How can a church make changes to structure while staying within the church order guidelines?


The church order sets out a structure of governance for CRC churches however, it doesn't help when there is a need to change the structure. Many churches, mine included, are struggling with the need to change how the church is governed but there is little help from the church order and denominational office in this regard. What resources have other people found to help in this area? Has your church been able to make changes while at the same time staying within the church order guidelines?

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Managing changes to the church governance structure is challenging. I have been quite involved in these processes in my home church (which is Presbyterian, but I grew up in the CRC and am still closely linked with the denomination).

My recommendations to my own congregation are based on the three "P" principles: prayer; process and procedures; and participation. In general, when leadership follows the three Ps, leadership will arrive at answers that may not be pleasing to every single person, but are defensible, justified, and often satisfying to most congregation members. Let me briefly elaborate on each "P". Please note that all of my comments must be read with the understanding that the changes being pursued fall within the scope of church order guidelines.

Prayer: Any and all efforts to change a local church's governance structure must be bathed in lots of prayer and the prayer must seek to implement God's will for the congregation. In other words, ask God for direction in terms of both the process of the change and change itself. Don't come to God with a preconceived idea of what the change should be. Let God lead--and prepare to be led.

Process and procedure: Good process is central. Good process ensures that the process of deciding upon changes to the governance structure and the process of implementing those changes are done in a fair, transparent, and participatory manner. This area is often bungled by churches (and all sorts of other organizations). The process needs to be designed with the needs of the local congregation in mind, so there is no "one size fits all" approach. Still, I can tell you some of the traits of good process. Good process is open and transparent. Process and procedures are determined at the outset and clearly communicated to all stakeholders so that everyone knows how things will unfold. Decision-making mechanisms are adopted and their nature is also communicated to stakeholders. Good process involves participation (the last "P", described below). Studies on procedural fairness, for example, show that if people perceive that they have been fairly treated in a process they are more likely to accept the outcome of the process, even if the result does not favour them. To be fair, a process must allow people to be heard on the issues (see participation, below). The process must also be free from bias. Thus, if there is an individual who is known to have strong views on what the outcome of the process should be, that individual should not be the chair of the committee on implementing governance changes. You want a leadership team that is open to hearing a variety of voices and experiences and that is willing and able to think creatively about the changes to the governance structure and how to implement those changes. The final decision of the committee should generally be ratified by the congregation, though only after the committee has had an opportunity to present its findings and explain its recommendations.

In general, it is a good idea to ask other churches about their experiences with various governance structures. Gather as much information as possible to determine what type of governance structure would work in the context of your own congregation, given the needs of the congregation, its location, its demographics, and the vision that God has given to the congregation for its role in Kingdom service.

Participation: Participation is so very important. People must be able to participate in the process of change. The views of congregation members should be solicited. Town hall meetings, if run properly, can be very useful in this regard. Once the leadership committee has developed a proposal for change, the proposal should be presented to the congregation and the congregation should again be given the opportunity to comment on the proposal and to ask questions. Finally, as noted, major changes should be ratified by the congregation. It is also very important to determine what level of "yays" is necessary for the changes to be ratified: 51%, 67%, 80%? Decide at the very outset of the process and communicate this information to the congregation.

As a final word of advice, do not be afraid of dissent. You will never be able to please everyone. Furthermore, dissent early in the process, if managed well, can be fruitful since it can generate a wide range of ideas and options for consideration. As the process unfolds, you will want to move to more and more consensus building. If dissent persists, it may be a good time to reflect on what God is teaching the congregation at that moment: what is the source of this dissent? Does the congregation have a shared vision of what God is calling the congregation to be in its community?

At the end of the day, if a decision has been bathed in prayer and has been taken following a good, participatory process, the decision will be a strong one and justifiable even to the biggest cranks in the congregation. Of course, make sure the final decision complies with the church guidelines.

I hope that this lengthy reply has not bored you and that it has been at least somewhat helpful. I would be happy to provide further information about the above and to share tips about process, procedures and participation--and prayer, too.

