Basic Concepts for Meetings
The following is a list of some basic components and concepts pertaining to meetings, together with the definitions of these terms.
An itemized list of topics to be considered at a meeting. Try to send the agenda out in advance and encourage participants to submit agenda topics as appropriate. For all-congregation meetings, it is often a legal requirement that the agenda be sent out to all members in advance of the meeting. Check your congregation’s bylaws to determine the time frame required. Agendas may include time allotments for each item. It is also helpful to identify the purpose of each agenda item—for example, whether it is for information or for giving feedback, or if a decision is required.
Common items on an agenda (for ongoing meetings) include the following actions:
- Welcoming and assigning or reviewing roles.
- Noting regrets of people not attending.
- Opening, chalice lighting, centering, and check-in.
- Adopting the agenda (making changes as required).
- Accepting the minutes from the last meeting.
- Accounting for actions taken since the last meeting, new business or both.
- Requesting that any special reports be given time.
- Noting any other business.
- Noting the date and time of the next meeting.
- Giving conclusions, evaluation, and faith reflections
A statement of fact (for example, “It was agreed that the fourth annual multifaith service Justice for All will be held on May 18, at 7 p.m., in our congregation.” Agreeing to the minutes means accepting that the minutes to a previous meeting are accurate and complete.
The person who leads, runs, or facilitates a meeting.
Voting. A show of hands is usually the easiest way of voting. In larger meetings, such as congregational meetings, ensure that there are volunteers designated as “counters.” In some situations—for example, with the call of a new minister or for contentious issues—you may want to have voting by written ballot.
Written records of what occurred at a meeting. Types of minutes vary considerably, from an informal bulleted list of decisions made and actions taken to a verbatim transcription of who said what and to whom. Decide the level of detail required. Minutes should always include the following:
- The title of the meeting (for example, the committee name, the task force name, Congregational Meeting, or Annual Meeting).
- The date, time, and location of the meeting.
- Who was present or absent.
- The date for the next meeting. When it comes to note taking, don’t assume “we’ll remember.” Minutes are an important tool to help individuals who missed the meeting find out what happened and to allow other teams in the congregation to find out what is going on. At the end of the minutes, it is useful to summarize action points by listing the following:
- What was decided.
- Who is going to do it.
- When the activities are targeted for completion (the key deadlines).
- Who will oversee the project and keep us all moving.
Seeing what is planned and achieved can energize and motivate team members.
Motion or Proposal
A suggestion put forth by a participant (for example “Taleila Jackson proposed that an article be written for the congregation’s newsletter about the upcoming Our Whole Lives teacher training”).
In more formal and larger meetings, written reports may be presented to the gathered assembly. Encourage succinct, jargon-free, straightforward written reports. Avoid using acronyms; they usually set up a barrier for newer comers to the congregation, who don’t know what the COM (Committee on Ministry), OWL (Our Whole Lives), and possibly even the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) stand for. The following are sample guidelines for reports:
- Describe your objective or what you are proposing, as well as the rationale for it.
- State the current situation, and give a recap of actions to date.
- Explain the financial implications, and describe how money is being raised or found.
- Describe the human implications (how people are affected).
- Give a time line for planned actions.
If the report is more than one page long, write an executive summary in point form at the top of the report. This is an enticement for busy participants to actually read the report!
We’ve all been at meetings where time is wasted with comments such as, “It’s in the middle of page three, in the paragraph that starts. . . .” If the report is very long (which can be the case if it covers more complex issues), put it into numbered and/or lettered sections so that participants can easily refer to the exact location in the document. Also consider using appendixes to present dense, detailed information. Charts and diagrams can often offer enhanced readability in a detailed report.
A formal decision with legal implications (for example, “It was resolved that the terms for directors of the congregation’s board be lengthened from two to three years”).
Rules of Order
Guidelines for meetings. In board meetings or whole congregational meetings, church bylaws may call for the use of Robert’s Rules of Order (the most recent edition). If these rules are used, it is good to have someone fill the role of parliamentarian.
In formal meeting situations, such as a board of directors meeting or the annual meeting, a quorum is the number of eligible participants required to be present to make the decisions legally binding.
To table is to set aside a matter for a period of time (for example, “The motion to have an accessibility ramp installed at the side door of the congregation is tabled until our next meeting on October 14”).
From Meetings that Work: Make Them Meaningful and Productive (PDF)
New Congregation and Growth Resources
UUA Congregational Life Staff Group (2005)