7 Secrets to Highly Effective Committees

August 16, 2018  •   LPi


Finances and festivals, school boards and school dances, buildings and grounds maintenance … how many committees does your vibrant parish have? With so many parishes relying on volunteers and parishioner expertise, committees are inevitable realities. We’ve all been part of a committee that featured more gridlock than “go get ‘em.” What does it take to make committees work and work well?


Define a Purpose and Long-Term Agenda

Some committees — such as those for one-time events — might not need a bigger goal than “plan W event on X date with Y budget and create Z dollars in revenue.” Others will need a clearer sense of a long-term vision. Without a sense of where your parish wants to be in the future, your committee risks spinning its wheels or putting out immediate fires. In either scenario, your committee needs a real, actionable purpose for its existence. And everyone on the committee should know what that purpose is!


Establish Clear Expectations

People may sign up for or be asked to join a committee with little explanation of what actually goes on. Effective committees have clear, written expectations for the committee itself, for the chair, and for group members. This should include the committee’s purpose, member and leadership selection, individual duties, and collective goals.


Focusing on the Right Issues

It’s surprising how often committees start off with the best of intentions, only to wander off into a related area of focus, rather than the heart of the issue. We heard once of a seminar about “dialogue” in ministry. It featured listening sessions and strategies for greater openness and conflict resolution. After a full day, a participant hesitantly asked, “Wait … so who are we actually dialoguing with?” The committee hadn’t planned to spend any time exploring possible avenues of communication and relationship!


Select Effective Leadership

Most committees have one or two chairs. These positions can easily become politicized, especially on long-established committees or highly important projects. However, a good committee chair should have experience relevant to the committee itself, as well as proven leadership skills to mobilize a group to action. The person should listen well, but provide guidance and firm accountability to moving things forward. A good committee chair need not be highly dynamic themselves, but they should possess the people skills to rally the group, set a positive tone, and empower members to collaborate


Appoint Effective Members

At some parishes, committees may take whoever is interested. While this may be admirable, it might not always be the most effective. Consider the tasks the committee will need to carry out. What skills sets are needed to accomplish these goals? The finance committee should naturally skew towards business professionals. It would be wise to make sure that at least some of the buildings and grounds committee members have experience with construction, maintenance, or architecture. Remember, it’s not all “marketable skills.” Many committees will need to work with the parish to raise financial or moral support for events or projects. Having committee members who understand the needs and experiences of fellow parishioner will be an important asset.


Operating Off Accurate Information

This might seem like a no-brainer, but its issues relate to the previous point. Every person skews towards certain information intake styles. Some prefer concrete data and statistics. Others prefer human stories and felt experiences. Someone might be fascinated with the intricacies of parish or community politics. Another person has extensive expertise from real-world trial and error. All of these can provide “accurate” information, but they aren’t the complete story. A buildings and grounds committee will need accurate information about the costs involved, the efficiency of contractors, and the diverse attitudes of parishioners “on the ground.” A committee needs accurate, complete information to be effective in your parish.


Run Better Meetings

A group of volunteers may be well intentioned, but are they on time and on task? For your committee to be effective, your meetings should be, too.

  • The leader should set a clear agenda and communicate it in advance to the committee members.
  • When you’ve all gathered together, start and end on time. Nothing bleeds patience and breeds resentment like perpetually late members or discussions that just can’t seem to end.
  • As the discussion starts flowing, let people speak. They’re on the committee for a reason! Their input is a valuable asset.
  • Make decisions according to a set process. Will you make decisions by a majority vote? Does the chair have the ultimate decision-making power? These should be decided in advance of any major choices and communicated to all committee members.
  • Always remember to end with a plan. Establish concrete action items, time frames, deadlines, and follow-up conversations. If someone in the room has a responsibility, they should know what it is and when it’s due before they leave the room.


There’s a lot here. What do you think we missed? Any secrets you’d like to share from your vibrant parish?

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