Theresa Miedema, aka The Governance Geek

We have had this conversation in our church when we were discussing going to a format other than the prescribed governance methods. What was found was that quite often our denomination is reactionary in this regard- in other words, someone finds a structure that works and is scriptural, then the denomination reacts by approving a new method.

Not the way it is supposed to work, I know.

Thanks Theresa. You didn't bore me. Perhaps I'm becoming a governance geek myself but I find the topic fascinating. What you said verifies the things I've been learning via books such as Governance and Ministry and Holy Conversations. Part of the challenge for me is how to help others understand the importance of the P's as you put it. I now have three other excellent people who will be helping me so I am thankful for that.



Theresa, you should write a book: Governance for Dummies. We need all the governance geekiness we can get. People don't understand just how crucial good process is! The refrain is: we should care about people, not the process or policy; but the fact is that having good policy and following good process are the best way to serve people, and ignoring those things ends up creating unnecessary confusion and non-constructive conflict.

Now, here is my real question for you:

Do you have any good resources I can use to help train elders to take minutes? We seem to either get minutes that are too vague to be of any use, or so overly detailed that they are inappropriate. What we need are minutes that are concise, professional, and to the point, recording motions and actions and actions yet to be done, by whom and by what time. Any resources you have would be appreciated! Many thanks.

The minutes of regular meetings should include:

  • Date and time of meeting
  • Who chaired the meeting and those present
  • All motions with names of mover and seconder
  • Summary of discussion - exact detail is usually not necessary
  • Outline of agenda
  • Any record of business for next meeting
  • Minutes should be approved as read and signed by the president and secretary


  • It is important for the secretary to distribute information to the proper committee or person
  • The secretary does not have to respond to all letters but should direct others to provide a copy of any correspondence written or sent on behalf of the agricultural society, for your records

Agenda preparation

  • The agenda can be presented at the first of the meeting or distributed prior to the meeting
  • The secretary should ensure that any tabled motions or discussion be listed under old business

Facility operating information

  • The secretary should maintain original copies of all legal documents such as land title documents, lease agreements, operating agreements and insurance policies
  • If there is cooperative agreement to operate a facility, all current details should be maintained
  • The operating grant application should be filed annually
  • The secretary should share some of the reading and writing responsibilities with other directors, which will make for a more enjoyable volunteer position

The secretary's position requires a high commitment of time and enthusiasm. In most cases, next to the president, the secretary represents the agricultural society to others.

Ideas on writing and recording minutes
Minutes - Meeting minutes are the only record of a committee, board or organization. They should be considered the history of the group. Without accurate records, the group will not have an official record of decisions, past actions, important dates, events and policies.

  • Minutes should be a reliable reference for the President and Committee Chair. They are essential for continuity and provide information for future committees and executives
  • Encourage all directors to submit written reports which can become part of the minutes
  • Minutes should be accurate and brief; a summary of outcomes

Motions - All motions should be noted and recorded

  • Discussion on the motion does not need to be recorded; the statement "Discussion followed the motion" is enough. If major discussion points are desired, this can be requested by the group. However, it is difficult for the secretary to interpret discussion in general, therefore, it is best left out
  • All motions should be recorded along with the names of the person moving it and the seconder, an underlined notation of either motion carried or motion defeated and the names of those who opposed the motion, if they so desire
  • Following the passing of a motion, the name(s) of the person(s) responsible for the takes or action should be recorded
  • For further references, motions referring to policy and procedure or committee terms of reference should be filed in those sections
  • Motions for By-Law changes should be attached to existing by-laws and the amended by-laws updated yearly

(This is procedure for Ag societies, but would apply quite well.   The only other issue for churches that likely needs elucidation is the issue of recording minutes for confidential issues.   This should be clarified with any new recorder/secretary/clerk when they begin in their first meeting.) 

Just a suggestion, Theresa....  break your comments into paragraphs.  A run-on paragraph is a bit hard to digest.  Lots of good ideas though.

Randy, Why don't you take the minutes to show them how it should be done? Otherwise you could goggle for resources. They also make Dagonspeak dictation software which could be of use.  They also have minutes documents that are designed specifically for this. Hope that helps.




