The ABCs of Avoiding Ineffective Meetings: Advance Output Using an Agenda

Meetings are a powerful tool for organizations. Secretly, though, you enjoy those Dilbert comics that feature the pain and frustration of poorly run meetings. It seems as if Scott Adams, the brilliant author of Dilbert, was a part of your last meeting!

Let’s face it; meetings can be a real drag. We all hate doing them, but we also feel they are a necessary evil to ensure people work well together. For such a straightforward concept – essentially a group of people gathered to discuss an idea – we really do make a mess out of it sometimes.

While statistics vary widely on the amount of time spent in meetings, successful organizations know their teams spend so much time in meetings that turning meeting time into sustained results is a priority. Actions that make meetings successful require direction by the meeting leader before, during, and after the meeting.

Whether you are organizing meetings or simply attending them, you owe it to yourself to become more effective at this skill – especially if you are the team leader!

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Meetings Suck by Cameron Herold

We all know that meetings suck, right?

You hear it all the time. It’s the one thing that almost everyone in business can agree on.

Except it’s not actually true. Meetings don’t suck; we suck at running meetings. When done right, meetings not only work, they make people and companies better.

In Meetings Suck, world-renowned business expert and growth guru Cameron Herold teaches you how to use focused, time effective meetings to help you and your company soar.

This book shows you immediately actionable, step-by-step systems that ensure that you and everyone in your organization improves your meetings, right away.

In the process, you’ll turn meetings that suck into meetings that work.


A simple meeting agenda, distributed in advance, is perhaps the most important tool in ensuring a successful productive meeting, even when the meeting is between only you and one other person.

If you can’t personally create a meeting agenda for the meetings you convene, at least delegate that responsibility to one of the participants. That way, you’ll get all of the benefits of having an agenda without having to do the work!

The difference between meetings with and without agendas can mean chaos, ruffled feathers and very few accomplishments. An agenda communicates to attendees that the meeting will be conducted in an orderly fashion and that productivity is the goal.

Organizations hold meetings to get things done, share information, develop plans, document progress, provide clarity and make decisions. An agenda can ensure that the meeting stays on track and that special projects and routine operations proceed as intended. An agenda can help a group of employees function as an effective team.

Without question, every meeting must have a clear agenda distributed to attendees in advance. If you skip creating an agenda, then your meetings can quickly go off track, get hijacked by a random topic, or include people who shouldn’t be attending.

By taking the time to plan, prepare, and distribute an agenda before the meeting, you will reap considerable benefits.

Benefit 1: Introverts are engaged

When it comes to your more introverted team members, more often than not they won’t speak up unless you ask them a question directly or they’re passionate and engaged in the subject. Giving them an agenda in advance allows them the time they need to think through answers, frame their thoughts, or whatever else they need to do to raise their ideas.

Benefit 2: Time is maximized

Creating an agenda in advance gives you the distinct advantage of maximizing your time. Including time allocated for each item helps you realize whether you have too much or too little, and gives you the flexibility to adjust and split topics before the meeting begins, instead of trying to navigate this on the fly.

Benefit 3: Only essential employees participate

Creating your agenda in advance forces you to think critically about who you’re inviting. It’s highly likely that only select individuals need to discuss certain items on the agenda.

Benefit 4: People learn to opt out

An agenda distributed in advance helps people feel like there’s a good reason for them to attend. But it also gives people the chance to opt out if they don’t feel they can provide or extract value.

Benefit 5: Your team comes prepared

When you include the meeting style (information sharing, creative discussion, or consensus decision) in the agenda, then you tell your team what to expect and how best to prepare.

When your agenda includes all items being considered, a purpose, and possible outcomes, then people will know exactly why they have been asked to attend the meeting and what they will be expected to accomplish during it.

Cameron Herold, Meetings Suck


If you already prepare an agenda for meetings you lead, congratulations!

However, if you do not prepare an agenda or know yours could be better, consider the following ideas to help you develop an agenda for your meetings.

  • Create the agenda at least three days in advance, to allow everyone time to review it and prepare for the meeting.
  • Seek input from team members.
  • Create a list of any pre-meeting work required by participants.
  • Start with simple details: time and place and attendee list.
  • State the meeting objective or goal.
  • Create a list of meeting topics or questions to be answered.
  • Add a realistic time allotment for discussion of each topic.
  • If appropriate, list discussion leader for each topic
  • Choose only topics that affect the entire team participating.
  • Other pertinent information as required.
  • Plan to end each meeting with continuous improvement by asking 1) What did we do well? and 2) What do we need to different for the next meeting?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 90-1, released April 2018


This is part of a weekly series posting excerpts from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix book excerpts for church leaders.

Each issue SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; each solution is taken from a different book. Additionally, a practical action step is included with each solution.

