November 16, 2022

Church Governance: Moving from Meetings to Ministry – Episode 271 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

church governance moving from meetings to ministry

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Effective Church Boards & Governance Models (Part 3)

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We’ve talked about volunteer engagement in the past, so why are we addressing it again in the context of this series on church governance?

Because the best volunteer engagement strategies will only work within the right governance framework. If we don’t get governance right, the wrong people have control. The wrong roles get filled. The wrong priorities get promoted. And the wrong contributions get celebrated. 

Not only does this impact the level of volunteer engagement in a church, it has consequences impacting the overall health of the ministry as a whole.


You can’t be a healthy, thriving, growing church while prioritizing participation on boards and committees over engaging the ministry and the mission of the church.

This week, Sean and I are unpacking three strategies to tackle these governance problems and encourage more people to move from meetings into ministry. We’ll discuss:

  • Pruning our boards and committees
  • Changing governance language and reporting structures
  • Focusing on what gets celebrated in our churches
  • Casting a vision for serving in ministry

How to Get Your Church Governance Unstuck


Church boards don’t have to be dysfunctional, but more often than not, pastors reach out to us because they are...

At this free webinar, Tony Morgan, Amy Anderson, and special guests help you identify the governance issues that may be holding your church back.

You can’t be a healthy, thriving, growing church while prioritizing participation on boards and committees over engaging the ministry and the mission of the church. [episode 271] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet The more people we have sitting in committee meetings, the fewer people we have actually engaging the mission of the church. [episode 271] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet God did not create us to serve on a committee. Help people see that using their spiritual gifts to serve others is far more fulfilling than sitting in meetings. [episode 271] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet You can’t just prune committees and end meetings—you have to replace them with something more important to God’s plan for our lives: serving and engaging in ministry. [episode 271] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet
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Tony (00:00):

Before we jump into today’s episode, let me tell you about my friends at Belay. We’ve talked a lot about focus strategies that are actionable and measurable, but what if the only thing stopping you is time? So think of tasks you never seem to catch up on. Maybe it’s sermon preparation or volunteer coordination or supporting new members. What if delegating those could save you an average of 15 hours per week? Belay is a modern staffing organization with fractional, US based virtual assistant, accounting, social media, and website services, and they’ve helped busy church leaders do just that for more than a decade. And today, Belay is offering its latest book, Lead Anyone From Anywhere to our listeners for free. In this ebook, you’ll learn the four critical skills necessary to lead a hybrid team. Just text unstuck. That’s u-n-s-t-u-c-k to 55123 to get back to growing your church with Belay.

Sean (01:05):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. My name is Sean, and I’m your host today. And before we get into today’s podcast, if you’re new to these episodes, why don’t you head over to and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, each week, you’re gonna get resources to go along with that week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide and some bonus resources, as well as access to our podcast resource archive. So that’s to subscribe. Well, Tony, it’s good to be on the podcast with you. Amy is getting some well deserved time off for sure. So I’m sitting in for her over the next couple of weeks here. And, Tony, week one of the series on church governance and boards, you and Amy talked about structuring for unity, and you went through four common mistakes that you see related to church governance models, and then shared some best practices to address every one of those issues. And then last week you talked about how boards can empower their pastor and staff team, and that included a conversation about how to address the dysfunction that we commonly see in the relationship between boards and pastors. And a key thought that you shared was that thriving churches are led by lay leadership teams that streamline decision making and empower the pastor and the staff team to lead strong. So our theme for this week is about moving people from meetings into ministry, and we’ve talked about volunteer engagement in the past. So why is it that we’re addressing it again in the context of this series on church governance?

Tony (02:44):

Well, Sean, the crazy thing is when it comes to volunteer engagement, I mean, we can even look at the data to see that that how churches structure their governance actually impacts the number of people that are serving. And I think part of the problem is when we have so many people that are engaged in boards and committee meetings and things like that, that it’s pulling on their time. And then obviously that means they’re not actually serving in ministry, doing ministry. And so these two topics, governance and volunteer engagement, they’re actually connected. If we don’t get the governance right, the wrong people have control, the wrong roles get filled, the wrong priorities get promoted, and then the wrong contributions get celebrated. So not only does all that impact the level of volunteer engagement in a church, it certainly has consequences impacting the overall health of the ministry as well. It’s really impossible to be a healthy, thriving, growing church while prioritizing participation on boards and committees over engaging the ministry because that’s the mission of the church. So we really have to get this right. We have to make sure that the governance actually is encouraging people to step into ministry.

