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Bad Board, Bad Results Part 1

By Angie Joya

Right around the time a church or ministry files articles of incorporation many leaders are faced with the need to develop a board of directors. This governing body in the legal affairs of the church must be selected with wisdom. It’s hard to know whom to choose. Many pastors even ask the question, “Does it even really matter who’s on my board?” 

It sure does! We’re reminded of that fact when reading a few recent news headlines: 

“Woman admits to stealing $67,000 for local church” 

“Former church employee accused of stealing at least $70,000” 

What’s most sad about these headlines is that the crimes mentioned were committed by trusted members of the local church who had been put into positions of authority. And when it comes to these type of roles in the government of the church, few roles can be as important, and as potentially exposing, as your board of directors.

Before we move further, it is important to define what a board actually is. 

According to IRS Publication 4221-PC, “A governing board should be composed of persons who are informed and active in overseeing a charity’s operations and finances.” Basically, a board of directors is the group of individuals responsible for the management of the activities and affairs of a church, ministry, or other nonprofit.

Your board of directors is responsible for making governing decisions for the church. These decisions include buying or leasing a building, making purchases for the church, voting on compensation of the pastor and staff, and many more. These decisions have to be documented in board meeting minutes, which are then used to prove that your church or ministry is following proper procedures when making decisions. 

Due to the importance of the role, it is crucial for your church or ministry to have the correct people on your board of directors. 

How to find the correct people for you board

For many nonprofits, the first step toward their legal foundation is the creation of their board of directors. This important group is critical to getting your ministry started on the right foot. At the outset of forming your board, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You should have a minimum of three people on your board of directors, typically the President, Secretary and Treasurer
  • The majority of the board should be unrelated
  • The majority of the board should also be uncompensated. Having a board that is majority unrelated and uncompensated is what we refer to as a balanced board. 
  • Board members don’t actually have to be members of the congregation. Though this may seem counterintuitive, having an outside perspective can be helpful in making decisions

Board members don’t have to live in the same state as you! This often comes as a surprise to many pastors. If your bylaws contain a clause to allow board meetings to take place using remote technology, you’re not limited to people in just your area! Read more information about other key clauses to include in your bylaws and how to make changes here! 

Two tips for choosing the right board members

Choosing the right people to serve on the board of directors can, arguably, make or break the success of a church. This decision should not be made lightly. The people that you choose to bring into the inner circle and make decisions for the church are going to do just that - aid you in determining the direction that the ministry will go in. Before deciding who will serve on your board, consider the following:

Tip 1: Choose the people you know.

The easiest people to consider as board members are the people we tend to be the closest with - our friends. Friends are like the family we have chosen for ourselves. They see us through the highs and lows of life. Friends are often the people that know us the best and can deliver constructive criticism. . 

Tip 2: Do your due diligence.

Though it may be easy to ask trusted friends to serve alongside you, there may be a point where you are receiving recommendations for potential board members. As the saying goes, good people know good people, and though this is typically the case, it is important to do some research about the potential board member. Consider taking the following steps to ensure the individual is a good fit for your church’s board.

1. Request an application from them. Ask  potential board members to list their qualifications and why they believe they would be a good fit. They should provide references from any other churches they have attended and worked with in the past and other boards they have served on. Requiring an application can also show genuine interest on that individual’s behalf. Connecting with people they have worked and served with previously will shed light on how effectively they communicate and work on a team. 

2. Hold an interview with the perspective board member and other members. Your board is inevitably going to end up spending a lot of time together making decisions that are going to affect your church or ministry in a very tangible way. It’ll be important for there to be a healthy atmosphere for discussion and resolution. You may even consider a “trial period” where the perspective board member can interact with the current board members in a more social setting.

3. Give them a clear job description and invite letter with duties and responsibilities explained. Just like any other role, the board of directors should have a clear understanding of what is required of them, what they are responsible for, and how they can best serve the church. It’s best to issue a “Board Member Invitation Letter” at the outset to help with this clarity. 

If you do not have such a letter, please call StartCHURCH at 877-494-4655 today, and ask for the FREE Board Member Invitation Letter.

4. Consider running a background check on perspective board members. In the case of Pamela June Alberts, who confessed to theft of “about $67,000”, a background check would have revealed that she had two prior misdemeanors of theft, as well as a felony of theft of property according to online records. Had the church done its due diligence, the case would have potentially been avoided. 

Once you take the steps above, you’ll want to know that you can rely on your board of directors. Ecclesiastes 4:9 tells us that “Two are better than one, because there is a good reward for their labor together.” And though we can’t chose your board members for you, the StartRIGHT program can take the administrative burden off of your shoulders and allow you to do the work God has called you to do. Give us a call!

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