Even the most well-intentioned person can grow weary during a meeting. We’ve all experienced it. Your attention gets distracted, you start thinking of other things that need to be done and then WHAM you’re called on in the meeting, and you don’t know the topic. For some, this is just a bad dream from which to awake. For others, it could be an embarrassingly real situation, but one that might be avoidable.
As the leader, you want everyone to pay attention and contribute to the meeting. But, the reality is that people’s energy levels—and attention spans—waver during a meeting, especially a long one. What can you do as the leader to keep your team’s energy levels up? What steps can you take to manage your team’s needs so they can be at their best?
“You can take action before you meet to help your team’s energy remain high during your meeting,” explained Bethany Frazier, one of Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center’s teambuilding experts. “It all begins with the agenda.”
Is this necessary?
Walking into your first meeting as a new leader of a group can be unnerving. You may have known the members for years as part of your church community, but this new situation may feel like you are entering a room full of strangers. According to Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center
’s teambuilding expert Christine Murawski, there are five principles to consider to help your first meeting go smoothly.
You have been called to serve in this leadership role, and your true self is what is needed. Behave otherwise and people will notice.
“There are times when a new leader knows the previous leader and his or her personality style. It’s tempting to try to match their approach,” said Murawski. “However, the key to your success is to relax and be your authentic self. Your team will acknowledge your leadership differences, pick up on your confidence and will want to follow.”
Get ready for your meeting well in advance by creating an agenda. This exercise helps you set clear goals and envision how the meeting will go. Plus, having an agenda allows you to be organized and confident during your meeting. Allow extra time in your agenda for participants’ thoughts or extra topics your team may believe are important to bring up. Share your agenda with the group at the beginning of the session. Doing so sends the message that you respect their time and desire their input.
I've always been a little uncomfortable with approaches to church that draw directly from the so-called corporate world. The idea that gospel witness offers an easy parallel with marketing is downright creepy, frankly. And I'm increasingly suspicious of the conventional wisdom that we won't accomplish anything if we don't have "measurable goals" to work towards.
In this time of tremendous cultural change for the church, expecting that we are going to shape the future by our ability to envision "outcomes" seems the height of arrogance, and also a sadly impoverished approach to our call to be faithful. A part of the legacy of mid-twentieth century church success (as measured by market share) is limited imagination. The scope of what most of us can imagine church to be is simply too small for the era we inhabit.
In our ministry here in Los Angeles, we are experimenting with other ways to envision our part in shaping the future. We refer to our approach as "ten steps."
We have identified several areas of our church and community life where the Spirit seems to be on the move. In each of those areas, we have worked out ten steps that we will take to strengthen relationships, train leaders, reach out the community, offer space, plan creative liturgies, offer opportunities for spiritual growth and Christian formation, and so on.
Have the two energy-zappers of vestry meetings, Routine and Re-hash, drained your creative juices? Even in the early church, Paul advised church leaders to persevere:
“So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” - Galatians 6: 9-10 (The Message
No matter what organizational structure is used, governance/leadership meetings can become boring and frustrating. With some intentional searching, vestries can find resources to enliven discussions and get creative juices flowing with new ideas and enthusiasm. Here are some ideas:
First, look for congregational development books that provide insight-producing discussion questions around some big issue(s) your congregation is facing. There are many excellent publications regarding governance, outreach/mission ministries and stewardship.
One of my favorites is People of the Way; Renewing Episcopal Identity, by Dwight J. Zscheile. What I like most are its discussion questions designed to refresh the routine way of examining effectiveness and approach to mission. Here are some examples from the book:
Top 5 answers to the question: Does your church have a mission statement?
5. Yes. We post it in our bulletin and affirm or revise it in our annual Vestry retreat.
4. Yes. Well, maybe. No, I don’t think we do.
3. We created one a couple of priests ago, but it isn’t really relevant today.
2. No. Should we?
1. Yes. But please don’t ask me what it is because I can’t ever remember it.
As a strategic planning facilitator, I suppose I should care deeply whether a congregation has articulated its own, unique statement of mission. Frankly, I don’t.
Statements of Mission are wonderful, strategic tools, when carefully crafted and effectively used. They assist leaders in appropriately allocating resources to accomplish what the mission says they do. Therefore, these statements also help donors assess whether an organization, including a congregation, really puts its treasure where its heart is.
