I remember going to our congregation's annual meeting as a kid. I know, it seems weird to think it now, but I sat next to my parents and colored while they voted for who would be the next Church Council President. It was always a contest then, too. There were two people up for every position in the church, so there was a winner and there was a loser.
Later on, there would just be one person nominated for each position, so it wasn't so exciting to go to the annual meeting and find out who would be the next Church Council President. Instead, there was the Budget. More often than not, I remember some dramatic announcement about the budget (usually that we did not have enough money to pay a particular musician), and an equally dramatic announcement from the floor to cover that person's salary for the next year.
As an adult, I've never felt totally comfortable about annual meetings. This is probably due to a couple of occasions where controvery broke out. Usually annual meetings are boring and go smoothly, but there are exceptions.
I had three churches in my first parish, and at one of the first annual meetings, someone stood up and questioned why I was getting a salary increase after only six months as their pastor. After an awkward moment of silence, another man stood up and said, "Well, Floyd, you were at that budget meeting where we decided that." Everything went pretty smoothly after that.
I've noticed a tendency for fewer and fewer people to stay for the annual meeting of the congregation. This is particularly noticeable among young people. We've tried everything, including nursery services and serving a chili dinner. Young people, with very few exceptions, don't stay. Older people seem to think that this indicates a lack of interest and investment in the congregation.
I think there might be a couple of other possibilities. One has to do with the business aspect of the congregation. There is often great talk about how you have to run a congregation like a business. But perhaps that is just the thing that turns younger people off about the church as a business. I wouldn't mind having some younger people's perspective about this.
I also wonder about the draw of an annual meeting. There's a temptation to think that you have to have something exciting to talk about; that will draw the people. But I think if annual meetings are fraught with conflict, that too is not a draw to younger people.
I know that in the church as an organization and a legal entity, you need to have annual meetings. But I wonder about the viability. I also wonder whether newer members, stumbling into some of the meetings I have attended, would emerge with their faith intact.
People join and affiliate with a local congregation because of a deep spiritual hunger and thirst, because of a longing for authentic community, because they need to hear and participate in the truth of the gospel. They join and affiliate because of sacraments in their hands, the word in their ears, real people struggling to be disciples in the real world. They don't join a "business" and hope to attend annual meetings.