Should churches use Robert’s Rules?

There’s an old joke that some churches believe Robert’s Rules of Order is the third testament.

But, I can tell you that the worst church fights happen when the rules seem unfair. When people lose a fair process, they are disappointed. But when people feel they’ve lost at an unfair process, they become angry.

If the decision is important, it should be made by a fair process. But it takes a lot of time and thought to make a system that’s fair. Few Pastors have the time to develop a process that handles every kind of decision. They leave such decisions for a real crisis.

But a real crisis is the worst time to set the rules. It’s far, far easier to get people to agree to ground rules during times of peace. Rules influence decisions, so any attempt to change rules in a crisis will mirror the lines of the dispute. It might be perfectly reasonable to require a supermajority vote to take a particular step — until part of the group believes the new requirement is an unfair change of rules that had always been accepted. That kind of change is likely to result in anger and division.

So what should you do?

What if I told you a Christian layman has already solved your problem? He volunteered to run a church meeting, and felt that it went poorly. He devoted the years of his life to studying, observing, and writing about how American groups, especially churches, get things done. He listened to the complaints of those who were not given a fair opportunity to be heard. He listened to those who said complainers were gumming up the meetings. And he wrote down a little manual for running fair meetings. Today, 85% of such groups use his little manual.

Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Well, the layman was Henry Martyn Robert. In 1876, he published his “pocket manual,” which became known as Robert’s Rules of Order.

But Robert’s isn’t fair, you cry! It’s confusing! It’s hard to understand! It’s old-fashioned!

Let me suggest Robert’s has receive a bad rap. It’s not scripture. It uses old-fashioned words, and has some precise definitions.

But Robert’s Rules is exceptional at running meetings fairly. It’s predictable, even when passions run high. And it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of most of the situations that arise in regular meetings.

That’s why Robert’s became so popular, and why Robert’s became second-nature in many congregations. It’s the most widely discussed and available authority on the topic. And if you need help, it’s easy to get training or assistance.

So, if you’re going to ask people to make decisions together, you should be familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised. We recommend some alterations to Roberts, to clarify the way churches operate. But the basic structure of Robert’s Rules is important for church leaders to understand.

And if you’re facing particularly difficult decisions, we can help you develop a plan; please contact us at 816.398.8305.