As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS Remix provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

> > Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

Download PDF

Tags: , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Vision >




Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

See more articles by >


What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Amen!!
— Scott Michael Whitley
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you so Much for this great article. It has open my eyes on where we have faltered and the things we need to work on. God can never indeed be the problem. It's us.
— Bertille
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks for this information. It helps me begin to look at the church in a different light.
— Faith Jackson

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

5 Tips for Making Meetings Actually Work

Stop and think about how much of your time is spent in meeting in an average week at your church. Now, do some quick math to calculate that across your team. Wowsers! That’s a lot of time! (Bonus: Assign some monetary value to each of those hours.)

Clearly, you need to work on ensuring that your team is being a good steward of all that meeting time.

Although it can seem like a “plumbing” issue of how the church does its work, in many ways the meeting culture of your church could be a make-or-break aspect of what is either pushing your ministry forward or holding it back. As I’ve had the honor of being in the orbits of some fantastic churches over the years, I’ve noticed some healthy habits that those leadership teams live by to get the most out of their meetings. Rather than seeing meetings as a necessary evil of “doing church”, these teams are looking for ways to optimize their meeting culture towards performance that pushes them forward. Here are some healthy habits I’ve seen in churches that are making a difference today:

Use meetings to make decisions, not to disseminate information.

Meetings are disagreements to move the organization forward. Healthy teams use meetings as a place to come together to make decisions. More pointedly, leaders use meetings to make decisions. A good meeting should be built around ideas that need to be debated and discussed in the context of an impending decision. Meetings are not a place to simply pass out information or keep everyone informed. It’s a waste of your team’s time to use meetings as a place to ensure they are up to speed on what’s happening at the church.

Adults are basically “just in time” learners, so when you use a meeting to simply pass along information, they are almost hardwired to not pay attention because they can’t put the information into practice right away. However, you can turn this same dynamic on its head by using meetings to present a desired and debatable outcome that you’re going to discuss. People can’t help but lean in and want to participate when change is on the horizon based on this meeting. When there are consequences to meetings, people show up and are ready to jump in. If the meeting feels inconsequential, your team will disengage at best or maybe even resent the meeting.

3 Other Ways to Disseminate Information to Your Team Besides Calling a Meeting

  • Voice Messages // You’d be amazed how much information you can pass in a 5 minute audio message recorded on your phone. It’s easy to record your voice and email it out to your team.
  • “What to Expect” Documents // In just one page, you can outline a lot of information that people need to know about an upcoming event or activity at the church.
  • Weekly Check in Email // Many churches have a standard report email that is generated every week with data that the entire team needs to know. Get your information to hijack on the back of that communication.

Ensure people come prepared to discuss.

No agenda? No meeting! If whoever is calling the meeting doesn’t have time to prepare the people attending the meeting for what is being discussed, it’s probably best not to meet. People don’t like surprises and it’s a bad use of people’s time to get their gut reaction to issues without them having time to prepare. If the decisions being made in the meeting are of such low consequence that people don’t need to think about them ahead of time, then they should be delegated to a team member to make the decision and inform the team later. The prep is both an agenda that outlines the decisions that will be made at the meeting and reading materials to help people as they process the decision.

5 Elements of a Compelling Agenda

  • Decision: // What is the big decision that is being made at this meeting? This is the overall driver for why you are calling people together.
  • Attendees // A clear list of who will be at the meeting. If people don’t know each other, a one-line bio is helpful.
  • Please Read // A list of resources designed to bring the team up to speed on the issue at hand.
  • What’s at Stake // Why is this such an important decision? A clear and compelling reason why this decision needs to be made at this time.
  • Rules of Engagement // Some ground rules about how the team is going to go about “doing” the meeting.

Healthy teams work to avoid the feedback bubble.

Learning teams win. Churches that are making a difference in their communities are led by teams of people that are looking for ways to learn from other organizations and apply those lessons to their church. Stagnant churches keep to their own small tribe and shout into the echo chamber of their community. Healthy meetings seek to bring in data from a wide variety of sources to push to a better answer, not the answer that was assumed from the outset. Too many churches just run the same plays over and over and aren’t committed to bringing in outside voices to help them make better decisions. If you are looking for a way to improve your decision-making as a team, you need to bring in voices from other circles to help you make better decisions.

This is particularly important when we think about our ultimate mission as a church. Every church needs to find ways to leverage opportunities to reach people beyond their own church. In fact, the local church is the only organization in the world that exists not for its member but for people not yet connected to the church! As Colossians 4:5 says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” The hard truth is the voice of the “insider” will always be louder than the “outsider” and so your church needs to find ways to include those voices at your decision-making table. If you only listen to those people who are already with your church, you will miss the opportunity to reach people who haven’t been reached yet!

