Since writing about some ways to improve your meeting note taking skills and my preferred tool for taking notes, I had a couple people ask about meeting agendas. Some have seen agendas as an antiquated formality that reeks of impersonal, cold, corporate management. While there is certainly a danger to any organizational meeting becoming nothing more than a corporate formality, Alexander Strauch highlights the importance of elder meeting agendas:
Adequate time spent in preparing an agenda, talking it over with others, thinking it through carefully, prioritizing items, and eliminating needless items guarantees a more productive meeting. Take control of the content of the agenda; ensure that topics crucial to the spiritual health of the church are not ignored. Several times a year, discuss what major topics need to be placed on future agendas. Consider making a special agenda for guiding major discussions, especially complex, hard-to-manage doctrinal discussions. Also, when key ministry leaders meet to consult with the elders, it is usually a good idea to help them prepare an agenda for their discussion.
Strauch's words are wise. At Redeemer Fellowship the elders meet roughly twice a month to read, pray, discuss, and decide how best to shepherd God's people. To assist us, an agenda is put together beforehand with input from the elders, sent out before the meeting so each can process, and then revised as needed during our meeting. For me, agendas help to give a purpose to our meetings, helps to prioritize items, and shows the progress being made.
I hate pointless meetings. I am sure I am not alone. I need to know ahead of time what the meeting is about before I sign off on showing up. I know it sounds arrogant, but I put a premium on my time. Like others, I have many obligations, work, family, friendships, ministry. To juggle each of them takes some intentionality. Someone once told me "every yes is a no." Whenever I say yes to going out with my friends, I am saying no to spending time with my wife and kids. I am not saying it's bad to go out every once in a while, but consistently being absent will cause relationship issues. The same applies at work. Recently, a coworker asked if we could set aside four hours for a meeting. Four hours! When pressed on what the meeting was about it was discovered we didn't need four hours but 10 min. If I had said yes I would have been saying no to catching up on emails, getting my sales orders inputted, having the production schedule planned out. It would have been a colossal waste of my time.
When we fail to plan out our elder meetings we open ourselves up to aimless and useless meetings. Agendas help to give our meeting times purpose.
Having an agenda helps us to process and prioritize what is important. When the agenda is put together we have all the items we are able to step back and see what needs to get accomplished and what can be tabled for the next meeting. Without an agenda, it can become a free for all where everyone just brings up what is on their mind. The danger is those things that are important do not get the time deserved or even worse, forgotten about all together.
My favorite part of the agenda, progess. Part of our format (see more below) is "Old Business." It is here that tasks assigned are reviewed to see where in the process they are at, how can it be moved forward, or if it has been completed. This also helps with accountability. Everyone expects that we will be reviewing where we are at with various tasks and will be asked accordingly.
If your eldership is not utilizing a agenda, here is a typical and very simple template that we use at Redeemer.
Walk through of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith: This is our current theological reflection. You can go through the 1689 or another work you decide as appropriate for your team.
Old Business: Review of past items discussed and tasks assigned for completion.
New Business: These are items that elders have added specifically for the upcoming meeting
Close in Prayer
Regardless of how often you meet (I would suggest at least once a month), take the time to think through and put together a meeting agenda. Gather input from the elders, send off early so people can prepare, and have flexibility during the meeting to scrap what needs to be scrapped. A meeting agenda can help an elder meeting have purpose, to prioritize, and to see where progress is being made.