While many Parish Pastoral Councils are eager to get into their responsibilities of enabling the mission of the parish, one of the first things that will help them do that is to have effective, well-organised meetings.
Purpose of the section
To provide strategies to run an effective meeting
Meetings are a necessary part of all groups as they are the means through which information is communicated and acted upon. For meetings to be productive, it is important they are well planned and facilitated. Well-planned meetings and good facilitation not only gets the work done, but make the meeting more useful and enjoyable and empower members, so, consequently, they feel comfortable and safe to contribute to discussions. Well-organised meetings also foster a sense of community and connection between members, building rapport and a sense of trust.
The chair of the Council serves the group well by facilitating effective meetings. There is nothing so draining and frustrating as poorly planned and run meetings which lead to members becoming disengaged. On the other hand, a well-planned and efficient meeting with the core business attended to and fruitful discussions is energising and rewarding. Therefore, meetings need to be planned with careful forethought and attention to detail.
Parish Pastoral Council meetings will be more fruitful, in less time, when well organised and planned. Here are some tips.
Prior to the meeting, ensure:
- there is clarity on the purpose of the meeting, with a well-thought-out agenda
- that you are familiar with the agenda and the time allotted to each item so you know what you need to accomplish at the meeting
- a time frame is allocated to each item on the agenda. Be conservative as it usually takes longer than people think to work through a process with a group of people with diverse backgrounds, understandings and perspectives
- prayer, reflection and faith formation are included as part of the meeting as they set the tone and help the group to focus on key values. Invite a member to lead the prayer at least a week before the meeting
- that if there are items that may be difficult to deal with, strategies have been put into place to use, as needed
- what, if any, background materials are needed that members need to prepare to participate in discussions of particular agenda items and ensure they are distributed in advance of the meeting
- that consideration is given to who best would make the report or guide the group through a particular item on the agenda. Inform the person and allocate their name on the agenda
- follow-up on ‘action items’ between meetings
- the room is properly set up and refreshments are available. Choose a room that fits the purpose of the group. Arrange the room, preferably with a table and chairs so everyone is able to have eye contact with all present. Prepare audio-visual equipment, newsprint, easels, pens, refreshments ahead of time. It’s sometimes the little things that make members feel welcome and ready to engage in the work at hand.
During the meeting:
- start the meeting on time, do not wait for latecomers
- ratify the agenda and ask if there are other items to be added
- follow the prepared agenda and be strict to keep to the time allocated for each item. Consider having a timekeeper to help keep you and others on track
- ensure discussions are carried out in a respectful, inclusive, prayerful manner
- guide members through discussions; do not dictate, but be firm
- do not allow the discussion to get bogged down on any one issue
- when more information or committee action is required to obtain more facts about an item, defer the issue until a later meeting
- ensure each member has the opportunity to speak; some quieter members have equally important contributions, but may need to be prompted to speak. Avoid letting one person dominate the meeting
- initiate discussion, where necessary, and summarise discussion as resolutions so as to avoid misinterpretation
- ensure all actions are recorded in the minutes. It is useful to verbally list the action items required at the end of the meeting, including the person responsible
- finish the meeting within the allotted time.
Running effective Parish Pastoral Council meetings enables the Council to focus on the important issues of the parish.
With this information in hand, you can now set the agenda.
What is the purpose of an agenda?
An agenda is the plan for a meeting. It provides a clear and concise list of items to be discussed at the meeting, in the order in which they will be discussed.
A well-planned agenda is essential to a successful meeting. When a meeting agenda has not been planned, it is difficult for the chairperson to keep members of the Council focused, productive or to any time frame. A pre-set agenda gives focus and purpose to the meeting and members do not feel they are wasting their time.
Who is responsible for setting the Agenda?
Agenda setting is usually the task of the parish priest, chairperson, vice chairperson and secretary. It is ultimately the task of the secretary to draw up the final agenda and send it to the members.
What are some tips for setting a good agenda?
Items for the agenda are generated from:
- the actions and outcomes of the previous Council meeting
- issues raised by individual parishioners and parish groups
- communications from diocesan agencies or issues and concerns in the local community.
