Death By Committee: Tackling the Problems of Church Committees

Churches often engage in a process I call “Death By Committee.” The thinking goes like this: Joe (a new leader in the church) has been faithfully serving as a greeter, usher, parking lot guy, or a role in another ministry. He’s been faithful. He’s a devoted worker. Now we need to appoint him to a committee. If he serves well there, we will appoint him to lead the committee or potentially into another position of leadership in the church (such as elder, member of the session, deacon, church council, or other role).

“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask.

Honestly, nothing at all and everything at the same time. But why?

Promoting someone from a role of service to committee member is full of assumptions (such as: the person prefers meetings over serving, the person is gifted to lead meetings, the person has met the competencies required for greater responsibility, etc).

Aside from the issues already stated, I think we need to stop and assess some of the problems of church committees that pastors, churches, and especially lay church leaders face today. Take a look at these.


Death By Committee: Tackling the 7 Problems of Church Committees

1) The committee meets — even if there is no business.

We’ve all been to one of these meetings. It is miserable to show up at a meeting without an agenda and then find out there is nothing that the team needs to accomplish. Don’t waste people’s time with these types of meetings. Make sure when your committee meets, you discuss, accomplish, and leave with progress.

2) The committee has no real authority.

A committee that doesn’t have the authority to act is going to drive people crazy. Some people will act anyway, then get frustrated because they thought they had the “power” to do so. Why create additional conflict in your church by creating (or not disbanding) a committee that has no real authority to act on its decisions.

(Note: I’m not advocating that churches let committees do anything and everything they want. Nor spend all the money they want. Certain things will need approval, but not everything. Don’t give people the work to do without empowering them to get the job done.)

3) The committee doesn’t report progress to anyone.

Be careful that committees report their progress or achievements to a person, oversight board or general church body. If the committee meets and doesn’t report to anyone, people will start to wonder why they are doing what they are doing. If the committee matters enough to meet, it should matter enough to track and celebrate progress. The goal isn’t to “control” the committee, but to celebrate their accomplishments as the group gets their stated objectives done.

4) The committee adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

Do you really need the committee to do what it is doing? Sometimes committees do nothing more than create another layer of bureaucracy that gets in the way of decisions being made. Checks and balances are helpful within reason, but will exhaust people if the committee seems to be nothing more than another layer of “red tape” required to get something done.

5) The committee requires multiple people for what a single person could easily decide.

Over time, churches often add layers of decision making that could easily be taken care of by one person. Ask yourself if any of the committees in your church could be disbanded in order to entrust ministry responsibility to a mature volunteer willing to oversee an area of ministry. You’ll often find that there are leaders ready to oversee a ministry domain (with accountability) just as effectively as a team.

6) The committee extends beyond its original purpose.

Committees aren’t bad in and of themselves. But when we create a committee to oversee a project for a time period and then never disband the committee, your leaders may find themselves meeting without any true purpose and significance other than waiting until a similar project comes up. Don’t be afraid of ending a committee’s existence after the committee has taken care of its stated responsibility.

7) The committee lacks needed direction from church leadership.

Committees are usually formed with good intentions in mind. What happens when the committee makes progress, but isn’t sure how their work integrated into the overall church? Take time to clarify for the committee where their work fits into the big picture. Make sure the committee knows its boundaries and purpose, so that it effectively integrates and executes the work within the church’s overall ministry vision. The last thing you want is for the committee to spins its wheels in a holding pattern as it awaits direction and input from leadership. Give the committee the needed direction in advance, so that your church leaders are free to get things done rather than operating in an environment of fear and concern for frustrating others.

In your church context, what problems of church committees have your church leaders experienced? Take the time to ask the question of yourself and your trusted leaders, so that you know what people need and want to see. Oftentimes there are discussions going on that you don’t know about unless you ask about them. In my church vision consulting experience, I’ve found that most church leaders don’t intend to criticize, but to give valuable feedback about how to improve your church’s ability to execute its ministry vision.