Now back to the routine including Church Meetings which has
got me thinking “why do we do them the way we do?” and “there must be a better
Church Meetings here are typically held monthly during term
time. The agenda includes reports from groups in the church such as the Mission
Teams, Youthwork and so on. The meeting also includes items brought by the
leaders for debate and decision. Every meeting I have chaired here has been
held in good grace with a genuine desire to do what God would have us do but
they are not well attended. Typically 25% of the church membership comes to a
given meeting and half of each meeting is made up of people who didn’t come to
the last one.
It seems to me that there are a number of issues here:
- Attendance is linked to excitement. When there is a
significant decision to be made and people feel uncertain about what will
happen they turn up. When the meeting is routine fewer make the effort. This is
probably compounded by the way that anything important gets mentioned in other
parts of church life afterwards.
- Valuing contributions. Most significant decisions in the
life of the church involve preparation; typically done through the leadership
team producing a paper for discussion, often with a recommendation attached.
While people often ask questions for clarification it is hard to put another
point of view when you are presented with an option that has been worked out
and anticipates some of the obstacles.
- Meetings are not representative. Because meetings have a
small proportion of the church present they are not great vehicles of
communication; if you want to make something well known you have to explain and
promote it on Sundays. Neither are they good opportunities to discover where
people ‘are at’ because the meeting doesn’t represent.
I’m starting to wonder if we need to revisit our theology of
Church Meeting. If Church Meetings are the place for discernment then they are
not the place for reporting business or for the Minister and others to
communicate what is going on and what’s coming up. Rather they are places where
the church comes together to reflect on significant questions and gives the
time and space for this to be done prayerfully. The challenge here would be how
to do that without making the issues all so conceptual that those members who
prefer to think in practical terms don’t feel excluded. If Church Meetings are a place for discernment then we need
to find mechanisms to enable several hundred people to take part in that. I
recognise that above a certain size church life will inevitably involve some
element of representative democracy but that doesn’t mean that there should not
be occasions for the wider body to play its part.
However, meetings which gave more space to discernment
together would also mean that more of the day to day life of the church wasn’t
passed through the Church Meeting with the result that the church would be
placing more trust and power in the hands of the leaders.
Or is there a better way?