What Makes a Good Church Board—Six Must-Have Characteristics

July 16, 2012

Many pastors—and laypeople—consider church board meetings a necessary evil. They see this as the “business” life of the church, which shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with “ministry.”

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Sometimes they are right. At times, board business is so mind-numbingly boring that the lawyers and accountants are falling asleep. At other times, the board must make decisions that create policy, determine the future of the organization, or discipline members. The stakes are high, and emotions may follow.

I’ve heard horror stories about board meetings that lasted long into the night, involved shouting matches between members, or even erupted into violence. Tense and unproductive might be the two most commonly applied adjectives to church board meetings.

Frankly, that has seldom been my experience. Most boards I’ve served on have been comprised of thoughtful, well-motivated people who understood how to get things done.

Here is what I think makes the difference between a good board and an unproductive one.

A good board keeps its vision on the top line. Good boards don’t allow themselves to get dragged into administrative minutia by discussing what hours the church secretary will work or whether to switch office suppliers. They understand that their function is high-level oversight, which includes setting the direction for the organization, making major policy decisions, and exercising financial oversight. They major on the majors and leave implementation to ministry leaders.

A good board is progressive. Church boards can be conservative because they feel a great sense of responsibility for the financial and spiritual well-being of the church. The good ones are also progressive. They believe God put the church here for a reason, and they aim to see that mission carried out. They want to see vision, action, and progress.

A good board works together. Boards can get derailed by members who insist their way is right and refuses to listen to others. Rather than allowing the board process to work, they try to circumvent it by framing the issue in their terms or manipulating the debate. Good boards don’t prejudge an issue. They believe that each member has something to contribute respect one another enough to listen.

A good board looks for good leadership. Weak boards exercise no authority, allowing the chairman to make all decision. Controlling boards exercise total authority, commandeering both the agenda and the discussion. Both are unproductive.

A good board recognizes the need for an executive and allows itself to be led. It may be intolerant of wandering discussions and unproductive meetings, but it understands that it exists to make decisions rather than set the agenda.

A good board keeps the pastor and staff accountable. Oversight is a primary function of a church board, and the good ones do it consistently and without micromanaging. A good board will follow up on previous discussions, ask whether policies have been implemented, and insist on seeing financial statements.

A good board trusts the Holy Spirit. The strongest characteristic of the best boards I’ve served on is that they believe God is active in the world, in their church, and in their meetings. They pray for wisdom, then act in faith.

What would you add to this list?

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.