Over the last two months, we have been conducting a thorough review of our training program for Church Boards (better known as Best Practices for Church Boards). For four years, over 50 Churches and over 300 church leaders have participated in our Board training initiatives. Throughout the experience, we have learned more and more about the unique dynamics of Church leadership. This has led us to elevate the training to higher levels. Beginning this Fall at the November 7th Best Practices for Church Boards Basic Workshop we intend to present a comprehensive schedule of Workshops that will address a distinct checklist of Church Board competencies. The Fall workshop will address several of those competencies as it has in the past. But, our intention is to present a cycle of Basic workshops that will engage the full Church Board leadership experience. More on that to come …
But, for now, one of the key issues that emerged in our study is that Church Board leaders often struggle to define their key responsibility. In their book, Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, Richard Chait, William Ryan and Barbara Taylor identify three functions or types of Board governance. The “bedrock” task of a Board, given within Type 1 (Fiduciary mode) is to “ensure that nonprofit organizations are faithful to mission, and accountable for performance…” (p. 7).
To “ensure” faithfulness and accountability calls for a board to be able to measure strategic goals. On the surface, many Church Boards struggle to know how to measure the goals, but there is a deeper issue at stake: to know what goals are to be measured.
In an article entitled Monitoring Your Organization’s Performance: The Dash Board Instrument (Board Matters, Article No. 20, www.governance.com.au), Tom Holland says that Boards must identify the information that they need staff to give them on a regular basis so that they can adequately monitor and evaluate the success of the organizational mission. However, Boards are often frustrated with a myriad of distractions: data overload, inappropriate levels of detail in information, information with an administrative rather than missional perspective … unproductive information which lacks strategic relevance.
Holland continues by presenting the concept of a Dashboard as an analogy of an instrument that a Board creates to monitor the critical measurements that gauge the healthy progress of the core and essential mission at hand. To build an effective “Dashboard” however, the Board must have a clear idea of what constitutes critical measures.
In order to do that, Boards must develop one of the most vital skills they can exercise as a group: the ability to ask strategic questions. There is an old axiom that a person is to be judged by their questions rather than their answers. In his eNewsletter, Leadership Wired, (Questions That Sustain Your Leadership) John Maxwell writes, the willingness to ask questions coupled with the discipline to seek out answers separates leaders from followers … influencers question assumptions, inquire about the environment around them, and probe into the future … they have an insatiable appetite to learn, and they convert their knowledge to action at light speed.
For Church Boards, there are a number of questions that must be asked:
1. What are the top priorities of our mission as a congregation? What is it that God has for us to do?
2. What key aspects of our ministry do we want to monitor that will make a difference in people’s lives and advance the kingdom of God?
3. What are the best ways to display the outcome of our ministry efforts?
4. What will we do with the reports we receive? How will we celebrate the fruit or address the deficiencies of our ministry?
I would imagine that the answers to the first two questions are the most important and deserve the careful and prayerful reflection of Church Leaders. The Great Commission that defines the strategic purpose of the Church is focused on people rather than programs. We are to “make disciples” which means that our task is measured in terms of human life rather than organizational structure. And, the benchmarks of a successful ministry are identified best by naming names and gathering testimonies.
In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal provides an illustration of the sort of measurements that reflect a people, rather than a program, development culture. Some of the items he sets behind the dashboard as a gauge for ministry include (adapted from his list):
- Number of people reporting improved marriages over time
- Number of people reporting improved family life over time
- Number of people engaged in strengths identification and development
- Number of people who have identified a sense of God’s calling and have created and are following a life development plan
- Number of people serving other people in some venue
- Number of people practicing intentional blessing strategies for those around them
- Number of people being mentored
- Number of people serving as mentors
- Number of people able to articulate life mission .. core values
- Number of people reporting improvements in spiritual life over time
- Number of people growing in financial giving to kingdom causes
- Number of people pursuing job skill … ministry skill development
- Number of people reporting addiction recovery progress
The list Church Boards construct must reflect their church’s mission and vision and be appropriate to both. The consequences of the exercise will determine the measurements within the strategic questions bringing insurance of mission faithfulness and performance accountability. As McNeal writes: to pull this off requires a retooling, a reallocation of every resource the church and church leaders employ … prayer, people (both leaders and ministry constituents), time, finances, facilities and technology. But, once retooled, the Board fulfills its calling to be focused and engaged in the greatest venture of all.