The following considerations may help in setting an agenda that will lead to an effective meeting:
- identify the actions and outcomes of the previous meeting
- identify any new items raised by individual parishioners, parish groups, communications from diocesan agencies or issues and concerns in the local community
- prioritise the agenda items. It is always best to put those items at the beginning of the agenda that require the most energy, for that is when people’s energy and focus is the greatest
- include time for prayer and ongoing formation at the beginning of each agenda to ensure the prayer and faith dimension are incorporated into all discussions
- be realistic about the number of issues that can be addressed within the meeting time frame (maximum of two-hour monthly meeting of parishioners, who are essentially volunteers). Limit the number of larger items on an agenda to a maximum of three or four
- include an approximate timeframe for each agenda item. This is helpful in indicating the weighting given to agenda items and keeping the meeting focused. Good planning will ensure that estimates are realistic in terms of the time available and the importance of the item.
How do I set out an agenda?
The style and layout of agendas varies from place to place; however, the following format may help to design a template that is suitable for your parish.
- Heading – name of the committee, the date, location, and starting time of the meeting
- Participants – the names of the members (optional)
- Prayer – always begin with prayer. Include name of the person responsible for prayer for the meeting
- Apologies – the members who have indicated that they will not be attending the meeting
- Faith formation – name the topic for the meeting and indicate if related documents are attached to the agenda
- Minutes of previous meeting – reference to minutes of previous meeting with intent for approval
- Business arising – list of the actions carried over from the previous meeting to be done before the coming meeting. Every action should be confirmed as having been done or, if not, what will be done to complete the task (and by when). If someone has encountered problems, these can be discussed and a new or amended action given, if necessary.
- New business – a list of the items for discussion at the meeting which have not been raised before
- Other business – items on the agenda (usually the last) that provide an opportunity for those present to suggest additional matters for discussion
- Next meeting – set a date and time for the next meeting or, if meetings have been scheduled, remind members of the date for the next meeting
- Closure to the meeting – a prayer or blessing from the parish priest
It is good practice to allocate a time frame for each item on the agenda and to prioritise the items in order of priority.
How do I know if an item is a matter arising or new business?
It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether an item is a matter arising from previous minutes or a new agenda item. One rule of thumb which may be helpful is, if there is only a verbal update on the item, then it is a matter arising from the minutes, but if there is discussion and decision, it is a new agenda item.
When should the agenda be sent out?
Members should be offered the opportunity to contribute items to the agenda prior to its circulation. It is good practice to send an email to Council members seeking items for the next meeting ideally 14 working days before the meeting. The final agenda should be emailed at least one week ahead of the meeting, together with any formation material, any other necessary documentation (and minutes if not already distributed) members may need to prepare for the meeting.
A well-written agenda
- states what Council members can expect
- assists members to prepare for the meeting
- expresses a spirit of respect.
A poorly written agenda
- leaves space for unwelcome surprises
- invites no preparation
- expresses little of the Pastoral Council’s spirit
-  – Catholic Diocese of Auckland. (Revised 2017). Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines. www.aucklandcatholic.org.nz/pastoral-evangelisation/pastoral-councils/ [Retrieved December 2017]. (p.17).
-  – Anning, C. (2007). Handbook for Parish Pastoral Councils. Third edition. Faith and Life. Archdiocese of Brisbane. Australia. (p.??).
What are minutes of a meeting?
The minutes are a brief record of the issues addressed at a meeting, together with the outcomes determined.
Why is taking minutes important?
Minutes serve to record decisions and outcomes from a meeting and provide the list of actions to be taken.
Who is responsible for taking the minutes?
Taking the minutes of a meeting is ultimately the task of the secretary. In some cases, it may be appropriate to nominate a person who is not a member of the Council to be the minute taker. This person would then have no input into the business of the meeting.
What do I need to record from the meeting?
Minutes serve to record decisions and outcomes from a meeting. Minutes do not record opinions and every person’s contribution in detail to the discussion. They include sufficient information to allow ready interpretation for future reference. What are recorded are items under discussion, conclusions reached and actions to be taken.
While there a number of standard styles of minutes, action minutes are most appropriate for the purpose of the Parish Pastoral Council.
Action minutes record decisions reached at the meeting and action to be taken that comes from the decision. It is important to note the member assigned for carrying out the action so all members have an understanding of what they are to complete before the next meeting. This also allows for follow-up.
How do I write up the minutes?
Tips for the minute taker
In writing minutes, be clear, comprehensive, impartial, and tactful. Do not interpret what happened; simply report it. Minutes do not record opinions and every person’s contribution in detail to the discussion. Here are some tips on writing minutes.
- The minute taker should be able to write the minutes in near final form as the meeting progresses.
- The minutes should focus on results and agreed-on actions.
- The minutes should be a summary of the discussion, not a burden to read.
- Avoid writing minutes for the purpose of informing those who were not at the meeting.
- Write the minutes soon after the meeting and distribute them promptly.
How do I set out the minutes?
