the shape of leadership

How to Lead a Meeting People Want to Attend

Eight questions to consider before sitting down at the table.

Chris Railey on May 12, 2017


If you work in a church — or any professional setting, for that matter — you’ve probably attended some pretty lousy meetings. In fact, let’s be honest, there is likely a meeting on your schedule this week that you’re already dreading. You know it’s going to be long and boring — perhaps even pointless. And the worst part is you’re leading it!

I’ve attended my share of bad meetings, and I’ve led my share of them too. Meetings can be dry, a waste of time and downright miserable. They can also be critical for mission fulfillment. Meetings are the best way to get all the people who need to be on the same page, on the same page. Used correctly, meetings can ignite vision rather than extinguish zeal.

Used correctly, meetings can ignite vision rather than extinguish zeal.

Here are some principles I’ve learned and employed to lead meetings that people want to attend. Before your next meeting, ask the following important questions.


1. What Is the Purpose of This Meeting?
Is it clear to everyone? Does everyone coming to the meeting know why you’re even having the meeting? That may not always be the case. But clear purpose creates positive energy. When your meeting lacks focus, people leave confused and feeling like you wasted their time. But when you provide clarity, a meeting can create momentum that leads to effectiveness.

Look for ways to relate your meetings to your organizational mission. That means you must first identify and articulate that mission. What are your top five priorities? What are the goals you’re driving toward? Now, connect each meeting to your priorities and goals. That way, each person sitting down at the table knows exactly how the discussion will advance the mission.


2. How Much Time Do We Need?
Set a cap for how long this meeting will last, and then stick to it. Let everyone know when the meeting will start and when they can expect it to end. It is a sign of respect when you value other people’s time enough to remain within the allotted parameters for your meeting.

The best way to guard against using too much time is to create an agenda and follow it closely. Let everyone know what topics the meeting will cover. Print out the agenda for them, if necessary, and then go down your list, item by item. Stay away from rabbit trails, and guide the conversation along so you don’t get stuck.


3. Can I Cover This through Email?
If the answer is “yes,” stop right there. You don’t need a meeting. You just need a well-crafted email that defines the action items clearly but succinctly. Remember to establish expectations for completion or follow-up.

Unnecessary meetings are a waste of everyone’s time. If you must meet, go through your agenda and cut out what you can state in an email beforehand. Then send the email, and give your team the responsibility of reading it before you meet.


4. How Can I Inspire and Not Just Inform?
When people attend meetings that drag on and on, feel pointless and repetitive or take away valuable time needlessly, their passion for vision will flatten out. When I attend a meeting, I want it to inspire me and remind me that my work matters. I want to leave with a renewed passion to get back to work and charge full steam ahead.

Your main function as a leader is not to dispense information but inspiration. Your meetings should intentionally advance vision, not just educate your staff.


5. How Can I Develop and Not Just Delegate?
I’ve been in meetings where the leader simply offloads things he doesn’t want to do. Delegation is important, but unless you first develop your staff, you’ll leave them feeling disconnected and disengaged.

Begin each meeting with a 15-minute leadership lesson. Focus on what the staff members need to become, not what they need to accomplish. Look for teaching moments and opportunities to bring accountability. That way, delegation feels like an honor rather than a task.


6. What Should We Celebrate?
I start every meeting by celebrating wins. By focusing on the most recent successes, you create energy and stamina for the rest of the meeting. It’s just another way to remind your team that their work matters. It also gives you an opportunity to show gratitude for a job well done.

Don’t just start the meeting with celebration, but whenever possible make sure you end on a high note as well. This could be a personal testimony about what God is doing in someone’s life or a word of encouragement from a fellow staff member.


7. Who Needs to Be Here?
This is so simple and should go without saying, but how many times have you been in a meeting and realized you had nothing to add or take away from it? There’s nothing worse than spending two hours in a meeting you didn’t need to attend. As a leader, respect your staff members’ time by not asking them to attend irrelevant meetings.

For all-staff meetings, stick to topics that apply to everyone. If a subject comes up that applies only to a few people, sidebar the conversation for another time. And when you meet for a focused, smaller meeting, be sure you invite only those people who need to be there.


8. How Can I Help People Do Their Jobs Well?
Look at meetings as a way to help your team members get their jobs done. Focus on immediate issues, mid-range goals and long-range planning. Set aside time in every meeting to address each of these categories. This relieves stress and keeps people tracking together. They know exactly what’s coming up next and what the expectations are.

Come right out and ask the question, “How can I help you do your job well this week?” Be committed to solving problems that come from team members’ answers. This not only helps them, but it shows that you care.

I recently started asking each team member prior to our meetings to write on an adhesive note one problem we need to solve. We bring together all the notes and work as a team to solve those problems in real time. We can’t always solve all of them, but addressing persistent problems adds tremendous value to the team. Not only are barriers removed, but we worked together to accomplish this.

What meetings do you have coming up next week? Are you dreading them? Is your staff dreading them? How about trying to make a few small changes to turn meetings from burdens into blessings? You’ll be glad you did, and your staff will too.

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