Why Staff Meetings Stink

Why Staff Meetings Stink

If you have a bias toward action, then you probably loathe your weekly staff meetings.

It sits there on your calendar, waiting to gobble up your precious time like Cookie Monster gobbles up cookies.

For those you who have to prepare for multiple ministry programs every week it’s even worse. You need every minute you can get to make every distinct environment irresistible in its own right. The weekly staff meeting doesn’t usually help in that effort.


Instead, it’s like an armed intruder who shows up at your office to steal the one thing you can’t replace: your time.

“Traditional meetings seem to go on forever, with no end in sight. When the clock runs out, we add more time or, even worse, more meetings” (Al Pittampalli, Read This Before Our Next Meeting, p. 27).

It’s not just a church problem.

I spent 5 years working for a company that provided staffing support to the Department of Defense. Some weeks, it felt like we spent more time talking in meetings than actually working.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that meetings are completely worthless; they have value. It’s just that many of our meetings are neither efficient nor productive.

The problem with typical weekly staff meetings is that they are scatterbrained. There’s no agenda, and they try to accomplish too much at one time. Instead of focusing on one or two specific items, assigning ownership, and determining next action steps and deadlines, they become what Patrick Lencioni calls “Meeting Stew.”

What is “Meeting Stew”?

Lencioni explains:
“Imagine a clueless cook taking all of the ingredients out of the pantry and the refrigerator and throwing them into one big pot, and then wondering why his concoction doesn’t taste very good. Leaders do the same thing when the put all of the issues into one big discussion, usually called a ‘staff meeting'” (The Advantage, p. 174).

That scene probably sounds familiar to you.

It’s counterintuitive.

The way to have more productive meetings is counterintuitive at first glance. That’s because more productive meetings require you to have more meetings. But these are meetings of a different kind.

Instead of having one weekly, 3-hour marathon meeting that includes everyone from the Nursery Coordinator to the Executive Pastor and everything from sermon series ideas to the quarterly church calendar, it is better to have more meetings that don’t last as long, and only include the key decision-makers or contributors for the issue(s) being discussed.

For example, if you need ideas for an upcoming sermon series, hold a brainstorming meeting. If you need to discuss strategic initiatives for next year, then invite the people who think strategically or have vested interest in that topic. If you feel like other staff members need to know what was discussed, then have someone write a meeting summary and send it to the people who weren’t there.

When that happens, Lencioni assures us, “Leaders actually come to look forward to their meetings, even enjoy them” (The Advantage, p. 175).

“If you have no strong opinion, have no interest in the outcome, and are not instrumental for any coordination that needs to take place, we don’t need you” (Al Pittampalli, Read This Before Our Next Meeting, p. 30).

Back to reality…

“That’s great,” you’re probably thinking, “but I don’t have any control over how long or how often we meet. Or what we talk about when we meet.”

For most of you – no matter what – next week your whole staff will gather around the table for another big bland helping of Meeting Stew.

I understand that. I’ve been there too. So, I want to suggest one simple way to get the most out of those meetings.

Here it is:
Prepare in advance.

Your meeting time will be wasted time if you don’t take the time to prepare for it.

Your meeting time will be wasted time if you don’t take the time to prepare for it.

If your meetings are anything like the ones I was in, one of the most frustrating things is that people aren’t prepared. Every week, they’re asked to give a ministry update. But when it’s their turn to share what is going on in their ministry, they mumble through it with predictable phrases like, “Things are going good.”

They don’t share any statistics or stories to back up their statement, just platitudes that are intended to reassure everyone that they’re doing their job and things are looking up.

Maybe you’ve been guilty of that. I know I was.

It was time for a change.

Eventually, I decided to prepare for that moment in the staff meeting when it was my turn to speak. I knew that I would be asked for a ministry update, so I took 30 minutes before the meeting to collect my thoughts and jot down a few notes.

I focused on four timeframes:
1. This Week
2. Just Ahead (7-15 days out)
3. Around the Corner (16-30 days out)
4. Down the Road (31-90 days out)

For each timeframe, I listed four things:
1. Date
2. Action / Event
3. Concerns / Issues / Needs
4. Miscellaneous Notes

I remember when it was my turn to share. Instead of my usual blah, blah, blah, I moved systematically through my notes to explain specific details about what was coming up and where I needed help.

It was a satisfying feeling. I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time; it felt like I had made progress. So, I did again the next week. And the week after that.

Eventually, I created a spreadsheet with the timeframes and categories that I thought were important. As the weeks rolled by, I would see things move from Down the Road to Around the Corner to Just Ahead to This Week.

If nothing else, it helped me stay on top of my ministry so I wasn’t scrambling at the last minute to put things together.

But it was more than that.

Because I was thinking ahead, I was able to enlist the help of the other staff members. I was able to get items listed in the bulletin. I felt like I had a better grasp on what was happening in my ministry. Not only that, but I was also able to speak clearly about the good things happening within the ministry.

Staff meetings were still inefficient and sometimes counterproductive as a whole, but at least for those few minutes when I had the floor, I felt like I had moved the ball down the field for my ministry.

Your Move

Download my meeting briefing template and spend a few minutes before your next staff meeting to collect your thoughts and prepare your remarks.

You might not be able to change the entire structure of your meetings, but you can definitely make them better by preparing in advance.

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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