Decision making streamlined in the local church by going to the single board model

Date Posted: 2/11/2021

By Lindsay Peyton
A number of congregations in the Texas Annual Conference have transitioned to the single board model, streamlining their organizational structure. With a single board model, multiple administrative committees are combined into one entity. Congregations report that this way of organizing leadership allows for more nimble and efficient decision-making.

Jim Bass, Senior Pastor at Friendswood Methodist, said that adopting to single board model made it easier for his congregation to focus on their primary mission -- making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 
“Too often, we’re spending energy on church business instead of the business of the church, which is what Jesus calls us to do,” Bass explained.
Friendswood Methodist made the switch to single board about five years ago. Bass clearly recalls that before the decision was made, committees spent months in deliberation over issues that could have been resolved faster and with less effort.
At one point, Bass was trying to add a new Bible study to the calendar. “We were looking at dates and picked Wednesday night,” he said. “It wasn’t because it was the best time for the session. It was simply the only night that I didn’t have a committee meeting. That was eye-opening.”
Bass had heard about the single board model and started to research the option. “I was reading online and finding that churches were realizing maybe there’s a different way,” he recalled.
The Book of Discipline allows churches to change their decision making structure to this model. Bass began to brainstorm with the Rev. Mike Tyson, former TAC Center for Congregational Excellence and Vibrant Church Initiative Director, to develop a plan.
“We got ideas from different churches and looked at different models,” Bass said. “Then we developed our own plan.”

Create a task force to begin
Friendswood Methodist created a task force, drew up a proposal, developed the necessary documents and hosted a church town hall to answer questions before the District Superintendent approved the new organization.
The congregation then formed its Board of Stewards to fulfill all of the functions formerly relegated to the Leadership Council, Board of Trustees, Finance Committee and Staff/Parish Relations Committee. One board member is designated as chair for each of the former committees to ensure that needs are met and questions addressed.
The transition took some getting used to, Bass explained. “We’d never done this before, and for a while, people were still thinking in silos,” he said. “We had to learn that we’re all in Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC), we’re all in finance, we’re all in trustees.”
Eventually, a stronger and more unified body was acting in the best interest of the congregation on all fronts. Communicating the work of a single board to congregants also became easier than disseminating information from the various committees.
St. Luke’s UMC Kilgore has also benefitted from the streamlined organizational structure. Senior Pastor, the Rev. Ben Bagley explained that the church moved to a single board model in March 2019.
Bagley said that open and transparent communication was essential. The new structure also allowed the church to quickly pivot to respond to COVID-19.
One meeting, everything is approved
For example, the sanctuary was not equipped to livestream sermons before the coronavirus. “It took us one meeting to get everything approved,” Bagley said. “That’s an agility that was so key to us.”
Decision-making would have taken much longer before, he explained. “We would not have made it through the pandemic the way we did,” he added. “The hard work we did in 2019 helped us adapt quickly – and we could not have done that with the previous structure.”
With the separate committees, reaching resolutions could be difficult and even arduous. For instance, at one point, the church’s full-time janitor resigned. “We were looking at our options,” Bagley said.
Hiring a new janitor would fall be under Staff/Parish Relations Committee’s jurisdiction. If contracting a company seemed a better route forward, that would require the Board of Trustees instead. The finance committee also needed to get involved.
“It took us three months to get anywhere, and there was so much back and forth,” Bagley said. “We realized decisions could not happen quickly or effectively. We needed to do something, but we just weren’t sure what.”
The previous church where Bagley served as pastor used a single board structure, and he liked the way the Book of Discipline allowed this form of governance to be custom-tailored to each congregation.
St. Luke’s UMC Kilgore spent months determining top priorities and how to restructure. Eventually, the congregation’s established its Board of Stewards.
Bass said that the name “Board of Stewards” – in use at both churches -- is a nod to traditional Methodist Church structures, before committees were popularized.
“Actually, the model reaches back into Methodist history,” he said. “This really is a change, going back to our Methodist origins. And it was actually like this when we were growing the fastest.”
Single board allows for diversity in leadership
The single board model allows the church to highlight a number of diverse voices in leadership, Bass added. “It’s more efficient,” he said. “It really helps us focus.”
In addition, the system makes it possible to use board members’ time and talents effectively instead of burning out on committee meetings, Bass said. “People didn’t particularly like going to the meetings,” he added. “They want to minister. In the old model, we discovered over the years that we were wearing out our best lay leaders.”
That’s no longer the case, he explained. “It works really well for us as a larger church,” he said.
“I would certainly recommend exploring it. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and organize your church in a way that’s best for ministry.”
Bagley suggests that churches interested in this model spend time doing due diligence, discussing what works best for each specific congregation. “Do not take the structure from somewhere else and try to apply it,” he said.
While the process of creating a new structure for church governance can be challenging, he believes the effort will pay off ultimately. “It gives you a sense of what matters as a church,” he said. “You have to put in the hard work to know what your church needs – and that allows you to have a church that functions well.”