Meetings on meetings on meetings—that’s how it can feel sometimes, right? With consuming meetings and multiple boards ruling decisions in the church, Jeff Coleman and his team wanted to make a change.

I recently had the chance to talk with Jeff, the lead pastor of Sugar Hill United Methodist Church in Sugar Hill, Georgia. Jeff and his team worked with The Unstuck Group this year through our Strategic Planning Process. During our time together, they were moving from multiple boards within the church to a single, unified board.

Check out our conversation below to learn how they made this shift.

unified church board

1. Why do you believe this was a necessary change for your church?

While the current structure for committees in the United Methodist denomination can be somewhat cumbersome, the issue was brought to life for me when an insurance policy change decision in our congregation took over four months. It wasn’t difficult, but it bounced between committees, which only met once a month and then needed to be finalized at the top end of our governmental structure. With the more simplified model was in place, this decision could have been discussed and decided on in 15 minutes. Streamlining our structure will enable us to act on opportunities that present themselves sooner, but the biggest advantage is how much time it frees up for our people to actually engage in ministry rather than meetings.  

2. How did you process this potential change with your leaders and the congregation?

I started the initial conversation roughly 18 months before enacting the change. I reached out to area pastors who had already been through this and sought their counsel re: what worked well, what should I avoid if/when we make this change, and how to prepare to implement this well. Also, I had a pastor come and speak to our existing board members about the pros, cons and how it has helped his congregation. I attended a training session with a denominational official who has pioneered this process, written a book on it, and recorded a number of training videos on how to do this and not torpedo your church. Additionally, I provided these resources to our outgoing and incoming board members so they would feel knowledgeable and aware of what this looked like and why this was an important change.

3. How do you handle this with valued board or committee members who will no longer be on one of the boards or committees?

Again, I met with those people and gave them the idea well in advance and helped them to understand and own the change. Some individuals were scheduled to roll off at the end of the year and some who weren’t migrated over to the new structure. There was a very small number of individuals whose term of service was interrupted, but I attempted to value them and their contribution to our church and provide other avenues for service in the congregation. So far, so good.

4. What did your implementation process look like?

It’s been intentionally slow and we are still feeling our way through this new structure. The best thing we’ve done, in my opinion, is provide resources, training, and understanding. The way we are currently conducting our meetings probably won’t look the same by this time next year or even in the next six months but, overall, it appears to be a solid group that understands it’s role isn’t to get into the weeds of the day-to-day operation of the church, but to function as body that provides visionary oversight and guidance.

5. Are there any early wins at this point?

The biggest early win is that we don’t have 15 to 20 people a month sitting in meetings, hearing reports about events that are 30-60 days in the past. Instead, they are now able to be involved in ministry, be at home with their family, be in the community, taking their kids’ soccer practice, participating in a Bible study group, or some other activity. While meetings are necessary, they can be done in a fashion where the mission of the church is primary and the maintenance of the church is secondary. I believe that a simplified and accountable structure for meetings, which includes time for leadership development, will be a huge win for our church.   

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