January 2014
Vestries: Listen to God's Call

The Consent Agenda: More Efficient Meetings

As leaders in a denomination that pokes fun at itself for doing things the way we have always done them, I believe good governance and good stewardship of our time suggests we turn that saying on its ear and explore the possibilities of “We’ve always never done it that way.”

Who Wouldn’t Like a More Productive Meeting?

The monthly vestry meetings are too often testaments to endurance rather than efficiency. A three hour meeting is rarely twice as productive as a 90 minute meeting. And, each hour of a meeting consumes one hour of time for every person at the table. For a rector, vestry of 12, and a treasurer, that three hour meeting consumed 42 hours – an entire individual work week.

The monthly meeting is the most valuable time the vestry expends, so it should yield the highest return. It should be used to do those things that you can only do, or best do, together. This requires minimizing the amount of passive participation during a meeting – time when everyone sits and listens to one person give an oral report, or when everyone reads a report or document passed out at the meeting and that, for some reason, everyone thinks needs to be dealt with tonight.

How do we trim time from our vestry meetings? In the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, we recommend vestries consider the practice of using a consent agenda for routine and procedural decisions.

What is a Consent Agenda?

It is a collection of items that require action by the vestry, but that can be dispatched without further discussion, debate, or information.

Minutes of the previous meeting are a good example. Rather than taking time to: Ask for a motion to approve the minutes; note the presence of a Second; ask if there are any additions/corrections/deletions to the minutes; ask for any further discussion; and then call the question, the minutes are approved in a single, non-debatable motion along with a host of other items.

For a consent agenda to work, it is important that all the reports and items on the agenda are identified in advance and materials sent to members in a timely manner, giving all members time to read the material before coming to the meeting. This requires that the draft minutes be circulated for review and correction within one week of a meeting. Members then have a week to submit corrections, additions, and deletions to the clerk or secretary, and the minutes are finalized and distributed at least one week prior to the next meeting where they are to be approved.

Another example is the rector’s report. This should be written, but the rector should have time to briefly highlight or discuss sensitive matters orally during the meeting.

Examples of items suitable for a consent agenda are attached here.

How does the Consent Agenda fit with the Meeting Agenda?

The consent agenda is one of the listed items in the business meeting agenda. Usually, it will fall in the first five items:

  1. Call to Order and Opening Prayer
  2. Bible Study or Devotional
  3. Declaration of a Quorum
  4. Adoption of the Business Meeting Agenda
  5. Consent Agenda
  6. (Balance of Business Meeting Agenda)

How does it Work?

The consent agenda lists each item, the action to be taken (received, approved) and the supporting detail for each item is attached to the consent agenda.

The consent agenda is moved, seconded, and voted on without discussion of any kind. This means everything on the agenda should be noncontroversial or already decided at a previous meeting. The motion is documented in the minutes and the consent agenda and all documentation are included with the minutes of the meeting in the official records of the congregation.

Any member may contact the Chair prior to the meeting and request an item be removed due to a need for additional information, late breaking developments, or further discussion. The item is struck from the agenda prior to the vote. It should not be moved to that business meeting agenda, but rather handled “off line” or put on the agenda for the next meeting.

While each vestry is unique, a consent agenda should save 30 - 60 minutes per meeting. This opens up time for more strategic mission and ministry discussions and for shorter and more productive meetings.

Critical Success Factors

As a governance and strategic planning consultant, I need to spend at least two hours preparing for every hour I facilitate or consult. For a productive meeting, vestry members need to spend at least two hours preparing for each hour of the meeting. When this preparation is combined with the use of a consent agenda it can transform the members’ productivity as well as their sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end of the meeting…and the meeting will be shorter.

This requires the business meeting agenda, consent agenda, and all supporting documents to be in the hands of all members a minimum of one week prior to the meeting. Members who have questions should contact the appropriate individual prior to the meeting.

Bob Schorr is coordinator of church plants and strategic development for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and a facilitator and non-profit governance consultant. His responsibilities at the diocese include coaching and supporting church planters; assisting new and existing congregations with siting, master planning, design, and construction; facility management; vestry organization and governance, and general congregational development. Feel free to contact Bob at bschorr@epicenter.org or (713) 353-2108.


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This article is part of the January 2014 Vestry Papers issue on Vestries: Listen to God's Call