Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Virtual Church Meetings

An ongoing problem in the Presbyterian church (and other mainline churches) is that it is difficult to find younger members who are willing to serve on the session because of the number of meetings--not only of the session but of session committees--that are required.

All too often those meetings are scheduled during the day which makes it impossible for many of these folks who are working to attend. The result is that the church elects more elders who are really "elders", i.e. retired, delaying the transition in leadership to the next generation.

I've been thinking about ways to address this and wonder if any of you have implemented changes that are working in your churches? Of course the current leadership needs to be more flexible and willing to schedule meetings at times when younger people could attend, but the number of meetings is still a big issue for most families today.

Can't we make better use of our digital capabilities for meetings? For example, are you cutting down on in-person meetings by using conference calls, Facebook private groups or some other method? Anyone know a cheap and effective way to video conference with a group? I don't think you can Skype with more than one other person, but if I'm wrong let me know.

Certainly there are some committees whose work is best done in person, but for most of them I suspect that a lot of things can be done through virtual meetings thus reducing the number of times a committee has to gather in person at the church. After all most businesses and other organizations do that these days.

If we are going to bring younger working people into church leadership--and we MUST do this-- then we have to rethink the ways in which we have always done our committee meetings. Your thoughts?


Teri said...

We have set up a system where all the ministry teams meet on one night, 6 times a year. Teams are welcome to have more meetings (when preparing for a big event, for instance), but those are the ones we set up for them. these team meetings alternate with the board meetings, so the deacons and session also (ideally) meet only 6 times per year. These changes have allowed more people to participate in ministry teams AND have made the scheduling more manageable in general--just one night per month to keep track of!

We also do a lot of the team business by email, though we do not do board conversations that way. We were hoping to use google wave, but it has died rather unceremoniously, so.... I look forward to hearing about other collaboration tools and virtual meeting ideas your readers have!

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks so much! Scheduling 6 meetings a year is a great idea. The trick is to set up a congregational culture that discourages unneeded extra meetings, isn't it?

We need to do more with email, too, like you are doing.

Anonymous said...

QG, your point is an excellent one. The younger people who have the drive/dedication/enthusiasm to contribute to work like this are doing so - with Habitat for Humanity, food pantries, outreach to the homeless, Scouts, etc. And they are not going to switch to working in/for the church when they retire just because they will then be able to make the meetings. They will stay with the organizations that have welcomed their input all along.

The other comment I will make as an older person is that, in the past, many/most meetings DID take place in the late afternoon or evening or on weekend afternoons. (I'm including governing bodies like presbyteries in this too). But the emphasis on clergy care has moved meetings to times that are convenient for the ministers involved. We might want to rethink this approach to being/doing church work. Maybe ministers need to adjust their work hours a bit instead of expecting that church members alone do so, and church members need to realize that evening meetings should mean that ministers may not be in the office quite so much during the "regular" work day. (Although many members would not even notice as they are, well, at work!)

We have about half of our meetings by conference call - deciding by consensus which meetings those will be. If we're just reporting in on projects/activities that are continuing as planned, there's really no need to meet physically. If, however, we're planning something new, have someone coming to meet with us, have some major decisions to make - well, then we meet in person. We've also come to realize that most groups do not need to meet monthly and have moved to more bimonthly or quarterly meetings. This is easier with the use of email for any between-meeting communications. The tougher part is that there are still some members of our congregation without internet access - committee and group leaders cope with this in different ways.

We have also instituted 2-hour leadership training for committee/group leaders to talk about things like how to structure a meeting, how to move business along efficiently, how to include enough fellowship time without including too much, how to bring a discussion to a close, etc. When participants are actually getting work done and making a difference, they are more likely to come back to the next meeting. Those who are working in the secular world are not encouraged to participate if they believe that most of their time is wasted when they attend a church meeting that they have "squeezed" into an already very busy life.

Again, I think this an important issue for our churches, presbyteries, church-related NFP's, etc. to consider. Even those who remain members are putting their time and energy elsewhere. Who will our leaders be in 20 years?

Quotidian Grace said...

Anonymous, Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!

The guidelines you are using to decide when to meet by conference call and when in person are very helpful. Ditto the idea of having a 2 hour leadership training to talk about how to run a meeting. Great idea!!

I firmly believe there is no reason to meet in person just to hear someone read a written report that doesn't require action by the group. And that happens far too often everywhere in the church.

Gord said...

Therte is another piece though.

How many committees do we really need? Do they need to exist forever? Sometimes they do of course. But I have seen too many committees that only existed because some manual says they should--they meet but have no sense of why.

I am a big fan of ad hoc work whenever possible, and of limiting the number of standing committees that are needed.

Quotidian Grace said...

Excellent point, Gord. Maybe we need to set an ending date on committees not required by the BOO so their existence is reviewed periodically and they can be eliminated when no longer needed. Like the sunset laws in the states for their state agencies.

Marlene said...

As a pastor's wife I'd like to know where those "clergy care" churches are?? My husband serves a multi-staff church and is out an average of 3 nights a week for meetings. I'm not aware of any church member meetings taking place during the day.

Beyond that little selfish rant, yes you can Skype with more than one person.

Mac said...

In our former PC(USA) presbytery, most meetings (of the presbytery and the committees) were held during the day on a Tuesday. Because I could schedule a day away from the office, I was a commissioner for two years. I repeatedly mentioned to the Stated Clerk and the Moderator that having meetings on a Saturday would enable younger elders to participate. I was patted on the head and ignored. I realized that one reason for weekday meetings was to ensure that certain “professional elders” rotated from committee to committee, always adhering to the Louisville line. (One elder who had been on the GAC was on the AC that negotiated our departure to the EPC. We could hear her in their discussions, screaming that our churches needed to be destroyed! Shortly thereafter, she was back on the GAC.)

On the session, I think that e-mail is the key. We look at the docket and exchange a lot of discussion pre-meeting. If it turns out that there is consensus, we can vote without further debate. (We Presbyterians do love to talk. We will talk an issue to death and then take it to the Churchyard for a decent burial, but will still say a lot of words over the grave! Electronic words allow the meetings to move along.)

If there is no consensus, we still can get much more formal and thoughtful discussion accomplished in the run up to the meeting, thus structuring the debate.

Finally, we distribute all ministry team minutes electronically, so that discussion is limited to items requiring session action.

Anonymous said...

Twitter with a hash tag would allow a private discussion to happen.

Michael Kruse said...

The Stated Clerk says that the edition of Robert's Rules will include a section about the conduct of electronic meetings. I think the new edition comes out next year. That should help the confidence level for having such meetings among many skeptics.

Quotidian Grace said...

Michael, that's very helpful information about the new Robert's Rules edition. Thanks!

Reformed Catholic said...

One of the main problems is the Board of Directors mentality of the functioning of the Session.

Elders do NOT need to be the head or member of any committee unless they want to be.

One of the requirements of the Session as listed in the Book of Order is the requirement to DELEGATE.

Yes there are things that Session must approve, but those items can be brought to Session by the Chair of the committee either in person or in writing. In all others cases, a written update is all that is needed.