A Consensus Model for Conducting an Annual Meeting

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Each year, my congregation holds an annual meeting to review the past year, give updates on issues, and share projections for the coming year. We traditionally have used formal parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order for this meeting. While this approach has some advantages, sometimes it has led to unnecessary confrontation and power struggles. And those who are less assertive or nervous in front of the group often sit silently.

Preparing for this year’s meeting, I wondered if it could be conducted in a way that would actively involve more people and engage potentially sticky issues in less combative ways. After researching consensus decision-making models, consulting colleagues, and praying, I decided to try a new, more collaborative approach.

We started with Communion and then prayed and reflected on Scripture before every segment of the meeting. This set a positive and God-centered tone for the night. As we moved through our agenda — which included financial reports, the budget, and the election of trustees — we broke into six smaller groups, each with about eight participants. Within each group someone was designated as spokesperson, timekeeper, and note-taker.

We reported the information on each agenda item in the normal manner. But instead of having the presenters speak at length and field endless questions, we invited the smaller groups to discuss each issue — naming things to be celebrated and areas of question or concern. The spokesperson then shared the feedback with the whole group.

The groups generated many new ideas for facing the challenges confronting our congregation. The whole process was exhilarating and the feedback and insight proved tremendously valuable.

I saw members working in groups alongside people with whom they normally do not interact — new members in conversation with long-time members, seniors talking with youth and young adults. The groups generated many new ideas for facing the challenges confronting our congregation. The whole process was exhilarating and the feedback and insight proved tremendously valuable.

This approach also diffused negative energy. Any group has those who tend to be more negative and those who are more positive. This approach spread out the members in a way that no dominant personality could control the tone of the evening.

On matters where a decision was required, each small group was asked to see if they could come to consensus around the question. Each group was polled to see if they had reached consensus. We even used a consensus approach to matters that required a vote. When it was time to vote on our trustees (a process that tends to induce a lot of anxiety), I talked about the importance of honoring the range of responses and feelings that we have pertaining to our votes. We even used a ballot designed for consensus decision making. In addition to the option of voting someone up or down, it gave the choice of indicating that the candidate was “not my preference, but I could live with him/her,” or “I disagree, but won’t stand in the way if the group agrees.”

The meeting was unlike any other meeting at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church. And I’m thankful for a congregation that was willing to engage a new way of making decisions.


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About Author

Heber Brown III is the pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore. He spearheaded the Black Church Food Security Network, and he is the founding director of Orita’s Cross Freedom School. He received the Ella Baker Freedom Fighter Award, participated in the Lewis Fellows, and earned a Doctor of Ministry in Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary.


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