What to do with Boards and Parish Councils???

In the non-profit and church worlds, working with Boards of Directors or Parish Councils are not only a given, it is also a valuable and strategic use of our time. Well, at least it should be. The truth is that, although we have Boards and Councils, we often find the time we spend with them draining and unproductive. However, this does not have to be the case. Working with these teams should be engaging and should help move your ministry to new levels of success. We merely have to engage Boards and Councils in the right way.

Although a Board of Directors and a Parish Council tend to have slightly different functions and job descriptions, there is much overlap between the two. From now on, I will use the two terms interchangeably. So what do Boards and Councils do? Well, here’s a starts:

1.     Discuss (and possibly create), review, and approve strategic directions

Strategic planning should not be left to just the staff of your church. Engaging the Council in this process is key. Since Parish Councils consist of lay people who do not do ministry full time, they are able to bring gifts and strengths to the table that may be lacking in the staff. Leveraging those strengths (like marketing, accounting, etc…) only enhance plans that are formulated by the staff. Staff should bring a yearly strategic plan to the Council. It is then the Councils job to review and suggest recommendations and edits. After changes are made, the council can have the opportunity to review it one more time and then approve it. This may seem like a drawn-out process. Well, it is. But I guarantee that your plans will be better because of it.

2.     Monitor organizational performance

Some Boards meet more often then others. For some churches, their Board will meet once a month. A recurring agenda item for each Board meeting should be a review of the strategic plan and its movement forward. This allows for continuous checks by the staff and Board to review the success metrics of the plan to make sure the organization is still moving forward as planned.

3.     Ensure that the organization operates responsibly as well as effectively

All leaders at “the top” of the organization should be held accountable. It is easier for a Council to hold a leader accountable then it is for the leaders staff to do so. As Councils continue to monitor the progress of the strategic plan, their job is to also make sure that the leader at the top is helping create processes for their staff that allows them to pursue the plan effectively, in an organized fashion, and with integrity. The goal is to make effective use of human and financial capital.

4.     Act on specific strategic recommendations and mobilize support for decisions taken

If the Board approves a strategic plan, then it is also their job to let people in the organization know about the plan and encourage participation and support. The Board should not leave the mobilizing of support to the staff alone. The Board can play a huge role in getting volunteers and members to buy-in to the strategic plan and the direction of the organization.

5.     Provide a buffer for the leader at the top – in the vernacular, take some of the heat

If the Council played a role in the development of a strategic plan, then the Council gets to take some credit for it’s success, and some credit for it’s failure. The leader did not make the plans in a bubble. Therefore, the Council should step up to back up the leader of the organization, and, if necessary, take some of the blame for missteps.

6.     Ensure that the necessary resources, both human and financial, will be available to pursue the organization’s strategies and achieve its objectives

The Board should review the resources to make sure that attaining the set goals and objectives is achievable. If the organization does not have the necessary resources to make the strategic plan come to reality, then the Board must move quickly to help the leader of the organization make decisions that allow those resources to be attained. If the resources cannot be attained, then the strategic plan needs to be adjusted.

Working with a Board or Parish Council is not easy. To make the most effective use of the Board and Council, one must spend adequate time thinking through agendas and processes so that momentum can be created and, in turn, your ministry can make the impact it is hoping to make.

John Rinaldo

As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.


John Rinaldo


As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.



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