What are best practices for conducting a Congregational Meeting dealing with controversial issues?

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I am a first term elder and council clerk who is now going to be partly responsible for guiding discussion and voting on a few  "hot button" issues - selling a parsonage in order to fund new ministries and a renovation/addition, as well as gathering perspectives now and  voting in May on building a small barrier-free addition to our church.  Do those of you who are experienced in conducting and fielding questions in this type of situation have any hints for keeping the discussion on a helpful track, or any words of wisdom on what to say and what to avoid?  I am starting to sweat! 

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Admin

This is a small suggestion...but one thing I've done in leading a couple of congregational meetings over the past year is to invite questions ahead of time.

In the materials distributed a few weeks before the meeting, I invited members of the congregation to email me their questions/concerns before the meeting. I explained that it wasn't to squelch comments at the meeting itself, of course, but to have a better meeting. If council gets questions beforehand, we know what some of the key issues to discuss will be. Plus we can even do a little research ahead of time or brainstorm some possible solutions to offer to the congregation. I think that leads to better decisions than on-the-spot scrambling!

I've only had a few take me up on it, but I think it helped. We had a big decision to make at our last meeting and I was able to respond to the person with some clarifications before the meeting. But then I also kicked off the congregational discussion with those same emailed questions....figuring they were probably on other peoples' minds as well.

Something to consider. Hope this helps.

One thing that I've seen work well, whether the meeting is expected to be controversial or not, is to have a "town hall" type of meeting prior to the meeting where the votes are called for.  This provides for a time of discussion followed by a time of waiting prior to voting.  Emotions that come out during the discussion portion don't carry over into the voting time, and issues/concerns that are raised during the discussion time are followed up with time for consideration, research, prayer, etc.

Admin

Great idea, Mike. Thanks for posting.

Having gone through several potentially controversial situations in the past year, including a financial pinch due to a building project and a personel change, I have found 2 things to be crucial - transparency & prayer. Often in council we feel the weight of responsibility - but we don't need to go it alone. We used what we called "Congregation Conversations" to bring the situation to the people and actively solicited their input and their prayers. While the council must make the decision - that does not mean it must make the decision in isolation from the congregation. The more informed the people are to the scenario, options, pitfalls and consequences of a situation the more understanding they are. By actively informing them and seeking their input the better informed they are to pray for you and the church. Whenever I look back over the past year I am amazed at the miracle that God pulled off right here in our church.

Thanks for all of your helpful suggestions so far. Please keep them coming!  I will share these posts with our VP (1st time position for her as well).  We have had one meeting to present and gather feedback on our ministry goals for the future with a PowerPoint presentation and round-table discussions. Then we mailed all of the information on the parsonage vote and the building-related documents and drawings to the members, and in the bulletin and during announcement time we've solicited questions/comments from members. After our meeting on the parsonage vote this April, I think I'll recommend to council the idea of soliciting questions by email and holding some post-service "congregation conversations" with small groups during the coffee hour. The vote on the building project will be in May.  Any other ideas about how to handle amendments to the Council's proposed motion during the meetings, or how to handle people who want to submit a total new and differently worded motion? 

Participant

I'm so glad Marlin shared...as a member of the same church, I will confirm that the council did a good job...i would even say great job, of leading the congregation through some tough issues...the prayer was key, and I think a beautiful testimony of how God honors when we seek to do it His way, not our way...then the "conversations" were great for bringing communication to a more comprehensive level for anyone interested.  There was good "sharpening", but also a good sense of community, as we wrestled with these concerns together.  Marlin didn't share this, so I will...he helped facilitate most of them, and I definitely sensed that he was being led by the Spirit through it.  Also, last night we had a "fun" conversation that focused on the various ministries going on in the church (instead of something controversial), and supporting and encouraging each other.

I am in total agreement with Marlin, prayer and open communication were key in our congregation.  It really seemed the Holy Spirit helped us with an attitude of love and honor, even when in disagreement.  I am also truly amazed at how God has worked in our church over the last year, and my prayer is that every Kingdom church will experience Him anew.