Five Ps of a Successful Meeting
(plus a 6th)
Rev. Tony Campbell has pastored a number of large churches around the country, helmed 501c3 organizations that ran schools and health care facilities and built housing, and is currently the Associate General Secretary for the Reformed Church of America and a track coach at Calvin College. He knows meetings.
His broad goal in every meeting is to get all parties “all in” with whatever is being discussed. We’ve written about one of his favorite tools: The Simplest Consensus-Building Tool Ever: The five-finger vote. Here, we’ll outline the 5 Ps of a successful meeting that he shared with the Summer Clergy Learning Retreat -- actions to take before and during the meeting to keep the group moving forward together.
Every meeting needs to start with prayer. Period.
Every meeting needs to have a purpose, even a standing meeting. This isn’t just for the pastor to know. Campbell was direct: “Tell people what we’ll get out of [the meeting].”
Every meeting needs a goal, a product that will result. The product does not need to be a decision; it may be that the goal is answering an issue that will bring the group closer to making a decision. But the parties gathered should know where they’re headed.
Every meeting needs to address objections. People don’t always agree on the right way forward, and if the meeting isn’t just full of “yes-men,” then disagreement needs to be addressed. Campbell said, “What might X be concerned about and how can we answer his concern? Not manipulate or con him, but how can we honor him and maintain relationship?”
Campbell brought up a tool that can be helpful whether motivating your group for change or addressing concerns: awareness of difference communication styles. “We tend to operate like everyone should be like us, but they’re not. So how can I communicate what God is doing in such a way that he or she can hear it? We need to learn to talk to people and mobilize them for the vision.”
* Direct, driven communicators enjoy solving problems, they think ahead to available resources and time. Be prepared to outline resources and time.
* Big picture communicators love motivating others to succeed. Talk about the broad sweep of the vision.
* People persons need to know how the vision will take care of people. Speak to how the vision cares for both the people in your congregation and those you are trying to reach.
* Detail people are concerned about compliance, about doing things by the book. Follow the process.
Every meeting needs the security of a process, both for decision making and to guide the meeting itself.
Campbell divides meetings into phases, with each phase an opportunity to check in with those gathered: “Review what we’ve talked about so far. Make sure we’re all on the same page -- someone may have been daydreaming. Preview what’s coming after the checkpoint.”
There are subtle ways a pastor can guide the process. When Campbell was senior pastor, he was never the one who proposed things at board meetings; it was always another leader on the team. Doing this communicated that there was already buy-in.
He also used an unexpected tool: silence. While discussion and debate went on, he’d listen. Eventually, someone would turn to him, “Pastor, what do you think?” At that point, the different perspectives had been voiced, and not only could he address them directly, but everyone was paying rapt attention. Or, at least they were paying closer attention than if they were still thinking about what they wanted to say.
But given that the decision making process Campbell encourages pastors to adopt is consensus building, attention to process starts long before the meeting, which brings us to the sixth P:
“People don’t want to do this. They just want to come and argue, but the preparation is key.
And preparation is all about brokering prior support from your key leaders, because “if you get 20% of your leadership going on a new initiative, they’ll bring about the 80%.”
Campbell cautioned pastors not to rely on authority or charisma to push the agenda through; those may work for a time, but people will eventually feel bullied or conned. He encourages pastors to preach and teach on the theological principles behind initiatives long before they come up for a vote so the people can be inspired, and so that everyone understands that it’s about God and about being servants of God. He also talked about the power of relationships: you build consensus by building relationships. Pastoral visits, lunches, breakfasts, basketball or tennis games, showing up at outside-church events -- these are all tools at the pastor’s disposal to build relationships, which builds trust, which in turn allows the pastor to mobilize the church for the vision before anyone calls a meeting to order.
But it isn’t all up to the pastor: “If we practice consensus building at meetings, Jesus will bring it home.”