Hi, Ken, thanks for the reponse.

I want a good resource so that I, too, know what good minutes are supposed to look like and what are some good principles and tips for taking minutes, from some "governance geeks," as Theresa styles herself. Just because I know what not-so-great minutes look like doesn't mean I know how they should be done; I also want to educate myself. I also want something written down for successive clerks to be able to use as a resource. I have found some (rather limited) resources on the web, including Roberts Rules of Order, which is helpful. But the dragon stuff I don't think will help, because first of all I don't speak Dragonese (sorry, I was just reading How to Train Your Dragon with my kids for bedtime), and more seriously, because minutes are specifically not a blow-by-blow account of everything everyone said. As I found on the website FAQ:

Question 15
Isn't it necessary to summarize matters discussed at a meeting in the minutes of that meeting in order for the minutes to be complete?

Not only is it not necessary to summarize matters discussed at a meeting in the minutes of that meeting, it is improper to do so. Minutes are a record of what was done at a meeting, not a record of what was said. [RONR (10th ed.), p. 451, l. 25-28; see also p. 146 of RONR In Brief.] {RONR = Roberts Rules of Order, Newly Revised}

But that's probably not what you had in mind anyway. I'm probably better at typing than I am talking to a computer, so the Dragon software probably wouldn't be that helpful. I do have a writer friend who uses it. I'm going to keep looking and asking.

Hi Randy , try or goggle. There is a lot of good free info. Hope it helps


Dragonese, It is definitely is a language to itself. Try talking to your wife after dictating a blog. They just can't understand male humor at times.

Community Builder

I've always been curious as to why minutes should include the names of movers and seconders of motions.   Got any thoughts on that?  Is it about accountability?  Thanks.

Community Builder

John, that's a pretty good set of guidelines!  Thanks for it.   It reminds me of the old wisdom that a decision is not really made unless it is accompanied by a WHO and a WHEN.   Clerks and secretaries can often be helpful to the process by asking the mover (or the group)  to include those pieces in a decision so they can be on the record.    What do you think about that?

Karl, you asked two questions.  So first, about movers and seconders.   The guidelines I provided are general guidelines.  I think if you have a larger council or a congreg mtg, then they are good to follow.   If you have a small council, say five or less people, then you could assume consensus for many motions if you like, since it will almost always be the same people making and seconding the motions.  This is assuming that the meeting minutes identify who attended the meeting.   It is also important to identify if someone comes later to the meeting, and when they entered.   This will clarify if they were part of the discussion on a particular issue or not.   For some issues, particularly money issues or changing bylaws or annual meeting or other governance issues, the formal motion would be required, especially by the Societies Act.   It verifies that the motion was actually presented properly and voted on. 

Second, yes, adding a who and when is a good procedure, and documenting it in the minutes ensures/encourages that a decision will be acted upon.  The person responsible can be a part of the motion, or can be a consensus agreement after the motion.  We often call them action items.  This ensures accountability.   This is not solely the job of the secretary/clerk to make sure that someone is accountable, but the clerk needs to record it and should remind the meeting that someone should be responsible for an action item.   

For some items, detailing the "when" is essential, so that subsequent events and activities can take place when they need to.  This may involve some timeline planning.   For other items, the timeline planning will be left to the person/persons responsible for the action. 

Loretta, getting to your original question of changing governance, it would be helpful if you identified just what changes are needed and why they are needed.   There is lots of flexibility to adjust governance to allow churches to manage their affairs.   But it seems to me you will need a council and or consistory regardless.   The deaconate work can be delegated to the deacons, and a frame of reference can be developed for the deacons.  The context of their authority would be defined:  how and when can they raise funds, and how they can spend it. 

Then there are committees.  They can be established, given a terms of reference, and a budget, or they can be asked to come back to council with all decisions, or just larger decisions over a certain amount of money. 

There are lots of ways of doing things within the general and over-riding authority of the council, which is ultimately responsible, but can delegate some of that day-today responsibility to others.

Are you only concerned about the internal church matters, or also about the relationship of the church to classis?