What's the Agenda?
December 3, 2013
Updated March 20, 2018
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You’ve been delegated to a meeting of classis. You’ve brought along your packet of information and done your best to read through the twenty or thirty pages of materials, including the denominational “Ministry Report to Classes and Councils”. The day began with worship, classis has been declared constituted and the chair for the day says, “Okay, let’s turn to item IV, B, 3, e”. You spend the rest of the day flipping pages trying to figure out where you are.
Okay, I hope that’s an exaggeration, but classes do not always take “user friendliness” into account when preparing agendas for their meetings. At one time the agendas for our classis meetings were organized around the classical vision statement. They were sometimes two or three pages long (not including supporting materials and reports). They had headings like “governance ministries,” “leadership development ministries,” and “outreach ministries.” Under each of these headings each classical committee and functionary was listed, whether that committee was reporting or not. These agendas did a very good job of communicating that our classis wanted to be about things like leadership development and outreach. However, these agendas did not let participants know what the main focus of any one meeting would be.
A few years ago we changed our approach. We streamlined our agendas so they would fit on one page. The day was divided into blocks of time for things like “Small Group Prayer,” and “Ministry Celebration.” The main items requiring attention at that meeting were listed under the heading, “Ministry Discussion.” These agendas still cover a thick packet of information. Classical Committees and others still submit written reports. But, there is an understanding that these are for information only unless a delegate specifically wanted to question one. These agendas allow participants to easily see what the main business of the day will be. However, the classical vision communicated by the previous agenda form has tended to fade into the background.
A recent example from Classis Georgetown takes this approach a step further, while avoiding the problem of vision fade. The entire agenda is structured around one of the values from Classis Georgetown’s vision statement, in this case “Daring Hospitality.” This agenda dispenses with numbered items altogether, opting instead for headings like “learning activity,” “we eat together,” and “classis works together”.
These last two examples are modifications of what is sometimes called a consent agenda. The core idea of this agenda format is that routine items are dealt with by consent. These include the adoption of minutes and the receiving reports that do not make recommendations (more details and examples can be found with a quick internet search). When these administrative details are agreed to, the team planning the meeting has the freedom to focus on matters that require discussion or strategic thinking. It lets the planning team set an agenda for the meeting, for example planning it around a theme, instead of allowing other interests to set the agenda for them. In addition, it lets participants focus their preparation on the most important items.
In my experience consent agendas take some getting used to, but they can be a tool that can help a body spend its best energy on those items that most require it.
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