OK, you are on your way to consistently great meetings…. But you have to get there one step at a time. That means sitting through lots of less than great ones. Oh, right, we did that part already. So now we are ready to invest a bit of effort and time, because we are MOTIVATED to improve those meetings! What if better preparation meant shorter better meetings?!
I’m not going to list prayer as a way to improve meetings, because we all know that. That’s assumed. So what else?
First, there’s just no getting around it, somebody has to do some good preparation, and that usually falls to the chair. If you are not the chair, offer to help; this business of having better meetings involves taking responsibility – stepping up to the tasks. If no one does, expect the meeting to show it.
1. Make the agenda so it can be distributed ahead of time. Do it by email, or do it by snail mail, or do it by using church mailboxes. Deacons need to be able to look it over a couple of days in advance so it can “percolate”; we all need time to clarify our own thinking and decide what we want to say in the meeting. We might even want to call someone to check something out before the meeting. Having a good agenda in hand 2 or 3 days before the meeting is important.
2. The agenda will show WHAT is coming up, AND, even more important, WHAT the group is being asked to do about it. To help focus on the TASK at hand, each agenda item should be labeled clearly, so that the group knows exactly what it needs to do with that agenda item. So each agenda item will be labeled one of three ways: for information, for discussion or advice (to someone, for example the pastor or a deaconal subcommittee), or for decision.
3. It can really help to put time for personal talk and informal exchange on the agenda - first. Call it Personal Time, and make it part of opening devotions. Invite and encourage people to share what’s happening in families, at work, what’s distracting them right now, what’s exciting, what’s discouraging, etc. This can satisfy the craving on the part of some for “relational” time, and it can lead easily and directly into prayer time. Which in turn can easily become part of opening devotions. Setting a specific time for this meets a need, builds community, and reassures people who get quickly impatient with it because they know it has a specific boundary around it.
4. The last thing I’ll mention here is the “ounce of prevention” step. The really good chair will know which agenda item is going to push a particular person’s button. Do not wait for that to happen in the meeting. Call that person before the meeting and say, “Harv, I want to give you a heads up that we’re going to be talking about the budget item for a new keyboard. I know you have strong feelings about keyboards, and so I wanted to have a conversation with you before the meeting to make sure you don’t feel blind-sided, and help you feel assured that we’ll handle this in a way that feels respectful to you.”
I’d like to think of these as a few of the “disciplines” of good meetings. They help to respect peoples’ time, their ideas, their willingness to serve. A chair who signals to her group that she really values them and respects them, is on the way to a good meeting.
The process of preparing a good agenda demands thought and prayer. It will involve you in followup on decisions from the last meeting, and it will help you to think about what you can do ahead of time to help insure that the next meeting is a good one.
Have you had experience with any of these ideas? Do you have feedback? Please share your ideas for improved meetings.