3 Ways to Add Outside Voices to Your Decision-Making Process

  • Data is Your Friend // Find hard numbers that talk about what is actually happening rather than just your opinion or hunches. There is no bad information, just information you don’t like.
  • Invite People In // Who is attending the meetings at your church should be driven by the decisions being made, not by tradition or hierarchy. Pull in people who can speak first-hand about the decisions being made.
  • Coaches // Growing churches bring in people who have been down the road they are looking at before. A day with a coach or consultant can help bring added clarity to the decisions you make as a team.

Capture action steps and assign responsibilities.

Take massive action. The reason you’ve called meetings at your church is to make decisions. Therefore, coming out of the meeting should be a series of decisions that need to be assigned to team members to follow up on. In fact, the very essence of what “happens” coming out of meetings is new and vibrant energy that has been released. If your meetings aren’t leading to people taking action, then you are just using your meetings to inform people of decisions that have already been made and you should stop meeting.

3 Vital Pieces Needed to Record Next Steps After a Meeting

  • Owner // Who is the person responsible for the next step coming out of the meeting?
  • Outcome // What was the decision that was made by the team?
  • Due Date // When does the owner need to make sure the item is completed by?

As important as the agenda is the pre-reading material, someone from the meeting needs to follow up quickly with “action steps” that are going to be initiated because of the meeting. Ideally, those are recorded in the meeting and sent right away. Again, the meeting should be a tool to push the church forward, so now that decision has been made, the organization should move to take action on that decision!

Meetings should be an exciting event, not a total bore.

All meetings should be optional and exciting. If you are just getting together for the sake of getting together, stop it. Don’t force your people to sit through another meeting just for the sake of meeting. Cut your “repeating” meetings out or at least in half. As a team leader, you need to ensure that each meeting is exciting and engaging, not boring. If the meeting is putting people to sleep, then the team leader isn’t doing their job.

6 Ways to Make Your Church Team Meetings More Exciting

  • Make Them Optional … really! // If people can choose not to come to the meeting and won’t suffer any retribution from the team leader, you’d be amazed how creative the team leader will get to make the meeting great.
  • Add Food // Something almost magical happens when you add food to a meeting. Have a favorite exotic food? Add it to the start of your next regular meeting and see what happens. (Skip the donuts … it’s been overdone.)
  • Standing Meeting // Okay … this might not be fun, but it is just effective. Take all the chairs out of the room that you meet in and have the meeting standing up. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you move through the agenda!
  • Thank You Notes // Kick off your meeting with some gratitude! Hand out thank you cards to everyone on your team and have them share something that someone else on another team at the church did that was fantastic. After people share, have them write thank you notes to the people that they shared about!
  • Get Rid of the Table // The physical space you meet in matters. Get rid of that big table that blocks everyone. Paint the walls a bright color. Making a physical change can switch people’s attitudes about your meetings. What if you themed the room something fun? Hawaiian Luau Theme? Christmas in July?
  • Stick It Up! // In preparation for the meeting, put 3-4 pieces of poster board around the room with short sentences describing issues your church is facing. As people arrive for the meeting, give them a pile of post-it notes and a marker and ask them to jot down solutions for each issue and stick it up on the boards around the room. Take some time to discuss the ideas generated.

It is important to connect with your team relationally, but don’t do that poorly through something masquerading a meeting. Cut out some meetings and then use that freed up time to go do something fun with your team and actually connect!

Interest in learning more about meetings? Listen to Al.

If you are interested in diving deeper in great meeting culture, you need to follow Al Pittampalli and Modern Meeting Standard. He is a leader in thinking about how organizations do meetings well and is leading a revolution to get all kinds of organizations to improve them! Much of my thought has been shaped by Al on this front and I find myself coming back to him time and again when I’m faced with needing to retool our meeting culture one more time! I’m grateful for his leadership.

> Read more from Rich.


Download PDF

Tags: , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Execution >


Rich Birch

Rich Birch

Thanks so much for dropping by unseminary … I hope that your able to find some resources that help you lead your church better in the coming days! I’ve been involved in church leadership for over 15 years. Early on I had the privilege of leading in one of the very first multisite churches in North Amerca. I led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 4,000 people in 6 locations. (Today they are 13 locations with somewhere over 5,000 people attending.) In addition, I served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. I currently serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. I have a dual vocational background that uniquely positions me for serving churches to multiply impact. While in the marketplace, I founded a dot-com with two partners in the late 90’s that worked to increase value for media firms and internet service providers. I’m married to Christine and we live in Scotch Plains, NJ with their two children and one dog.

See more articles by >


What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Amen!!
— Scott Michael Whitley
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you so Much for this great article. It has open my eyes on where we have faltered and the things we need to work on. God can never indeed be the problem. It's us.
— Bertille
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks for this information. It helps me begin to look at the church in a different light.
— Faith Jackson

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.