Sean (04:04):

Yeah. So let’s talk about some strategies to tackle those kinds of problems and encourage more people to move from meetings into ministry. Where would you like to start on that?

Tony (04:13):

Well, we’re gonna be talking about some shifts today in a few different areas. And the first one actually begins with the governance itself. And so we want to encourage churches, as much as possible, to prune both committees and boards. And so when it comes to pruning boards, it’s actually related to the number of people serving on boards. We’ve seen some pretty big church boards through the years. Sean, I think one of the churches that I worked with several years ago actually had 200 people that served…

Sean (04:44):

Oh, wow.

Tony (04:45):

…on the board, which, you know, twice as many as the US Senate and goodness knows, they are very effective. So, ideally we’re encouraging churches somewhere between five and nine people on their board. And it’s funny, it’s no matter how big the church is, in fact, it’s not unusual as churches grow for their boards to get smaller, if you look at the data. But we really want to encourage pruning the number of people serving on your board. And then related to that pruning the actual number of committees. In fact, ideally here, there would be no additional committees beyond the church board itsel, and so as many committees as we can reduce as possible, again, obviously that’s going to eliminate the need to get people to serve on different committees and engaging in all those meetings that come with that. And instead, we can be encouraging more people to actually volunteer in ministry. And so related to this, we talked about this in the first week of the series, we really encourage churches to have one unified board model that combines all the functions of all their committees into one board. And so it’s not uncommon for us to work with a church and there’s a separate personnel committee, a separate board of trustees, a separate finance committee, and all of those functions need to be handled by a lay-led board in many cases, but rather than having separate committees, we actually encourage churches to unify all those functions into one board. And not only does that reduce the number of people that we need to have serving on boards and committees, but obviously when you unify all those functions into one board, it creates unity for the church too, which again, is another foundation for health in the church. But Sean, all that to say, I was curious to see how churches are currently structured. And so yesterday I got on Google, and I just Googled church committees, and we’re gonna play a little game here. Are you up for that?

Sean (06:59):

I love that. Yeah. I’ve actually been looking forward to this. I’m excited. I’m competitive, so I hope I win.

Tony (07:05):

I’m sure you will. Maybe. So the game is called “Know Your Church Committees,” and these are actual committees from actual churches. And so, you know, just to warm up a little bit, I’m gonna give you the name of a committee that I found at a church. And again, actual committees, these are actual, real life committees that churches have. This is real life. Yeah. I’m gonna give you the name of a committee and the way the game works is all you have to do is tell me what does that committee do? So again, the first ones, I think, are gonna be a little bit easy. One of the churches I found had an announcements committee. What, Sean, what does that church do? Or what does that committee do?

Sean (07:51):

They write the announcements for the weekend service.

Tony (07:54):

They do. Yes. And the great thing about that committee is, my suspicion is they never say no to anyone. And so as soon as they get the announcements submitted, they get announced and they go on from there. Another church had a sound committee.

Sean (08:10):

Oh, the sound committee has to field all the complaints about the sound from Sunday morning, right?

Tony (08:16):

Not only do they field the complaints, my suspicion is, Sean, that that committee actually sets the decibel level in the auditorium. So, I know being a former musician in church bands that you would love that committee, right?

Sean (08:34):

Absolutely. That’d be my favorite.

Tony (08:36):

Then the last one. I did find a committee at a church. It was the live plant committee. And again, yes.

Sean (08:47):

Well, they’re just making sure that there’s none of that fake plastic greenery, right?

Tony (08:51):

No, that’s right.

Sean (08:51):

That’s good.

Tony (08:52):

Alright. So now that was just the warm up, Sean. These are gonna get harder as we go.

Sean (09:00):

Oh my.

Tony (09:00):

So, the Teller’s committee, do you know what the Teller’s Committee does?

Sean (09:06):

Sounds like a bank function.

Tony (09:08):

Actually, you’re right. This is the group at this church that counts the offerings. So they bring the offerings to the bank? Okay. All right. Okay, this one’s a little bit harder. Young people away committee.

Sean (09:23):

Young People Away. Oh, man. They’re planning trips for young people.

Tony (09:29):

That’s possible. It kind of depends on where you put the emphasis. If you put the emphasis on young people away, that’s the actual function of the committee. I think they, when young people go away to school or something like that, somehow they support them. Okay. But I think you could call the same committee young people away, and that would be the committee that tries to encourage young people to stay away. So it can go either way. All right. These, these are difficult because these are two committees in the same church. And so now I want you to tell me the differences between the two committees. We have in one church, we have a local social committee and a global social committee. What’s the difference between those two committees?