The style and layout of minutes vary from place to place; however, the following format may help to design a template that is suitable for your parish.
- Heading – the name of the committee, the date, location, and starting time of the meeting
- Participants – name of the person conducting the meeting along with the names of all those who attended the meeting, including guests
- Approval of previous minutes – a record of whether minutes of the previous meeting were approved and whether corrections were made
- Action items (including unfinished business from the previous meeting) – a report on each item discussed at the meeting. For each item, note the subject of the discussion, the name of the person who led the discussion, and any decisions that may have been reached.
Announcements – a report on any announcements made by participants, including proposed agenda items for the next meeting
Reports – an update of upcoming activities from the various groups in the parish
Next Meeting – note where and when the next meeting will be held
Close – note the time the meeting ended
- Signature line (optional) – the name of the person who prepared the minutes and the date they were submitted
Well taken minutes:
- summarises the discussion clearly and concisely
- capture the decisions of the discussions
- record the actions to be taken and record the name of the person responsible for the task.
When should the minutes be sent out?
To ensure that members of Council have a clear record of tasks to be undertaken between meetings, it is recommended minutes be distributed during the week following the meeting by the chairperson or secretary. This will help to ensure there is time for members to carry out actions allocated to them and prepare for the following meeting.
-  – (p.47)
Paragraph 10 of the Constitution for Parish Pastoral Councils (2018), states that the Parish Pastoral Council is responsible for providing the parish community with a report which summarises the Council’s undertakings over the previous 12-month period and states the plans for the future. Annual reports provide a level of accountability and a historical record for the future.
10.1 An annual report will be prepared by the current Council Chairperson on the operation of the Council for the preceding twelve months.
10.2 Other reports as determined by the Parish Priest and the Council Chairperson may be made available to the Parish community.
10.3 All reports shall be approved by the Parish Priest before being made available to the Parish community.
The annual report may include such reports as the:
- Parish Priest’s Report
- Chairperson’s Report
- Pastoral Associates Reports
- Ministry Reports
- Finance Report
- Other Standing Committee Reports
Who is responsible for preparing the annual report?
The preparation of the annual report is the responsibility of the chair of the Parish Pastoral Council, with approval of the parish priest. The chair may ask for reports from the other members of the council on the areas of the parish they have been allocated to liaise with.
How can the annual report be communicated to the parish community?
Each parish is unique in the way it communicates with and gathers its parishioners. The parish needs to choose a method which is suitable and appropriate. Some examples of ways in which the annual report can be communicated to the community include the following suggestions.
1. Calling a Community Meeting
In some parishes, the best way to communicate the work of the council to parishioners is to call a community meeting. This can be held at the end of the year, or at the end of the financial year in conjunction with the finance committee, or at a time that is suitable to gather the parish. Calling a community meeting is a good opportunity to invite the parish together to:
- appoint people to the Parish Pastoral Council
- provide information on progress in the parish, including pastoral planning progress
- provide an opportunity to reflect, share and celebrate on all that has been achieved
- share the parish’s mission, vision and values.
How do I conduct a community meeting?
Prior to the community meeting
- It is advisable that advance notice (minimum two weeks) be given of the meeting date and time, agenda, leadership positions available and who is eligible to stand for leadership positions.
- If appropriate, parishioners may be invited to submit items for inclusion in the agenda, which would be vetted by the chairperson and parish priest.
- Reports need to be made available to participants well before the meeting, to provide time for thought and response.
- Ensure the agenda is available at the community meeting.
- Have a system in place for decision making. For example:
- Do we want people to receive and endorse the reports?
- Will decision making be by consensus?
- At what point do we need movers, seconders and formal voting? Will that be by show of hands, saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or another method?
- If elections are to take place, have a system in place for electing/re-electing council members.
- Have a system for handling questions.
During the community meeting
- Ensure attendees sign in and note any apologies.
- Start on time, giving an overview of the agenda (including timing) and any decision making processes to be used.
- Have a clear, written agenda available to those present and timelines for each item.
- Approve the minutes of the previous community meeting.
- Let people know that all reports will be taken as read as they were distributed beforehand.
- Limit the time of speeches to five minutes.
As part of the Parish Directory
Some parishes publish a parish directory which is updated annually. The introduction to the directory usually contains
- parish priest’s report
- chairperson’s report
- pastoral associates’ reports
- ministry reports
- finance report
- other standing committee reports, as approved by the parish priest.
The parish directory becomes a good resource for the parish and when welcoming new parishioners as it also includes:
- the contact details of the person in the parish who coordinates a ministry or parish activity
- a description of the ministry or parish activity.
