People often complain about the way congregations make decisions. Long board meetings, repetitive discussions, and slow action on important projects are some of the most frequent symptoms. Perhaps most tellingly, leaders are tired of spending so much time at meetings and so little on the core work of the congregation. Modern non-profits like Habitat for Humanity and the Girl Scouts of the USA attract many volunteers by offering to provide useful, satisfying, well-planned opportunities for service. Governance (while also carried out largely by volunteers) is clearly and separately organized. Governing boards define the mission, establish policies to guide and limit the activity of staff and volunteers, and choose, evaluate, and sometimes fire the top staff leaders.

In the accompanying article, “Learning from Nonprofits,” I explore one influential model of nonprofit management to see what it might teach us that we can use in congregations. John Carver asks and answers just about all of the important questions congregational leaders need to ask. But in my opinion his specific answers are not quite right for congregations. Clergy are not (only) managers, congregants are not (only) clients, board members are not (only) trustees, and staff members are not (only) employees. It is this “not only”–the mixing roles and relationships, the need to live with ambiguity and to balance plural loyalties, that makes governance of congregations special.

Click here to read “Learning from Nonprofits” from the Spring 2005 Congregations magazine which includes six core principles of good governance.


Featured Resources

AL302_SMBecoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power by N. Graham Standish

Graham Standish believes that a blessed church is one where people experience God rather than simply experience church. Yes, the congregation will talk about God and serve God, but its overarching desire will be to know and experience God.

AL290_SM Clergy, Retirement, and Wholeness: Looking Forward to the Third Age by Gwen Wagstrom Halaas

What would you wish for in retirement? Good health? Financial Stability? A supportive social community? Retiring well is everyone’s goal, but accomplishing this end requires planning and effort. Family physician Gwen Halaas recognizes the challenges professional caregivers such as clergy experience as they try to practice good self-care, particularly as they approach the significant changes inherent in retirement.

AL221_SM Learning While Leading: Increasing Your Effectiveness in Ministry by Anita Farber-Robertson with Meredith Brook Handspicker and David Whiman

As the world changes, so do people’s expectations of their faith community and clergy. This book uses three case studies to speak to religious professionals about the challenges they face, to provide readers with specific, user-friendly techniques to become more aware of how they function, and to learn new ways to lead. Clergy will find real-life examples of how more effective leadership enhances the life of the community and promotes the deepening of members’ faith.