Sean (10:24):

Oh, gosh. The local social committee is organizing the local sort of hangout events around town. The global social committee is organizing church member vacations together.

Tony (10:39):

I have no idea. And also, in another church, again, the same committee, there’s a census committee and a church role committee. Any idea what the difference is between those two committees?

Sean (10:54):

The census would maybe be how many people are aware of the church and the church role how many members?

Tony (11:05):

You got me. All right. Last one. Last one here. And ironically, this church also had a committee on committees because they have so many committees, they need a committee to get people on the committees. But this church also had a committee called the Sip and Share Committee.

Sean (11:23):

Coffee and Conversation.

Tony (11:26):

Let’s just, let’s just hope it is coffee and not something else. It’s nothing else.

Sean (11:32):

Alright. That game actually made me tired, I think.

Tony (11:34):

Yes. Well, it made me tired looking at the list of all the committees at the churches that I was researching the other day. Needless to say, you don’t need committees for any of those functions. Instead, what you need is a team of people to be doing the ministry rather than sitting in meetings talking about how other people, staff, and volunteers should be doing the ministry. And the more people we have sitting in committee meetings, the fewer people we have actually engaging the mission of the church. And so, Sean, thank you. I think you won, know your church committees, so very good with that.

Sean (12:09):

I don’t know how I feel about that, if I’m proud of myself or not proud of myself. Well, Tony, if we’re going to move people from meetings into ministry, we may have to make some governance changes and prune some of those committees, right? So what’s another shift that we need to consider here?

Tony (12:27):

Yeah, so another shift, and it’s actually twofold, is changing your language and changing your reporting structure. So let me explain the language change first. Really what we’re encouraging you to do is any group of people that has committee in the name right now, just replace the word committee with team. And here’s what’s interesting. Just by making that language change, it begins to remove some of the perceived authority or control that that team has, and it replaces it with a ministry role instead. And so just by shifting the language, we’re beginning to put the focus more on equipping people to actually do the work of God rather than talking about how somebody else should be doing the work of God. And so, just simply, we mentioned the sound committee earlier. Again, I don’t recommend you have a sound committee, but it’s appropriate to have a sound team. Rather than having a missions committee, that could become the missions team. Rather than having a youth committee, and I see that committee at a lot of churches, that can become the youth team. In other words, rather than sitting in a meeting talking about what the youth pastor and the youth ministry should be doing, the youth team is actually engaging in ministry to students. And by the way, they prefer students team rather than youth team anyways. And additionally, as we’re talking about language, don’t give these teams fancy names that will be confusing to people in the church and especially to new people. So as an example, Sip and Share. I have no idea what that team really does. And if every team had a fancy name for their team like that, no one would know what the team does and why they should join that team. So, as an example, if it’s a student ministry team, call it the student ministry team, so that it’s very obvious this is what this team does, and it makes it that much easier then to encourage people to actually join and serve on that team. So first we change the language, but then we change the reporting structure. And so we wanna make sure with every team that we form at the church, every ministry team, that every team reports to a pastor or a staff person at the church. And what’s fascinating, of course, is committees usually work the other way around. The pastor and the staff are supposed to answer to the committees, and it gives power and control and decision making authority to people who many times are actually less qualified spiritually and professionally than the pastors and the staff that they’re trying to direct. But more importantly, it is just not biblical because pastors and church staff are supposed to equip God’s people to do the work of God, not the other way around. So with that, we want to shift towards having every team connected in some way to a pastor or another staff person. And what that does, as well, is make sure that the teams actually stay aligned to the overall mission and ministry strategy of the church. In other words, there are no independent teams, no silos of ministries that are kind of floating out there. Every ministry team is somehow connected to the rest of the teams and the rest of the mission of the church.

Tony (16:03):

As we mentioned at the top of the podcast, our friends at Belay are offering a free copy of their latest book Lead Anyone From Anywhere exclusively to our podcast listeners. Belay’s Modern Staffing Solutions have been helping busy church leaders delegate important details for over a decade. Their fractional US based contractors provide virtual assistant, accounting, social media and website services to level up your church through the power of delegation. And what if that delegating could save you an average of 15 hours per week? Just text unstuck, that’s u-n-s-t-u-c-k to 55123 to claim this exclusive offer and get back to growing your church with Belay.