2. Parish Bulletin/Newsletter
Some parishes use the bulletin/newsletter to communicate to the annual report to parishioners.
- Categorise the report into themes and publish the themes over a number of weeks in the bulletin.
- If your parish has a monthly newsletter, dedicate a month to the annual report.
Time Management refers to managing allocated time effectively. It allows individuals to assign specific time slots to activities according to their importance so that the right time is allocated to the right activity.
How can I manage meeting time and agenda flow to get the most out of a meeting?
- Ensure the meeting has an agenda and that agenda includes time assigned to each item. Explaining the agenda has time allotted to items encourages people to speak to time while also allowing you permission to move to the next item when discussion gets bogged down.
- Regular reference to the agenda can keep the meeting on track. Start on time and finish on time. Latecomers should be caught up on key points of the meeting so far, without compromising too much time. A meeting should commence even if all participants are not present.
- A proper welcome sets a positive tone for the rest of the meeting. If meeting participants can see you are organised, they are more likely to place importance on time being spent for the meeting.
- Ensure a minute taker is at the meeting to take down notes and key actions from the meeting.
- Ask for a timekeeper to keep track of time during the meeting. They may also offer an update from time to time on how the meeting group is progressing compared with time allotted to each agenda item.
Effective communication is a two-way process that involves sending the right message in the right way that is correctly received and understood. Inasmuch as communication is part of what we do every day, we are, at times, misunderstood. This can lead to frustration and even conflict. For many of us, communicating more clearly and effectively requires learning some important skills.
Effective communication is about more than just exchanging information. It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. As well as being able to clearly convey a message, you need to also listen in a way that gains the full meaning of what’s being said and make the other person feel heard and understood. Effective communication involves:
- engaged listening
- non-verbal communication
- managing stress in the moment
- asserting yourself in a respectful way.
How do I deal with different personality types in meetings?
Understanding and recognising the characteristics of different personality types in meetings, and how to deal with them effectively, assists the chairperson to meet the goals of the agenda in a professional and timely way, while still allowing others to be heard.
While there is no denying that outlining the agenda and associated time constraints, goals of the meeting and meeting ground rules at the beginning of a meeting can help the chairperson to achieve meeting goals, some strategies in understanding how to work best with others may also assist.
|Description of the personality type||How do I deal with the personality type?|
The Talker may go off on tangents and even hold the floor for too long.
The Meeting Leader may politely step in and interrupt by summarising the Talker’s relevant points.
|The Ideas Person|
|The Ideas Person is often proactive and full of ideas. They can help get things started with a suggestion.|
|The Meeting Leader can rely on the Ideas Person to keep the environment positive and energised. They often expect to be actively praised and recognised for their meeting contributions.|
|The Interrupter frequently and repeatedly interrupts others. This can often spread to other attendees which may result in conflict or loss of meeting productivity.|
|Politely and diplomatically, the Meeting Leader needs to directly challenge the Interrupter and allow the original speaker to finish what they are saying. It may also be appropriate to explain to them that they will be given an opportunity to speak next.|
|The Diplomat may be good at diffusing conflict, even using humour to distract people and often asking clarifying questions.|
|The Meeting Leader may be best trying to engage with the Diplomat to ensure active participation. An approach before a potentially tense meeting, and asking for assistance might also help diffuse tension and frustration in a meeting.|
|The Supporter offers supportive comments to others’ contributions and enjoys creating a positive environment||Sometimes it is difficult for a Supporter to make difficult decisions or negative comments so the Meeting Leader may need to directly approach the person when no comment is voluntarily offered.|
|The Negative Type|
|The Negative Type may be quick to criticise, very often without offering alternatives or even reasons for their disagreement. The Negative Type may also be prone to being personal about someone else.|
|The Meeting leader is best to ask the person to explain their reasons for disagreeing and an alternative that they propose. In seeking justification for their disagreement, the meeting can move to a more constructive (non-personal) space.|
|The Quiet Type|
|The Quiet Type may be introverted in nature, lack confidence or even be worried about a negative response to what they want to say. Often, these types are less likely to contribute at meetings but have great ideas, even sharing their thoughts after a meeting.|
|One method is to seek input from the person before the meeting or, by issuing an agenda early, the Meeting Leader may suggest that he/she is keen to hear from that person in the meeting and that he/she values their contribution.|
|The Sidebar Conversationalist|
|They may also be prone to having side conversations if the meeting is not focused on them. They are also known to speak under their breath to no-one in particular which can be distracting and even impolite to those speaking.|
|In a non-confrontational way, the Meeting Leader may ask the person to repeat the points they would like to make. If the sidebar conversations continue, it may be best to speak to the person at a break, in private.|
|The Know-it-All may have a strong need to demonstrate their knowledge across many topics. This can lead to lengthy one-way dialogues or getting the discussion bogged down with details. Sometimes they might interrupt others to make their view heard.|
|The Meeting Leader may politely interrupt the Know-It-All like the Talker. While this can provoke a negative reaction, the diplomatic manner in which the Meeting Leader handles this can make a difference. Summarising the key points can ensure the person feels heard. Referring to the agenda and time constraints can also de-personalise the interruption.|
How can I work with a meeting group to solve a problem?