A statement of mission is part of your congregation’s identity. It describes what you are called to do. This is vitally important to consider, to pray over, to use in decision-making. If your church has created a mission statement after deep reflection on your ministry strengths or based on a call to service, great!
If you have not, my assertion is, don’t sweat it. The really important exercise is the aforementioned deep reflection. Rather than word-smithing the right mission statement, take time to consider how well your congregation is following ample direction offered in God’s Word. There’s the Great Commission, Matthew 28: 18-20:
Vestries: Five Things for February
Looking for practical, spiritually grounded resources for your congregation? Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices for articles, tools, and resources by and for congregational leaders. With a subscription, you’ll receive 12 issues of Vestry Papers as well as the monthly Vital Practices Digest delivered to your inbox, all for free.
This month we’re featuring 5 ways to help your newly forming vestry get off to a strong start, the 5th being a resource to aid in developing year-round stewardship in your congregation.
Celebrate. Listen. Be inspired. Plan.
The old congregation had been rocked by the priest’s resignation. Those who loved him sensed that those who wanted him out were silently gloating, even two years later. Some members left. Many who stayed were bitter and suspicious.
As he entered this environment, the new rector called for a vestry retreat. An interesting exercise was designed to help these lay leaders know each other on a deeper level, regardless of what “side” they had been on in the previous controversy.
Each person was asked to bring to the retreat an object that represented their love of the church. No hints or examples about what to bring - just a request to prayerfully do it.
At the retreat, each person explained the significance of his/her object...
“This was my mother-in-law’s crucifix necklace. I wear it now, and it reminds me of our family’s long ties to this church.”
“This is the Prayer Book I received when I was confirmed.”
“This prayer shawl got me through some dark days of cancer. I will always be grateful to the women in the knitting ministry who brought it to me and prayed with me.”
“This is my daughter’s wedding photo.”
“My son drew this picture of Jesus in Sunday School.”
Reactions also offered insights…
Top Ten Resolutions for Church Leaders in 2015
ECF Vital Practices, after taking a look back at the questions you asked us, has pulled together a top ten list of resolutions for congregational leaders to consider in 2015. If you find this list helpful, please subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive updates twice a month with recources for your congregation.
“Man plans and God laughs.”
Has this wonderful Yiddish proverb ever been uttered in your vestry meeting? We can spend months planning a project or a new ministry, but sometimes it just doesn’t get traction. The wheels of our motivation and creativity get stuck, or some new priority rises up to block our path, or no one volunteers, so the church chugs along in the same ol’ ruts of the road.
We intuitively understand that getting people involved in the early stages of change creates support, buy-in and ownership. But how do we get folks to pay attention, let alone volunteer to help?
For the next few months, my ECF Vital Practices blog posts will offer ways to engage people in prayerful discussions about the ministries and direction of their congregation. Four key practices will be explored: Celebrate. Listen. Be inspired. Plan. Most importantly, as each practice is employed, pray.
There are many ways to build consensus once you get a group together. Vestries, like many boards of directors, often sequester themselves away in annual planning retreats where the brainstorming is fun, team-building thrives and priorities become obvious. In a company, executives leave the retreat and start implementing with employees who are paid to follow. In a congregation, leadership leaves the retreat and hopes that the next newsletter and coffee hour forum will entice one-fourth of the one-third of the members who came on Sunday to help.
Okay, so it’s hard. But we hold to God’s Word, “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2: 10). Since God created each of us to do His work, how He must delight in bringing our diverse gifts together in His church! Begin your congregational planning by celebrating the gifts God has gathered together in your congregation.
This month brings the beginning of one of my favorite things: the winter Olympics. The dates are in my calendar; I plan to spend as much time as I can watching the skating, skiing, sledding, and other events, grateful that people across the globe willingly set aside their differences and come together to play games.
In our congregations and faith communities, February often means the coming together of new leadership teams. As annual meetings are held, new vestry members are elected or selected, and appointments are made to committees and task forces. It is a time of change, a time to welcome new faces and new approaches, and a time to reflect on what’s past and consider the way forward – keeping the things that are good and finding the courage to change the things that haven’t been working too well.
