Duke It Out > Death By Committee

I’ll be honest. One of the main reasons I wanted to plant a church was to never again have a church committee meeting.

Most committees, and most meetings, are a colossal waste of time, a black hole to morale, and tragically deplete an organization’s most precious resource: the creative force of its people. I was determined that I would never be responsible for these sorts of meetings in an organization I was leading.

Our young, small proto-congregation (we were never really a “core group”) had 8 gatherings last Autumn for food, fellowship, music, and a chance to sort through my vision for a new church. I was in the role of Used Car Salesman at that stage, and though many people pitched in to make these gatherings happen, not many in the group had truly bought in.

By the time the Spring rolled around, people had begun to commit, and they were serving in very significant and sacrificial ways. One family offered their home for worship. A music ensemble practiced. Meals needed coordinated. Dishes needed washed by hand. Offerings needed counted and finances handled. Kids needed to be included and attended to.

Photo by Sara McAllister

We got to a point where stuff was getting to be a lot of work. I realized that others were starting to get overwhelmed like I was, and that they were wondering the same things I was:

  • Were the meals we were serving before every service important? Or had we managed to become ‘traditional’ and routinized before we were even an official church plant–doing what we had ‘always’ done, just because that was how we’d always done it?
  • What about our big dreams for worship? Several of us, including myself, were committed to the idea of a Sunday bookended by morning and evening worship. When should we start morning worship? Would it just burn us out even more?

These were questions that needed answered, and while I had my hunches about what we ought to do, I knew that a command decision by yours truly would be counter-productive and foolish.

But I didn’t want to have “a meeting”! I didn’t want our entire mini-church to become one big, dysfunctional committee!

Patrick Lencioni’s masterful Death By Meeting: A Leadership Fable found me at Goodwill at just the right time. His fictional account teaches when to have meetings, what kind of meetings are needed for what purpose, and what objectives are appropriate for each sort of meeting. I have employed his meeting paradigm ever since — mostly because I had instincts about what worked and didn’t, but no real paradigm for cultivating invigorating, decision-producing, humanity-affirming meetings.

Most important for our church plant’s pressing questions, Lencioni helped me realize that the choice between an autocratic dictate and a the soul-squelching tedium of a democratic committee meeting was—thank God—a false choice. His book convinced me that our group needed to duke it out. We needed to put all our best ideas out on the table, probe them, scrutinize them, reject most, narrow it down to a few, and then reach a decision that we could all get behind.

We did just that. And in the course of 90 minutes, we enjoyed key lime pie, French pressed coffee, and a good, clean fight. Those of us with strong views got a chance to realize that there were other reasonable angles. We all got a chance to weigh the pros and cons of each possible decision. People who don’t normally speak up were encouraged to lay down their chips and say what they really thought—not about the person with the idea, but about the idea itself.

Photo by Sara McAllister

Before we started, I told the group that, ultimately, I was the one who would have to decide if the group did not reach a collective decision. So it wasn’t a strict democracy. But, following Lencioni’s wisdom, I provided a context for a fair fight, and the best ideas won. We came up with a new system for executing the weekly meals, and, more importantly, a renewed conviction that the meals were, in fact, a very important part of our identity and mission. We also decided to have morning worship once-a-month in addition to evening worship over the Summer, and then add weekly morning worship after Labor Day.

But most importantly, we approached the coming season with renewed zeal, shared conviction, a sense of greater belonging, and a great hope that our labors would not be in vain—rather than a sense of burnout or tedium.

Duke it out. Focus on ideas, not personalities. Empower the introverts to say what they really think. Get the most important and opinionated people in the room, give them dessert and coffee, provide a whiteboard, set the timer, and determine that a decision will be reached when the timer dings. You’ll be surprised how valued, empowered, and invigorated your group feels. They’ll become a team. And you’ll have avoided becoming a committee.


[EDIT: I’ve gone back through this post and tried to make it sound less like I know what I’m doing, and more like I’m learning things that I haven’t known before. All of these ‘proverbs’ are ones that I’ve learned from others, and have found to be true in application to my situation. I hope you’ll read with that understanding. I’m a young leader and I’m planting for the first time. Come to think of it, I’d welcome your feedback if there’s a proverb that balances the ones I post. I don’t want to make the mistake of making a proverb what it is not: a totalizing and universally true dictum.]


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