Sean (16:54):

Well, Tony, if a church goes through this process, it prunes the number of committees, hopefully all of the committees and changes their language and reporting structure, then what’s the next step after that?

Tony (17:05):

Yeah, so then the last step is really to change what gets celebrated. And so we wanna celebrate the volunteers doing ministry and not the people serving on committees. So I’ve seen, Sean, visiting churches from time to time. Churches will periodically bring up board members and committee members to celebrate them, to pray for them and their service, or to recognize somebody that has served for many years on a board or a committee. And I would just encourage you, stop doing that. If you’re going to recognize anyone on Sunday morning, bring your team of volunteers forward to celebrate them and pray for them. And with that regularly share stories of team volunteers who are making a difference in someone else’s life. Take the opportunity to thank volunteers both publicly and privately. And just remember that celebration begins with the team building itself. In other words, never promote or announce openings on boards and committees. Only promote and announce opportunities to volunteer on a ministry team. And simply by doing that, you’re going to elevate the importance of serving on a volunteer team. And because you’re never promoting and announcing openings for boards and committees, it won’t be something that people in your church will aspire to be a part of. And you may be asking, well, what if we have boards, because every church has a board and a committee, that we need to fill? How will people find out about that? Well, go back and listen to the first episode in this series that we’ve done on selecting board members. And Amy and I talked about you really want more of an appointment process than an election process for filling board seats or committee roles. And you wanna appoint people based on qualifications, qualifications for leadership and spiritual leadership. And so we wanna create systems where we’re identifying the right people for these types of roles without promoting them to the entire church so that everybody doesn’t aspire to be in these roles. And frankly, we have just found a lot more success getting people to fill board positions or necessary committee positions at churches, rather than doing a public announcement from the platform on Sunday morning to actually do a personal invite instead. So it’s really, again, Sean, about changing what gets celebrated. So we’re gonna celebrate people serving other people in ministry. We’re going to begin that celebration by the way we promote the roles that we need to fill, and if there are board member roles that need to be filled, we do that through personal invitation rather than a platform announcement.

Sean (20:13):

So Tony, today’s conversation has been focused more specifically on how governance models directly impact the number of people serving on volunteer teams. So, can you share some of the best practices for volunteer engagement that we’ve seen?

Tony (20:27):

No, I’m not going to do that. How do you like that when you’re interviewing somebody?

Sean (20:34):

I love it.

Tony (20:34):

Yeah. So instead, though, let me give you some specific tools to help increase volunteer engagement. And so we’ve done a lot of things on this topic in the past, so I wanna give you some specific things you can consider. First, you can read an article. I wrote an article several months ago on the 15 Random Thoughts on Volunteer Engagement. And it really gets to just a handful of great best practices around volunteer engagement. We did a webinar several months ago on how to engage more volunteers and leaders. And so that would be a great place to start if you’re trying to figure out how do we encourage more people to serve at a church? And then lastly, back in August, Amy and I did a four part podcast series on volunteer engagement. So you might wanna go back and listen to those episodes, episodes 256 through 259, and for all of these, the article, the webinar and the podcast series, we’ll include links in the show notes so that you can easily track those down. But here’s the bottom line here. You can’t just prune committees and end meetings and just assume that people are gonna shift their time investment from those committees and board meetings into volunteer engagement. You really have to be more intentional about your strategies for engaging people in volunteer roles and ministry teams. You have to replace the committee commitments and board commitments with something that’s much more important to God’s plan for our lives. And that means we need to cast vision for a more significant opportunity and responsibility of ministering to other people. So this is the opportunity for us as pastors and church leaders to really raise the bar for being involved in ministry and helping people see that using their spiritual gifts to serve others is far more fulfilling than sitting in meetings. I mean, God created us for this purpose. God did not create us to serve on a committee.

Sean (22:41):

That’s good, Tony. I’m glad you didn’t answer my question because that was much better. Any final thoughts before we wrap up this week’s episode?

Tony (22:51):

Well, as we continue to discuss these issues around church governance, I wanted to remind you about an upcoming event on December 1st, that will give you an even deeper dive into these issues. The webinar event is called “How to Get Your Church Governance Unstuck.” In fact, pastors who are listening, I would really encourage you to invite your board and participate in this event together. I truly believe it will help you commit together to laying a stronger foundation for the health of your ministry. So be sure to register for free now at the link in the episodes show notes.

Sean (23:29):

Yeah. And thanks everybody for tuning into today’s episode. Make sure you register for our upcoming free governance webinar, and if we can do anything to help you in your church, visit us at Next week we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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