by Jerrie Barber
Communication is a vital key to any relationship. An effective communication tool I have seen used in the last twenty years is the Family Meeting. At Berry’s Chapel, where I did my last fourteen years of located work, we had a Family Meeting every three months. In three of the four interims I have done, Family Meetings have been and are a key part of our communication.
It is important to understand what this meeting is not. It is not an elders meeting. No decisions will be made.
It is a communication meeting. The purpose is to give and receive information. The agenda is printed in the bulletin. Elders, deacons, and others may have reports on events and ministries. They may want to inform the church on planned opportunities where we can participate. There is a time for questions and comments.
Since this is a meeting for communication, the entire congregation is invited. We have not seen a need to separate the men, women, and young people. Everyone who is a family member is invited to the family meeting.
The best time I have seen to have the meeting is immediately after Sunday evening services. My experience is that it is easier for people to stay after services than to come an hour before services.
I have found it important to negotiate guidelines for the discussion. Here are some I find helpful:
- May I be the leader of this group?
- Will we start on time?
- Will we quit on time (no longer than sixty minutes)?
- Will we speak one at a time?
- Will we talk where others can hear or will we speak softly and in small groups where others will not know what is being said?
- Will each person speak for himself or herself or will we speak for others such as “they,” “them,” “everybody,” and for God as well? I state this as: “I’ll speak for me, you speak for you, and let God speak for God.”
- Will we have a right to all our feelings, the painful as well as the pleasant?
- Do you want to have a rule that we will not make fun of what people say in this group?
- Will we have a right to disagree with each other?
- Will we settle group business in the group or will we get in small groups afterwards and talk about each other?
- If what I say offends or hurts you, will you tell me or will you talk about me to others?
- May others respond to what we say?
- When we ask a question, will we be willing to tell why we want to know the answer?
- May we bring up “old business” if we need to clarify or discuss something further?
If you would like further thoughts for group guidelines, you can find them here.
The purpose of the guidelines is for clarity, individual responsibility in the communication process, and to reduce conflict. The best time to deal with conflict is before it happens. The leaders need to think through the guidelines and believe that they can help communication. The guidelines need to be negotiated—not commanded. The group will ultimately do what the group wants to do. Therefore, the purpose for the guidelines and the details of the guidelines need to be communicated and negotiated in the group.
Several years ago, I was on a training series with brother James Baird. He was a former president of Oklahoma Christian Collage and was serving as an elder at the time. He said that his eldership had a communication rule: “We haven’t told them until we have told them five times.” I have found that the Family Meeting serves well as one of the five times to tell the church what they need to know. It is an excellent time for the leadership to communicate and when anyone can bring a concern that is related to the congregation.
If you have questions or comments about this, feel free to contact me.
Jerrie Barber has been serving local congregations for nearly fifty years, and now spends much of his time mentoring younger preachers. The last five years, he has been involved in interim ministry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.