Before the meeting
One key to effective meetings is preparation. Here are some questions that would help with that:
- What is the purpose of the meeting? Where should we be at the end of the meeting?
Some meetings are to make a decision, some to introduce an issue, some to progress an issue, and some to build a sense of cohesiveness. Once you know what you hope the meeting will do with each item, you can work towards that goal.
- What should the agenda look like?
The agenda is a map. Work with the clerk or secretary to draw up an agenda that will help people navigate the business. Put important issues first and matters for discussion early on.
- Where are people coming from?
Most church meetings take place in the evening. People's minds aren't filled with God and thoughts of the Kingdom. How will you set the tone? A short, but appropriate, reading and prayer helps people shift gear. Singing a hymn or song is even better.
- What should the room look like?
The look of the room sets the tone. A circle is much more likely to encourage discussion than rows. People will relax more on soft seats than on hard ones. So, use the best available room for your meeting, and think about what you can do with it to create the ambience you want.
During the meeting
The most noticeable part of a chair's role during the meeting, in a nutshell, is to facilitate not dominate. It is, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to help people progress issues and reach decisions. There is no right style – try to be yourself. All effective styles have this in common:
- Ensuring order and fairness
The chair is in charge, deciding who will speak and when, creating space for discussion, and enabling decisions to be made. A light touch is desirable. Occasionally someone may need to be reined in so that they don't dominate the discussions. Citing standing orders and rules is usually a recipe for trouble.
- The issue to be considered
Sometimes the chair will introduce the issue, outlining it briefly and suggesting matters for discussion. Other times it will be another person who will introduce the matter. If so, brief them beforehand and let them know how long they should speak for. If the matter is complicated, ask for a paper to be written and circulated beforehand.
In a small meeting, everyone can contribute to each item. In a larger one, it is important to get a range of views.
Begin your meeting at the stated time. If you wait for the latecomer, they will keep coming late. Meetings should finish on time. If there is a lot of pressure on time, share the timetable with everyone. This invites their help in keeping things moving.
It can be helpful, when the time comes to make a decision, to say, ‘I sense that everyone thinks we should do X. Okay?' If the options available aren't obvious, you should state what they are. Getting agreement on the options can be viewed as progress. Consensus is good, but sometimes voting is necessary. Deciding not to force a decision can be the best outcome.
After the meeting
The third key to being an effective Chair is follow-up after the meeting. What needs to be done? Who needs to do it? Do they know this? Can they be trusted to get on with things, or will they need a reminder?
There are things you may need to do as Chair. Is there something you could do before the next meeting that might unlock an issue? Is there someone who was at the meeting who might need a little encouragement? Someone who needs to get something off their chest?