February 10, 2015

Making Annual Meetings a Source of Renewal

In a faith with long, rich tradition, some things can (and should) be changed.

Annual meetings, for instance, don’t need to be dreary gatherings of moan and drone. Mix them up a bit. Let your annual meeting reflect the life of the congregation—or your hope for life to come.

For the past three years, each annual meeting has been a little different. The first was held immediately after worship. Folks stayed in the pews (or snuck out quietly). The idea was to connect our corporate worship with our corporate business. Last year, the annual meeting was held at the same time but in the undercroft and with a meal.   

This year the meeting was on a Sunday evening. I worried that people wouldn’t come back out for a second time, especially on a wintry evening. But attendance was great with 75 people, and most people left the meeting energized and excited about our shared ministry.   

Here are a couple of reasons why I think the annual meeting was a success. First, it wasn’t chock full of report recitation. Each committee submitted written reports, which were distributed in a packet. The budget and financial information was also included. Instead of representatives reading each report and detailing the nuts and bolts of the past year’s activities, the featured speaker was the priest at the nearest church. Our congregation and community are relatively wealthy, but just three miles away is this urban church with an active ministry to the poor. Our congregation is very active in supporting this urban church, with volunteers at its feeding, food pantry, and health care ministries. In addition to people resources, we host fundraisers and donate thousands, both as individuals and a congregation, to support these programs.   

This priest shared plans for new initiatives, including community gardens and cooking classes. He invited our congregation to participate and to dream.   

Toward the end of the annual meeting, the priest of our congregation offered to sell pints of his famous homemade BBQ sauce. The jars reached $40 each, and our neighboring priest left with nearly $400 more for mission.

Our priest cooked dinner that night. It wasn’t a carry-in potluck. No one was asked to bring a side dish or dessert. For him, the meal was a way to offer thanksgiving for the people and their ministry. (And to be fair, the scent of smoked pork and baked beans that wafted into the narthex during worship was an enticing invitation!) Our priest talked for a few minutes about the life of the congregation, then directed people to the written report. He spent much more of his time thanking vestry leaders for their service and talking about the opportunities to collaborate and support ministries both at the neighboring church and in our own congregation.   

Of course, we also voted, electing new vestry members and convention delegates.   

The entire annual meeting, from meal to business to closing prayer, took ninety minutes. We talked about serious, important matters of mission and ministry, but we didn’t take ourselves seriously.   

What are you doing in your annual meetings to move the focus from the nitty-gritty to God’s big, grand plan? 

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