Modern business practice often speaks of the meeting before the meeting. Before a business meeting, it’s a good idea to talk to key players about things that are expected to come out in a meeting. It prevents people from being blindsided and it allows them a chance to process their outlook on the situation. When premeeting meetings are used wisely and not as manipulative tools, they can be very helpful to leaders.
While the meeting before the meeting is commonly accepted as good practice, the meeting after the meeting is not. After any meeting, participants are likely to discuss the meeting. That’s normal. But there is a condition common to local churches that I call the “meeting after the meeting syndrome” that is not healthy. These meetings are more like scheming sessions than meetings.
The scheduled meeting started at 6:00, and instead of leadership meeting at 5:00 to clarify details, every clique and crew meets at 9:00 in the halls and parking lot to complain about what was said and plot about how they will get their way. What causes a climate where business meetings are ineffective and lead to after-meeting control sessions? Here are a few factors and some thoughts about how to change them.
1. Resentment: Churches post-church splits are filled with people with thin skin and their guard up. Following sweeping conflict in a church that led to a pastor leaving on bad terms and/or a mass exodus of church members, churches need to be intentional about doing the hard work of reconciliation and healing.
When churches in and after conflict short-sheet this process, inevitably the cultural factors that caused the conflict in the first place will creep up again.
2. Domineering personalities: To put it plainly, saying, “That’s just how old so and so acts,” is not acceptable. Every church needs leaders, but bullies, even unintentional well-meaning bullies, kill the effectiveness of church meetings.
Pastors and church leadership teams have to be willing to address domineering personalities in the church. This is the hard work of ministry, but due to a lack of it, local churches struggle with control issues that prevent growth in every area.
Better to lovingly downgrade the power of one domineering person in a church than to allow them to marginalize several gentle people in the church.
3. Untrained leadership: One of the biggest problems with local church effectiveness today has to be a lack of trained leadership in the churches. Pastors may have advanced seminary degrees, and yet not have received the training needed to deal with tough situations. Seminary rarely is enough training to know what to do when Bossy Beatrice tells you in no uncertain terms that she’ll be doing things her way, thank you; she has weathered many pastors before you and she’ll still be in charge for many pastors after you.
4. Lack of clarity of church purpose: Church meetings tend to be much more effective and enjoyable when there is a clear vision and central purpose that everyone knows they are working toward accomplishing.
5. Lack of good principles of business process: This should be a no-brainer, but it’s not. A lot of the people on church leadership teams have never been leaders anywhere else. Joe the assembly line worker may run his own affairs very well, but never had to make decisions that affected an entire group of people.
On the other hand, Suzie the shopkeeper may run her own business in a way that’s lucrative, but not entirely above board. She learned business process on the job and had to make things work. We’ve got to train church leaders in effective business process. Like it or not, like one of my mentors Dr. Elmer Towns says, “The train of the church runs on two railroads tracks; spiritual and organizational. Overemphasis on either to the exclusion of the other and the train will derail.”
There are other factors to cause a climate in a local church of unproductive business process and make meetings not only something to dread but also something useless. Many church members don’t separate personal feelings from what’s best for the church. Some members know but haven’t bought into the vision of the church. Some people just don’t know how to communicate effectively and leave meetings frustrated that they didn’t get their point across.
Whatever the factors are in a specific church, the answers are basically the same. We’ve got to be intentional about doing the hard work of creating a healthy business process environment in the churches so that we can avoid the byproduct of unhealthy organizational practice in the churches: a climate where gossip session scheming meetings after the meeting are where the real business of the church gets done.