Parish ministry meetings should not be boring, ineffective, inefficient time-wasters! All too often, though, that’s how they end up. Each of us is called to be a good steward of the gifts Our Lord has given us, including our time, and the time of others, for building up the Kingdom of God. We have a responsibility to manage those resources effectively.
Why Do So Many Ministry Meetings Seem So Lame?
That’s a good question: Why are so many ministry meetings so maddeningly ineffective and inefficient? One may cite any number of possible causes. For example, the leader simply may not know how to run a meeting properly. As with any other skill or competency, it requires some training and experience. On the other hand, some ministries and apostolates take the position they are not a business. Consequently, the meetings don’t need to be run so formally. This is wrong-headed thinking. It results in meetings without one or more of key elements of meeting infrastructure. Such elements include opening and closing prayers, an agenda, effective time management practices, group meeting guidelines and records of the proceedings.
A Matter of Know-How or “No Need”?
Yes, it’s true. Some ministry leaders don’t know how to run an effective meeting. They’re just doing what they’ve seen others do, replicating all the past bad habits that they’ve experienced. Unfortunately, many of the soft skills we acquire come from imitation of others. This can be good, or it can be bad—and when you suffer through a poorly conducted meeting, you are seeing the bad side of it.
What about the notion that, because the parish is not a business, other rules should apply to how we run our meetings? We don’t need to be so formal, in other words. Following that logic then, because a parish is not a business, it doesn’t need to hire the best people it can find, or it doesn’t need to monitor its financial condition. “Dominus providebit”—God will provide, right? Yes, but He wants us to be prudent and diligent in doing our part as well.
Prayer Is of Utmost Importance
In his Rule, St. Benedict tells us, “Whenever you begin a good work, pray earnestly to God that it may be brought to perfection…” (Prol. 5) Ministry meetings—every one of them—should open and close with prayer. This would seem to be a “given” for a parish ministry or any apostolate. Still, we experience or hear of meetings where prayers are omitted, if only inadvertently. Asking God to guide and bless the participants and the meeting, and giving thanks to Him, takes only a few moments. Yet they are powerful moments.
How Will We Behave?
Group meeting guidelines simply are behavioral norms you may wish to consider for your meetings. They set the expectations for behavior that allow the group to function effectively. They might include norms such as the following:
- Be respectful and tactful—show each other the love of God
- Don’t interrupt
- Listen for the real meaning and understanding
- Stay on task—be good stewards of the time God has given us
This notion of having group meeting norms, or rules of engagement, may seem foreign to many ministry leaders, but experience confirms that it really enhances meeting effectiveness.
Bare Minimum Requirements for Documentation
Some very basic written documentation needs to be part of every ministry meeting. At a minimum, you shouldn’t start a meeting without an agenda. The agenda provides a road map for the meeting so everyone knows what’s covered and in what order. As well, if you provide estimated time commitments for the agenda items, it can help keep the meeting on schedule. Few people have the time to spare for meetings that run past the scheduled ending time.
During the meeting, someone should take notes to document the proceedings and decisions reached. These notes are important. If you’ve had to sit through meetings where people couldn’t remember or agree on what they decided at the last meeting, you know what I am talking about. The meeting minutes don’t have to be elaborate, but they should be complete. Thus, they would reflect, for any action items, the responsible party, action to be taken and due date. What’s more, the minutes need to go out as soon after the meeting as possible, not at the next meeting. Any accountability or value as a reminder of who is to do what are lost if the minutes are only distributed at the next meeting.
What’s the Point?
Now, all of this assumes that the ministry or apostolate has a valid, relevant purpose—a mission for which it is organized. What is the reason your group exists? Does it include the “service and praise of God’s Divine Majesty…” to borrow a phrase from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola? (SpirEx 44) If you want to bring souls to God, how does what you do help build the Kingdom of God? How do your meetings further the purpose? Is there a good reason for meeting at this time? Few things can be as frustrating to busy people than showing up at meetings that really aren’t necessary.
What the Meeting Is Not About
“But we like to engage socially with one another.” Or, “We enjoy some non-business talk and catching up from time to time,” you might say. Socialization is fine—we all need to feel that we’re part of a group. We appreciate being connected, having acquaintances and friends. It’s nice to stay in touch. Just don’t do it during the meeting—do your socialization outside the meeting. It’s not fair to those who have other commitments to delay the start of the meeting or let it drag on because of extraneous discussions.
Be Good Stewards
Do you struggle to keep people actively engaged in the ministry? Perhaps meeting attendance has dropped off over time? Maybe the management—or mismanagement—of meetings is a contributing factor. Jesus tells us, in the Parable of the Unjust Steward, that we should use the goods of this life to work toward our salvation. Time used imprudently is time lost forever. In the end, it’s poor stewardship. Let’s manage our ministry meetings wisely as good stewards of this precious gift. Let us follow St. Paul’s advice in Col 4, and make the most of the opportunities before us in our ministries.