Meetings in the Church—it’s a love/hate thing. Rarely do people enjoy attending meetings but we still discover ways to plan more meetings.
This may come across as a blunt message, but meetings are either well done or toxic and it’s important that leaders get them right. How you run a meeting has a dramatic influence on how you are loved as a leader. If you run a good meeting, those who follow you will be more willing to serve you. If you run a bad meeting, the only thing to increase is the eye-rolling.
I want to use Ward Council as the model in this post, but this information can be applied to most meetings within the church. When I say meeting I am not referring to any meetings in the 3 hour block. I’m talking about council meetings (ward council, presidency meetings, stake high council, etc.).
Handbook 2 (18.2) tells us that ward council should be held “regularly (at least monthly).” I’ve heard about general authorities visiting local stakes and encouraging bishops to hold ward council more than just once a month. Some are even mandating ward council to be held weekly.
I get it. I don’t think these authorities are trying to torture anyone with more meetings. They want the ward council to work together more often and elevate the ward in general; however, I’m not sure if scheduling more meetings is the answer. I’m not saying meeting as a ward council more often is a bad idea; but if you do, make sure you set some clear objectives and rules.
Elder David A. Bednar said:
If I had the wish of my heart, I would remove from the vocabulary of the Latter-day Saints the word meeting. We have not been talking about a ward council meeting. We’ve been talking about a revelatory experience with the members of the ward council. And if members of councils, if members of families, as they come together, would think in terms of “I’m preparing to participate in a revelatory experience with my family” instead of going to a meeting—a revelatory experience with the members of the ward council—I think we would prepare and act much differently. In these latter days, given the forces of the adversary and the darkness, no one person in the family and no one person in a ward is going to be the conduit through which all of the answers come.
So all of that speaks to the spiritual nature of this work and seeking for the inspiration to do what the Lord wants us to do. (2010 World Wide Leadership Training)
So let’s agree that you won’t hold another meeting unless you have sufficiently outlined it as a revelatory experience. If it isn’t, cancel it; it isn’t worth holding a meeting that is anything different.
In an effort to do this, let’s review the 7 Unbreakable Rules of Church Meetings
7 Unbreakable Rules of Church Meetings
1. 60 Minute Limit (seriously)
Handbook 2 (4.6) advises ward council should be 60-90 minutes in duration. This is nice encouragement for those holding 3 hour meetings (you should be ashamed), but in reality there is no meeting that needs to go longer than 60 minutes. Do you disagree? (please comment below) Meetings longer than 60 minutes damage your effectiveness as a leader. Nobody enjoys them and they need to stop.
If you can’t help but go over the 1 hour mark, then you need more discipline through a timer. If you need help with not getting carried away in a meeting, your next meeting should have a kitchen timer present. Set it for 60 minutes and tell everyone in the room they are free to walk out once that timer sounds.
There is a concept called Parkinson’s law, which states that a meeting (or any task) will expand to fill the time you allotted for it. If you don’t give the meeting a time limit, it will grow out of control. This shouldn’t be a vague 60 minutes that grows to 90 minutes with the presiding authority stating, “oops, looks like we went 30 minutes over.” This is a hard 60 minutes. Once the timer sounds the presiding authority should say, “Well, looks like we have more to discuss but our time is up. Let’s close with prayer.” If you go over, you will find the creativity in the room plummet and individuals will agree to anything just to get out of there.
I’d even go so far as to say that any meeting can be done in 30 minutes and I’ll encourage you to try, but you can be comfortable with 60. But never, and I mean NEVER, is a meeting worth 61 minutes. If you can’t see how the meeting can stay under an hour, just cancel it because you aren’t ready to hold a meeting.
2. Anyone Can Cancel (No Excuse Required)
I had a good friend that was released as a bishop because he was called to his stake presidency. Soon after his call, he shared with me one day how different the feeling is to be a counselor to a presiding authority as opposed to being the presiding authority. As bishop, he could cancel any meeting on a whim. If things were crazy at home and his family needed more attention, one quick text message would free up his evening; as a counselor, he didn’t have that luxury.
Leaders need to give autonomy to those they lead. If someone on the council has reason to not come to the meeting or, quite frankly, doesn’t want to be in the meeting, then they should have the right to not be there. No excuse is required.
“But wait!!! This is ward council! This is a very important meeting.”
I agree. But if the meeting is consistently a revelatory experience, members of the ward council won’t dare miss it. If few want to show up, it isn’t a problem with those absent, it’s a problem with your leadership.
3. No Administration Allowed
Years ago, I had a boss who couldn’t process any problem without a room full of people. It felt like we had to decide as a committee how to respond to each email in his inbox. He was constantly pulling us away from our desk in order to hold a meeting and get our “perspective on things.”
It is tempting to use a meeting to process administrative tasks. Everyone is in the room and you can get quick feedback. Handbook 2 (4.6.3) states, “the ward council seeks inspiration in developing a course of action to bless the lives of members. The council’s focus is on helping people, not administering programs.”
Here are three big NO’s for how to avoid administrative topics in meetings.
No Downloading Information: Don’t inform for the sake of informing. It’s a waste of people’s time to review a list of announcements, activity details, dates, etc. If it can easily be communicated in an email, allow people to read it on their own time and respond with questions when they would like.
No Brainstorming: Brainstorming can be powerful, but it doesn’t need to happen within a meeting. If you need ideas to a problem, an activity, or whom to call to a position, ask people to prepare this in advance and bring the ideas to the meeting. Like I said above, the longer a meeting goes, the more creativity diminishes. Brainstorming can deplete chunks of time from the meeting agenda.
No Round-Robin: Just because you are sitting in a circle doesn’t mean you need to talk in a circle. Giving everyone a chance to state randomness unrelated to the agenda is a waste of time. Everyone will feel obligated to say something and that doesn’t help to keep the meeting under 60 minutes. If there is something they want to address as a group, they should have cleared it for the agenda.
4. Agenda Required
This is easier said than done because creating an agenda takes planning and preparation. In the busy life of a church leader, that can be difficult.
Some may argue over the details of what an agenda is. Do whatever works for you, as long as those attending the meeting know what will be discussed and have time prior to the meeting to process the information.
5. No Tech
One statement that was never uttered in the School of the Prophets, “Oh, sorry, I thought I put this on silent.”
There’s nothing more distracting than a smartphone or tablet. Get them out of the room (or put away) and you will have more of a revelatory experience.
6. Always Assume the Presiding Authority Is Misguided
This is in no way a statement of apostasy. If there is someone in the room who everyone thinks is the smartest, it hurts the quality of discussion and decreases revelation.
The bishop isn’t there to receive revelation; he is there to confirm revelation. I never really noticed this dynamic until I was bishop, but many times the bishop feels like people are waiting on him to come up with an idea or to lead the discussion in a certain direction.
So, assume the bishop is misguided until he confirms a final decision.
If you haven’t read the guest post, “You Are Not to Take Over”, it’s worth a read.
7. When In Doubt, Cancel the Meeting
Seriously, if you haven’t figured out how to turn a meeting into a revelatory experience, just cancel it. You will find that not much is impacted by fewer meetings.
Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work by Jason Fried
A Look At Meetings Productivityist Podcast