Governing God’s House: How 500 Churches Keep from Collapsing

First ECFA survey of church governance trends reveals which boards are most effective

“The No. 1 qualification for a board member is faithfulness. Almost 90 percent of those surveyed said that was a characteristic they desired in church board members, far above the No. 2 qualification—being a consistent giver—which was desired by 52 percent of respondents.”

 

Those late-night board meetings at church may have you dragging the next day, but they’re actually a sign of a healthy church.

Boards that meet for longer than two hours reported that their leadership was more effective than those that meet for a shorter period of time, according to a new survey by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

For the first time, ECFA asked board members and church staff from more than 500 churches how their congregations are governed. Here’s a snapshot:

  • Church boards are known by more than 70 names, including the popular Board of Elders (37%), Board of Directors (13%), and Board of Trustees (7%).
  • The median church has eight board members, and about half have members who are related to each other or to church staff (48%).
  • Nearly 80 percent of boards include at least one staff member. For almost two-thirds of church boards (63%), church staff make up a quarter of the members.
  • Almost all boards (94%) include the pastor, who doesn’t get a vote on 30 percent of boards, is allowed to vote on 43 percent of boards, and chairs (and votes on) 21 percent of boards.

“The most effective boards spend between 21 and 40 hours together over the course of a year,” ECFA reported.

That adds up to at least one two-hour meeting a month. Boards that meet less frequently self-report being less effective.

It’s a good thing, then, that nearly 60 percent of church boards already do meet monthly. The median meeting had 90 percent of members normally present; for 20 percent of churches, 100 percent of board members were usually there.

That’s probably because the No. 1 qualification for a board member is faithfulness. Almost 90 percent of those surveyed said that was a characteristic they desired in church board members, far above the No. 2 qualification—being a consistent giver—which was desired by 52 percent of respondents.

Having professional or business experience (43%) is also a plus, but boards don’t seem to be looking for financial experience (18%) or legal experience (5.5%). The only thing less popular: having counseling experience (4%).

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