Our February Vestry Papers articles share experiences of things that are working well for congregations. From the very practical – Bob Schorr’s recommendation for more productive meetings to the way the Episcopal Church in Vermont is stirring the spirit…
This month in Vestry Papers:
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As a subscriber, in addition to receiving Vestry Papers each month you will also receive our monthly digest - a collection of articles related to your ministry as congregational leaders. This blog post, "Building Great Vestries," is an example of this resource. Subscribers may also post comments or resources directly on the ECF Vital Practices website.
Build Bonds of Joy in a Spirited Vestry Retreat
Before the vestry gets down to business, take some time for a spirited retreat. Donald Peeler shares some successful ideas for holding a spiritually-focused retreat and why it is a crucial part of building a well-functioning and engaged vestry in “Build Bonds of Joy in a Spirited Retreat.” If you're looking for more on vestry retreats, click here for a digest on the topic.
You're a New Warden: Now What?
As a new warden or member of the vestry, you may wonder what the wardens on your vestry are supposed to do. In “You’re a New Warden: Now What?,” Donald Romanik shares the background on the role of wardens, what this looks like currently in congregations, and guidance from his experience having been a warden in both family and pastoral sized congregations.
Sharing Vital Practices
During this season of calling new leaders for your congregation, we want to thank all of you who introduce your new vestry members to ECF Vital Practices. So many of you tell us how ECF Vital Practices has been a useful tool, spark of inspiration, or boost of confidence in your ministry. We encourage all of you who feel this way to invite your congregation’s newest leaders to consider subscribing to ECF Vital Practices.
Please continue to tell us about your successes and challenges as well as letting us know of content areas that you are interested in.
If you haven't already, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to join the conversation and think about sharing your great resources on Your Turn.
Create a Holy Time Away for Your Vestry
Why should the vestry go on a retreat? What will we do? Randy Ferebee and Alan Akridge offer practical tips in "Create a Holy Time Away for Your Vestry" that make for both an enjoyable and effective time together. Use this as a checklist for planning your next vestry retreat – or to help explain to your vestry why it’s important to go on a retreat.
Bootstrap Your Vestry Retreat
A vestry retreat is a great opportunity to look at how the vestry is doing and what can be done more effectively. Loren Mead shares in "Bootstrap Your Vestry Retreat" how vestries can spend time to reflect, provide feedback, and nurture growth. New members can look at their roles on the vestry, experienced members to reflect on their challenges and accomplishments, and everyone to come together to have fun while also working on their ministry of leadership.
This weekend my community, St. Lydia’s, made some big decisions. We affirmed a new governance system and a leadership team for the first time in our short history. All good change, though none of it was particularly simple or easy. What made this go so smoothly was the quality of the communication in the previous weeks and months. There were no surprises, everyone in the community was invited to participate at every stage, and we all listened to each other.
Out meetings took place over the course of nine months, with lots of time for discussion. We talked, we tweaked, discussed, then tweaked again. What made all this possible was our willingness to listen to each other, and our belief that we all had the same goal, the health and fruitfulness of the body.
We don’t always express exactly what we mean. Our tone isn’t always right, or maybe we choose the wrong words, and occasionally we’re still figuring out what we are trying to say. Many of the people that have participated in this process have a gift for listening, for hearing what the other person is trying to say, and giving them the benefit of the doubt when they don’t quite get it right.
Very few of us can get excited about policy. The “committee on governance” rarely suffers from over-subscription. Even I catch myself apologizing when I include it in a vestry retreat outline.
Policy isn’t just a snore. It intrudes on our sense of community. It organizes things that should be relational. It takes all the fun out of being a congregation together.
There are lots of good excuses for putting off stewardship of structure and governance:
We have policies the policies we need. At least I think we do….
Do you or don’t you? If you can’t put your hands on them, either you don’t have them or the policies you do have are not in effect in the life of the congregation. By that I mean that they are gathering dust somewhere, shoved in a file drawer, available if the bishop or the insurance company shows up on your doorstep. But in practice, working policy is made up as we go, based mostly on what seems to make sense in the moment. It’s probably time to pull things out of the file cabinet and give it all a thorough review.
