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Committees: how to get the most from their time

SUMMARY: Often the following scenarios bog down committee work: meetings are not well attended; one individual dominates activities and decisions; the same topic is discussed repeatedly. The challenges continue. Taking a strategic approach to your committees will allow them to be more productive, have more involved members and reach the church's goals.

Most people have attended committee meetings while wanting to be anywhere else. The agenda is exactly the same as the last meeting and the one before that. Time drags, and you depart feeling that nothing was accomplished. Do any of your church's committees operate this way? If they do, you'll lose committee volunteers, and more importantly, the work they were charged to do won't get done. A strategic, how-to plan can help committees stay on track and do what they were created to do.

Identify committee goals.
The church administrative board should review committees, describe succinctly each committee's general purpose and outline how their work fits into the church's strategic goals. From there, the review could detail specific committee goals for the next quarter, six months or year. Committee members also should be involved in setting the goals. They need to have the opportunity to give feedback on the church's goals for the committee and customize them to fit the needs, skills and time available of the members.

Require agendas.
Agendas should be created that reflect the committee's overall purpose and the meeting's specific purpose. They also should list a "start" and "end" time, and include a small portion of time for committee members to bring up unscheduled items. If possible, agendas should be distributed to all members when meeting reminders are sent.

Welcome new members at each meeting.
Some people are reluctant to join a longstanding committee because they feel like an outsider. When a new person attends, encourage the chair to have everybody introduce themselves-don't just ask the newcomer to introduce himself or herself. That way, the new person gets the chance to learn about everyone else and the committee gets to know the newcomer.

Consider serving refreshments before or during a break in the meeting. Talking over beverages and food allows interactions to be more casual and less intimidating.

Identify one or two people to refocus the committee, if necessary.
Ideally, your committee chairperson should be the one who can interrupt a long-winded or unhelpful speaker or conversation and steer the committee back to the agenda and meeting's purpose. If your chairperson is uncomfortable in this role, have him or her informally designate someone else as the "timekeeper." This individual can use "time" as the means to return the conversation to the matters at hand. When valuable but not relevant ideas are brought up, the chair or timekeeper can say something such as, "That's a great topic. Let's put it on the agenda for the next meeting so we have sufficient time to discuss it."

Ask for committee meeting reports and action items.
Your committees should be taking minutes or notes of their meetings and submitting them within a couple days of each meeting. Accountability can do wonders to create a more structured, responsive committee meeting. Agendas serve as the first step to successful minutes. The minutes should not be transcriptions of everything said, but a summary of what is said by whom, what questions arise, what decisions are made, what follow-up steps are needed and who is responsible for what. During the meetings, these notes can be invaluable as the committee reviews its work that day and its expectations for follow-up activities. In addition, these minutes can serve as two-way communication. Questions for church leaders can be included (and highlighted) in the minutes so leaders can review quickly and respond appropriately to the committee.

Share the committee's work.
Use the meeting notes to share with the rest of the congregation what the committee members are doing. You can take a synopsis of each for the bulletin, post all the minutes to the website or share a couple of their accomplishments at the service. Spreading the news allows more people to know what is happening at the church, encourages the committee to stay focused and may open the committee's doors to new members who relate to that specific purpose.

-- Darby Jones, eMarketing Coordinator at United Methodist Communications.