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How attractive are Church Meetings?

Since I became a Christian I have attended Church Meetings in eight churches, either as minister or member. Each church has been distinct, but all have one thing in common – minority attendances at Church Meeting. This seems to be the usual experience. I wonder why.

One of the great privileges of being Congregational is that we are all have equal privileges and responsibilities - these include the opportunity to share in decision-making that shapes the church including the opportunity to try to make the church a better place. That does not imply there is necessarily something wrong or inadequate but, just as our personal lives should continually develop, the same should be true of our churches. Change is inevitable in life and we can all be part of healthy change in our churches.

So why is it hard, in many of our churches, to get more than 30% of members to attend Church Meeting? I can think of three explanations.

First, some people think Church Meeting is just about business and ‘that’s boring’. Poor Church Meetings are those where they take minutes and waste hours! While it is inevitable that some items are business, if we are careful about delegation, they should not take up much time. Church Meeting is meant to be about the life and mission of our churches, who we are and what we do. The Bible makes it clear that all Christians are called to share in God’s mission in diverse ways – we are not all evangelists or pastors. Churches exist to support and advance that mission.

Church meeting should be the opportunity for developing and monitoring how we are doing in mission, how we are getting on with the task that Jesus has given us.

My second suggestion is that some people have had bad experiences at Church Meeting, perhaps because it was adversarial in nature. There is no excuse for bad behaviour such as bullying or blackmailing to get our own way. When we come to Church Meeting we should always be prepared to test our own opinions by listening to others. Controversial and significant matters might require more than one meeting to allow people to reflect without being pressurised by others and avoiding trying to build support for our own views. Since the primary characteristic of a Christian is love, then love must characterise our Church Meeting. If you have had a bad experience in the past, give Church Meeting another try and see how loving you could make it.

My final suggestion is that some might think that their attendance makes no difference. In 1 Cor 12 Paul makes clear that we all need one another. No one should ever say “I have no need of you” or “I am not needed”. Even if you attend Church Meeting and never speak, your prayerful presence could well affect the outcome for good. Church Meeting, conducted well, gives the opportunity for everyone who wishes to speak and every church member shares in decision making.

Finding the best day and time for Church Meeting is not easy. Some churches find that more people attend if the meeting follows Sunday worship. The downside of this is that it extends the time spent at the church and interferes with lunch – so share lunch together. It is important that the chairperson monitors where time is spent and focusses on the more important items.

The most appalling abuse of Church Meeting is where people who have failed to engage fully in the life of the church and regularly attend Meetings turn up on just one occasion in order to try to swing the outcome of a matter in their favour. I would dare to be radical in order to avoid this. Membership rolls should be reviewed annually. Those unable to attend worship and Church Meeting regularly should be offered associate membership without voting rights, though only after careful and loving conversations. If you do not manage membership regularly, you could well find that Church Meeting is not quorate. Receiving minutes promptly and getting the agenda well in advance is always good practice.

My last word on the topic is that when we leave Church Meeting we should feel that we have drawn closer to one another, but also that we have drawn close to God. Not all the Church Meetings I have chaired could pass that test, but it’s not a bad ideal to reach for.

Barry Osbourne