Church and Leadership:
Board Meeting Protocol
by Ed Vasicek
Original September 1998 Revised July 2006
At Highland Park Church, we have three boards: an elders', deacons', and deaconesses' board. In an attempt to answer long-standing requests for guidance, I am offering this account of how we elders organize and move along our board meetings. Since this is an account of how we do it and not a policy paper, please take it for what it is: suggestions that have worked well for us.
Our approach might be called a "Relaxed Parliamentary Approach." We sort of follow a few of Robert's Rules of Order in an indirect way.
Nominating Board Officers
Each board needs a chairperson and a secretary (to record minutes). It is helpful and almost necessary for the secretary to be computer-literate.
This can be a sensitive task, since we do not want to offend folks or make them feel rejected, yet we want to allow for change or variation if board members feel it is in the best interest of the board. So how do we select our Chairperson and Secretary? Sometimes several good candidates might be willing and able to serve.
Here's the best way to handle it. The current secretary takes nominations for chairperson. If the former secretary is no longer on the board, then a seasoned board member can take charge of nominations with consent from the rest of the board. Board members submit as many nominations (you may not nominate yourself) as they think appropriate. Sometimes there may be only one. The nominees should be seconded. A person may nominate more than one individual and may second more than one individual, but may only vote for one nominee. The nominees can reject the nomination, but the burden is on them to speak up if they desire to reject the opportunity.
The board members choose the officer from among the nominees either by raising a hand (while those being voted upon close their eyes) or by paper ballot. If there are more than two candidates and none receives a majority, you need to conduct a run-off election between the top two.
The new chairperson then leads the process of nomination for the secretary, following the above procedure. At all meetings the chairperson only votes on motions to break a tie.
The chairperson is responsible to keep the meeting organized and on track. He or she can prepare a tentative agenda if desired.
Keeping Discussion on Target
One challenge we all face on our various boards is the enjoyment of conversation not related to matters of our particular board. We elders, for example, sometimes enjoy talking over deacons' matters. Why? Because we enjoy seeing things fixed up, purchased, etc., and so we are tempted to spend time in deacons' territory. We now actively work at NOT doing this. But how do you keep a meeting on track? Here are some tips we collected from the school of hard knocks.
First, if conversation runs amuck, the chairperson may say, "I will entertain a motion on the subject." If someone makes a motion and it is seconded, focus of discussion can now center on the motion.
Second, if no motion is forthcoming or if the matter is not board domain, the chairperson may say, "If there are no objections, let's move on to the next item." It is his/her job to nudge the group back into true board matters. I have been nudged this way many times myself, and I appreciate it when things are kept on target, even if I have been the culprit leading us to a tangent. Other board members can offer a suggestion to the chair that the board move on; but it is the chairperson who must make the decision one way or the other.
Third, if a board member senses that the discussion is getting off the subject at hand, he/she might make a motion. It is then the chairperson's job to ask for a second and then discuss the motion. This method of moving things along is open to all members except the chairperson, who cannot make a motion and can only vote in the event of a tie. However, he or she may say, "I will entertain a motion on the subject."
Fourth, a board member might ask the chairperson for a ruling. Is the matter under discussion is really a matter for that particular board?
Fifth, if an issue is truly appropriate for the board upon which you serve, but discussion is complicated and tentative, suggest to the chairperson that a designated board member or volunteer study out the issues and bring a report to the next meeting.
Sixth, do not be afraid to table (temporarily set aside) matters. Believe it or not, some things clear up with time. One of our elders, Dale Daniels would often quote what I now call Dale's axiom: "If it's a good idea this month, it will be a good idea next month."
There are two ways to pass motions: by vote or consent.
For many decisions, particularly important or potentially divisive ones, it is best to vote. Procedure may sound like this:
Chairperson: I'll entertain a motion on this matter. (Remember, the chair cannot make motions.)
Member 1: I move we buy a new changing table for the nursery, not to exceed $75.
Member 2: I’ll second the motion.
Chair: Is there any discussion?
Discussion (if any)
Chair: If there is no other discussion, all if favor of the motion say "Aye." (After a moment), “All opposed, same sign. Motion carries (or fails). If a vote is expected to be close or the number of "ayes" is unclear, each member of the board should be polled (asked for his vote individually).
Consent is used for non-controversial matters, and we elders use this form of approval most often. For example, meeting minutes (reports) are typically accepted by consent or "thumbs up." When the group is in obvious agreement with a matter, consent is used. A good rule is "when in doubt, bring it to a vote."
Consent sounds like this:
Chair: If there are no objections, we'll accept the minutes (or motion) by consent.
If any board member objects, the matter must be brought to a vote.
You want to make it easy for folks to express themselves. We don't want board members saying one thing at a meeting (or being silent) and then expressing their disagreement in the parking lot after the meeting! We call this the "parking lot syndrome." This is a mortal sin as far as church boards go! That's why anything controversial should be discussed and voted upon.
The Danger of Disharmony via Voting
It is often wiser to meet a dissenter part way, if practical. Voting can create winners and losers, and it is important that every board member feels respected and heard by all the other members. Often a new motion—with a compromise or qualification added—makes for board harmony. Harmony is a valuable asset and worth working for.
Motions can be withdrawn before voting if the one who made the motion and the one who seconded the motion agree to withdraw it.
Demanding motions be passed unanimously is a bad move; it creates an environment where people do not share their true opinions, but vote for motions out of peer pressure. This will create the "parking lot" syndrome" mentioned above.
We open and close meetings with prayer. The elders’ board also spends time praying for those within the Flock who are experiencing struggles. It is always appropriate, on any board, to take time to pray for the needs of board members or pressing issues.
Thank you for serving our Savior and this local family of believers. God bless you!
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA