Question 5: How will Board members be chosen, and who will be involved in this process and in what ways?
Once you’ve worked through the first four questions about the role of your Board and its composition (see https://elementalchurches.com/blog/five-key-questions-boards-of-growing-churches-must-ask/ ), it remains to determine how new Board members will be chosen. What process will be followed, and who will be involved in that process?
Ignore the Bylaws
Well, you can’t ignore your Bylaws, even if you might want to. For both legal and ethical reasons, and to act fairly toward the congregation, all stipulations in your Bylaws regarding the processes for selecting and seating Board members must be followed.
The same will also apply if your congregation is a member of a denomination, convention, or association that stipulates that members must follow certain processes for seating a Board.
But Bylaws and denominational regulations are not written on stone tablets. Nor can they rise to the level of the authority of Scripture. Like all regulations, your Bylaws reflect the spirit and concerns, and probably real challenges, of the era in which they were produced. They need to reflect the needs and concerns of today.
If they don’t, change them. Seek legal counsel if you need help determining how best to do this in a fair and ethical way.
The Voice of the People
In many smaller churches, and in some larger congregations that have outgrown their Bylaws and some processes, Board members are selected through typical Western democratic processes. Sometimes anyone in the congregation can nominate anyone for any position. Sometimes the congregation at large votes to seat a Nominating Committee that forwards and reviews candidates. Sometimes the current Board advances candidates for a congregational vote.
This system has weaknesses, but its strength is that it gives the congregation formal input into the selection process. Congregational input is critical for at least two reasons.
First, it’s possible that someone in the congregation may know something important about a candidate that the staff and current Board members don’t know. Even if this doesn’t disqualify a candidate, it’s important to be aware that the perception exists.
Second, whether your church adopts a “representative” or “technical” approach to building the Board (see https://elementalchurches.com/blog/five-key-questions-boards-growing-churches-must-ask-part-5/), at the end of the day Board members have some level of pastoral responsibility for the congregation. You can’t lead people who won’t follow you. It’s a good idea to find out whether the congregation will trust and follow a Board member. If they won’t, effectiveness will be impossible.
In some churches, this congregational input takes the form of a “vote” for Board candidates. Since this is cumbersome in larger congregations, many larger churches opt to announce candidates and then invite the congregation to comment on them during an established vetting period.
The Voice of the Staff
A key issue in Board selection is whether or how paid staff members will be involved in the nominating and vetting process. In many respects, the involvement of the staff is a classic “catch 22.” On one hand, staff members may be most aware of the personal strengths and limitations of prospective candidates, and thus best able to speak into their potential as Board members. On the other hand, if staff members are involved in the selection process, they can potentially manipulate the system to create a situation where they choose their own boss. In that case, the Board may naturally enlarge the staff’s blind spots.
As noted above, in many smaller churches the congregation nominates Board members at large or through a nominating committee. This means that anyone could potentially become a Board member, even if the paid staff would not want that person.
But because this process is cumbersome, as churches grow they often adopt a model where sitting Board members sitting choose new candidates for the Board, in dialogue with the staff. There are advantages to this system in terms of streamlining the process. But it can also create a self-perpetuating culture within the top-level leadership, whereby no one who disagrees with the status quo can ever rise to a position where they could really challenge it.
Here again, the best system will invite and account for input from the paid staff while also preventing the Board from simply reflecting the staff’s interests and weaknesses.
Do What Works
Here as always, since there are biblical precedents for several different approaches, the best choice is to do what works best for your congregation. As your church grows, it will likely become necessary to streamline the Board selection process. At the same time, it remains critical that the congregation’s at-large input play a role. And of course, no system that allows the Board to become inbred and self-perpetuating will be healthy for the church in the long-run.
Tom Thatcher, firstname.lastname@example.org