Serving on the vestry is a call to a sacred ministry by the body of Christ. Knowing that new vestry members take office in January, ECF Vital Practices’ Vestry Papers will continue its practice of its dedicating the first issue of the new year on vestries.
Our ECF Vital Practices advisory committee and our reader surveys have a lot to offer related to information they would like to see covered in Vestry Papers. What stands out is a strong call to focus on ‘the basics’ for vestries.
Each of our congregations – and vestries – face challenges; sharing stories of facing and responding to these same challenges is one of the best ways we have of supporting each other. From our research, we’ve developed a list of vestry related topics we’re considering for this issue. Perhaps you have other topics that would be helpful to your vestry. And, perhaps, you have a success story you’d be willing to share.
Congregations die for lots of reasons. The most insidious cause, perhaps, and the most common is death by a thousand cuts.
I love how Wikipedia defines the phrase: “Creeping normalcy, the way a major negative change, which happens slowly in many unnoticed increments, is not perceived as objectionable.”
We probably all have experience in this form of torture: A job that keeps getting duties added to it until you feel crushed under the weight or a relationship defined by snark with each comment eating away at trust and confidence.
In the congregation, the instrument of torture too often is nitpicking negativity.
A common inclination (maybe even part of our human condition) is to dwell on what’s not working. The typo in an otherwise perfect bulletin. A Facebook post that not everyone thought was appropriate. A sermon that didn’t hit the mark or a hymn that no one could sing.
My heart broke a bit more last night.
I was reading the Episcopal Communicators’ Talk list; one of our members posted a question related to an online article she had seen about the Diocese of South Carolina. Within the hour, other members shared what they knew, including official statements from both the Diocese of South Carolina and The Episcopal Church.
My first thought was to write a blog post about communicating difficult news. I pulled out my resources on crisis communications, started an outline. I woke up early and began my first draft. And then I stopped.
I recognized that my heart broke because it appeared the gulf between the two parties had grown so wide that both had taken steps that made it appear almost impossible to find a way to build a bridge between them.
What does this have to do with congregational leaders?
When it comes to our commitments to church, are we about making things easier or are we ultimately about making those commitments more meaningful?
This issue came up last Wednesday night during a web conference on Identifying and Recruiting New Leaders led by Ella Auchincloss of the Diocese of Massachusetts’ Leadership Development Initiative. After Ella had presented about how churches can move toward a more networked leadership model, and about how we can discern gifts and commitment through strategic one-on-one meetings, we received a question which brought the difficulty of recruiting new leaders home. A participant asked:
“We have trouble every year recruiting nominees for the vestry. Right now we have a focus group that is working on making vestry duty ‘easier.’ But this sounds like the opposite of getting someone to commit. Thoughts?”
In college I spent a lot of time with a group of friends, who were so nice that they didn’t like to disagree, or sometimes even express an opinion. This made choosing a restaurant difficult on Friday nights. Out of a desire to defer to each other, we would have difficulty making any decision at all.
Months ago my church, St. Lydia’s, used a two-step method of decision making that could be useful when choosing a restaurant with your friends or when making major decision in a vestry. St. Lydia’s is a new church, still working out how to make decisions, and this was a major decision about whether or not to affiliate with a denomination.
First, we expressed our personal opinions in a vote. This was based solely on our preference regardless of others in the group. There was some discussion afterward in which we explained our preference, and we could also say how strongly we felt. In college, for example, I could vote for Thai food (I loved the chicken in peanut sauce), and then I could express that I was flexible since we went to the Thai restaurant a lot. My other friend might say he really wanted pizza tonight. This was a chance to know where everyone stood.
I was dubious.
The only item on the agenda for our two-day staff retreat: Bible study.
Don't get me wrong. I think Bible study is important. But as a type-a, list-maker, take-action person, I wondered if we would accomplish enough. After all, a two-day meeting is a big commitment of staff time, and all of our to- do lists are lengthy.
We opened with morning prayer, then launched into Bible study.
For the next two hours, our conversation meandered, moving from personal reflection to corporate insights. Still the discussion was varied enough that I couldn't even capture bullet-point notes. I was a little worried.
But I learned a good lesson. When we root our work in scripture, we create space for the holy spirit