be your no.
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Chief Executive Officer
TK has worked in the church for over a decade and brings years of executive leadership experience along with years of experience in media and technology. TK has a Masters in Public Administration and is an expert of navigating the minefield of procedural issues churches experience. He’s not quite so stuffy though; he is vibrantly creative and understands what it takes to create and plan a weekend from start to finish including video, music, and production.