Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Annual Meeting

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.

15 comments:

Rev SS said...

Amen! Closing paragraph says it all!

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I've attended a lot of the meetings; we have them quarterly and get enough people to attend to make them legal. The two most memorable for me: The Sunday AFTER a good pastor left, a contingent was present at the meeting to make sure that the flags went back up in the sanctuary. They grabbed the flags, marched them up, and placed them, kittywampus, behind the altar and next to the cross. Some of us later moved them to a better spot and straightened them up.

At the meeting when we were calling our current pastor, one man, (one of the flag guys), stated that the new pastor would surely get new people into the church and increase the giving. Seconded by another guy. Fortunately the church president stated that that was quite a responsibility to place on the new pastor. Observation: those guys are seldom in church themselves and they aren't getting their families there either.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mompriest said...

yeah. I have been too good annual meetings and bad annual meetings and awful annual meetings. I try to make them fun and informative and not just business.

Mrs. M said...

I've started to write a handful of replies to this, but I think I'm going to write about this over at my place. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

Mrs. M said...

I'm back-- my post ended up being tangental at best. Here's my guess:

I think it's less about convenience (meals provided, babysitting) and more about effectiveness. I think that, generally speaking, my peers have a high level of frustration at contributing to things when they don't feel they can make a difference-- whether it's because they don't believe they'll be heard, or because the system doesn't seem effective. For example, I think this is why organizations like United Way have a harder time reaching young donors than more hands-on nonprofits do.

Mrs. M said...

Oh-- and I think we're also a lot less likely to be involved in things where the politics get in the way of progress.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I could count on one hand the number of people under 50 at our annual meeting yesterday. I think this is a HUGE problem for the church.

I think if one enjoys all the benefits of being a part of the community of faith, one has an obligation to participate in the life of the community--even when the subject is not "entertaining." Otherwise, you (collective "you") are just treating the church like one more consumer good--something that is there to be used when you feel like it and ignored or forgotten when it requires something of you.

I'd love to hear your reaction/thoughts!

Pax,
Doxy

P.S. FTR, I said this stuff years before I became a clergy spouse. ;-)

Diane said...

Doxy -- I might ask some of the younger people I know at my church -- why is it you don't come? and see what they say.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I guess that is the first thing to do---but how to ask in a way that doesn't immediately put them on the defensive? (Obviously, I'm venting here and wouldn't be quite so...blunt...in person! ;-)

Diane said...

oh, I wouldn't be so blunt... I'm just curious, and I know a couple of young couples who are pretty active otherwise...

God_Guurrlll said...

When I was a lay person, on occassion I'd skip the annual meeting because I was tired. I was tired of the politics, I was tired of not being heard, I was tired of the ineffectiveness. I suffered this everyday working in the corporate world. I just didn't want to go through the same suffering in my place of comfort, the church.

God_Guurrlll said...

When I was a lay person, on occassion I'd skip the annual meeting because I was tired. I was tired of the politics, I was tired of not being heard, I was tired of the ineffectiveness. I suffered this everyday working in the corporate world. I just didn't want to go through the same suffering in my place of comfort, the church.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

If I just had my kids to church, then Sunday School, I don't think I'd stay for the annual meeting either. We have ours during the Sunday School hour, and we provide some other activities for the kids if the teachers want to attend, but we are done and out before 11:45 or 12:00 noon. Normally, people have coffee and chat from about 10:45 - 11:30 or even later, so the meeting isn't that much longer.

Crimson Rambler said...

I have been to some donnybrook AGM's...but here the greatest current excitement is guessing which member of the congregation will be quickest to "move that nominations cease!"
They are good-humoured, for the most part, and that is a gain.
We have a running motion-of-thanks, usually, and there is some excitement in deflecting people's "thanks that turn into a slam of everybody except the thank-ee"...