Committees for the Committed

I know – committees are a LOT of hassle for very little return. It sounds like a good idea – let’s get multiple people working on this and have more perspective (and hands). The reality – three people end up doing the work, mostly trying to placate the one person that least wants anything done. They rotate off and pretend to still be speaking to one another – but a lot of Christmas card lists get culled and FB lists unfriended.

Wanting to be on a committee should be grounds for commitment to a mental institution. At best, you’ll meet a few times, talk vaguely about what you’re there for and go out to lunch. At worst, someone needs to call the cops.

But for better or worse, it’s the system we’re stuck with, right?

No. It does not have to be like this.

Committees aren’t inherent evils – but they are very often dumping grounds for problems, problem people and anything no one knows how to proceed with. To top it off, they rarely come with guidelines in place – and the one thing a committee will most certainly muck up is its own guidelines.

It’s not committees – it’s how we DO committees.

First: if you don’t trust them to make decisions, don’t create a committee for an important decision. It’s blatantly unfair to both the church and the committee. If the pastor/administrator/decision maker knows full well he will only accept one outcome then he does a disservice by ‘running it by the committee’ if he has the power to go ahead with the decision. Do it and live with it – don’t waste anyone else’s time.

Second: Guidelines first, then committee. Nobody starts a Monopoly game without deciding what rules are going to be in place (okay, no one over the age of five). No one should start a committee without express rules of composition, conduct (act better than the five year old, please), and procedure. Someone besides the committee members needs to have the power to set deadlines – someone smart enough to know the difference between the extension is really necessary and we’re goofing off.

Third: Purpose Driven Committees. Have a goal, meet it, go home. Do not have some vague ‘we wanna do something about X’ and expect a committee to come up with a something that will satisfy anyone. Committees are not good brainstorming groups: they are best as work groups that have a specific goal. Do the brainstorming elsewhere and assign the decision to the committee if you like – but if you expect results in the foreseeable future, do NOT leave the brainstorming to a committee. Do give them a concrete objective – that they can do and do well.

Fourth: Committees are NOT democracies – appoint a chair. I know, most committees select a chair themselves – and it can go very well or very, very badly. If they want to vote on decisions, that’s fine – but decisions that are guaranteed to step on toes shouldn’t be made inside the committee – they need to be able to work together.

It must sound like I hate committees – I don’t. I do hate badly run, badly organized committees – they suck the life out of the members and make it that much harder to get people to help when you need them. Don’t set up committees for no real purpose; do set up committees will actually use. Do set up good guidelines beforehand; don’t micromanage. Do set specific goals; don’t specify how to achieve those goals unless absolutely necessary – and then, don’t do it.  Do appoint a chair; don’t ram anything or anyone down their throats.

Committees can do good work – but you need to start the common sense before they ever meet!

Oh, and what does this have to do with Christian Education? Everything, unless your church is a dictatorship there will be committees involved – using them well can make real change much easier. Using them badly will make even great changes a nightmare.


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