A good, decision-making meeting effectively includes all participants’ input, benefiting from the knowledge and experience they bring to the process. If everyone has genuine input, the quality of the decision is increased, people consider others’ points of view, there is support of the outcome and implementation is more likely to be successful.
- Involve the right people
Having the right people in the meeting in the first instance can aid an effective decision. Consider postponing meetings that do not have the decision makers present or, alternatively, use the time wisely to brainstorm ideas for later consideration by a larger group.
- Consider all relevant information
There are areas not specified on the agenda that may need clarification. This may include budget, time frame and authority limits. Any background information that assists in decision making is helpful. By keeping the meeting group aware of what is happening inside and outside the meeting, your guidance is valuable in assisting making realistic decisions.
- DROBE problem-solving model
|D||Develop Goal Statement|
Include a measurable action, parameters (see Step 2) and benefits for the parish
|R||Find Root Cause of Problem|
What is causing the problem? List causes known and/or consult with others
Brainstorm to identify possible options
Clarify any options that meeting participants do not understand
Combine similar options together
Categorise into main headings, if possible
|B||Select Best Option|
Step 1 Remove any options that won’t work by mutual agreement
Step 2 Vote, allowing each meeting member to cast a number of votes
Step 3 Compare against criteria or discuss each with pros and cons
Action planning – Identify the action once the best option is determined
Identify what tasks need to be done
Identify who is responsible for each task
Identify timing for each task
What is conflict in meetings?
Conflict may be defined as a disagreement within a group that may slow down or even stop a group’s progress.
There are three types of conflict.
- Process conflict occurs when meeting participants have trouble agreeing on how to go about reaching their desired outcome.
- Content conflict occurs when a group cannot reach consensus about ideas, outcomes and any other parish-related issues that meeting members need to agree on. It may stem from having too many options to choose from, dealing with budget concerns, reaching consensus on timeframes and deadlines, determining the root cause of a particular problem.
- Communication-style conflict occurs when there is a mix of people within the meeting and, therefore, potentially a diverse mix of communication styles. This could be extroverts who are seen to talk too much, introverts who are seen not to talk enough, quick decisive people versus those who like to analyse, and so on. These differences in style can be a cause for conflict.
Discounting or ignoring conflict is not advantageous, as it creeps up in subtle, negative ways and contributes to the dysfunction of a group.
How do I resolve conflict in a meeting?
The chairperson can look at the following tips to work through conflict and move to a healthy, constructive resolution.
- Ensure that everyone is invited to participate. Encourage honesty by valuing all input.
- Be objective and neutral. People may shut down and avoid contribution if the chairperson shows a lack of objectivity.
- Encourage meeting participants to discuss issues openly and find areas for disagreement. This will assist them in considering all areas of concern. If needed, speak to individuals privately and encourage them to be more open.
- Avoid letting anyone dominate the meeting.
- Point out destructive behaviours in a respectful way. For example, ‘I’m noticing there is a lot of interrupting and talking over people. What do you suggest we do to overcome this?’
- If participants start to resort to personal attacks, point out this will not be tolerated and stick to the issues at hand. This needs to be dealt with immediately. If there is conflict between participants, respectfully acknowledge it, consider using the conflict resolution steps noted in ‘Norms’ or other methods. Sometimes ‘tabling’ the issue and asking for more information is a helpful strategy.
- Consider intervening if the meeting group’s progress towards its desired outcome is stalled.
- Call a break, if needed.
- At appropriate times, ask for a moment of silence before beginning a discussion to give the introverts in the group a chance to think and feel comfortable speaking.
- If it looks like there is need for the group to spend more time on an issue than allotted on the agenda, ask the group if it wants to continue for a specific amount of time, like 10 minutes, or table the rest of the discussion until the next meeting.
- Keep the group on track so that they can accomplish their goals.