Prescription For Productive Staff Meetings

By Brian K Baulnight

Few events in larger membership churches elicit more frustration than staff meetings. Most critiques range from “boooring” to brutal. Seldom anticipating staff gatherings with enthusiasm, many team members endure them as a presumed necessary evil. As one staff member exclaimed, “Please help us! My senior minister doesn’t have a clue and neither do I.”

An Evolving Model

Our weekly staff meeting format developed over sixteen years. The model, which did not come easily or swiftly, seems to work better than any other we have tried. Though not particularly proud of how long it took us to find a healthy model, I am convinced that this model affirms (1) what is good and necessary in staff meetings and (2) the critical importance of a weekly gathering time for the entire leadership team.

Staff Composition

Our current staff includes three ordained elders (clergy in the United Methodist system), two ordained deacons, seven full-time program and administrative staff, three full-time secretarial support staff, three full-time adjunct staff (child care and adult day care), and six full- and part-time sextons. All staff members except the sextons are part of most staff gatherings. With one exception, all staff were members of the congregation before joining the staff team. We called them out of the community of believers to exercise recognized spiritual gifts in the work of ministry.

The Schedule

Our staff meets each Tuesday morning throughout the year. A portion of our staff covenant says we reserve Tuesday mornings for staff interaction. We ask staff to reserve that time without appointments or commitments and not to take Tuesday as a day off during the week.

We begin at 8:45 a.m. with an Order for Morning Prayer in the sanctuary. This twenty- to thirty-minute segment includes quiet time for centering and preparation, a hymn, a responsive Psalm, intercessory prayer, and Communion. As senior minister I usually lead this worship time.

The second segment involves us in a forty-five- to sixty-minute Bible study (participation mandatory). Led by the minister for congregational care, this Bible study consists of reading through a
book of the Old or New Testament and sharing insights from the text. The segment adjourns about 10:00 a.m.

We set aside the next hour for one-on-one conversations or occasional clusters of staff members around a common issue. Those who need to connect with other team members are always sure of their availability that hour on Tuesday morning. Such availability (1) insures a constant contact point through the week and (2) avoids unnecessary time spent one-on-one in the larger staff meeting later.

We gather again at 11:00 a.m. for a maximum of ninety minutes. The agenda remains the same each week.

First we consider matters of congregational care–those hospitalized or in crisis and their households. We spend some time signing in-house-created cards for each of these persons as a part of
expressing our love and concern. Experience has confirmed the value of this card signing and note writing each week. People receive the cards with enthusiastic appreciation. We also sign cards of special thanks, congratulations, or recognition. On average, we sign twenty or more cards each Tuesday morning.

The director of program leads the next two sections of the staff meeting. First, we perfect the calendar for the upcoming week–Sunday through Sunday. We walk through each day with a draft calendar, making sure no known errors, unexpected conflicts, or oversights in room use occur throughout the week.

Next, we review meetings and special events held during the past seven days. What happened at a children’s festival or a youth rally? What major agenda items did the Singles Council adopt? What decisions issued from the Outreach Commission? This segment of the staff meeting indirectly provides me and others with information about the church’s larger flow of ministry. Occasionally a staff member will ask for advice or suggestions from the larger team on a thorny or unresolved issue.

The last item each morning briefly brings my own agenda issues to the table–sometimes for information, sometimes for decision or advice. I use this time from the perspective of my “overseer” responsibility.

We conclude by 12:30 p.m.–whether finished or not. We pray over the cards we have signed and offer a thankful prayer for lunch prepared for us in our church kitchen (for a $4 donation).

Under-girding Factors

One variation and two additions to this staff time configuration throughout any twelve month period:

Twice each year we meet for the entire Tuesday to take a long-range (six-month) look at the calendar. When are the major events, festivals, concerts, and teaching church events? What long-range plans should we make to insure good hospitality? Where do empty spaces exist that may allow for fresh, innovative events? When is Vacation Bible School? When is the Alternative Giving Mart? We generally agree that calendar coordination, although a tedious process, is time well spent.

We also plan several staff retreats each year. Two of these are seven-hour days, off site, for spiritual renewal. The third is at a retreat center for about forty-eight hours, noon to noon. At a recent retreat we addressed two major questions: (1) Where do we need to work harder on “excellence” in our ministry? (2) What do we envision for this church within five years? We also addressed a devotional question currently surfacing: “How do we deal with the exclusivity of Jesus in our day without being deemed bigoted?”

All of this is a far cry from what originally constituted staff meetings when I arrived in 1980. The only two constants in the process: Tuesday morning and the need for perfecting the calendar. Perhaps it will evolve still further. Right now the model seems to provide a balance between spiritual nourishment and necessary administrative oversight of a large-church ministry.

Baulnight is senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, just south of Center City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Attendance averages 1,000 in four worship services each weekend.