Friday, May 31, 2019

Should Senior Pastors also Chair the Church Board?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

In your church, does the senior pastor also serve as chair of the church board?
Whatever your situation, what is the best practice when it comes to the leader of your board?
We’re in the middle of a survey of church boards, and that’s one of the issues we are exploring. Among the 800+ survey participants, the pastor and board chair are separate people 53% of the time. Here are the responses so far:

Ways It Doesn’t Seem to Matter
Just because most pastors don’t serve as board chair, does that mean that is the better practice?

To my surprise, certain variables remain the same in either case:
The age of church
The age of the senior pastor
• The amount of churches that are growing
• The personal fulfillment level of board participants
• The level of reported board effectiveness
Even the level of board’s micromanagement

Two Big Differences
In other ways, the differences in whether the pastor is the board chair or a separate person from the board chair were noticeable. The following are two areas of large difference. We don’t know if one causes the other; that’s up for speculation. What we do know is that the differences matter. Here are two of the top comparisons so far:

1. Size of the church. The larger the church’s weekly worship attendance, the more likely it is that someone other than the pastor is the board chair. Stated another way, the median attendance when the pastor is the board chair is 350, and the median attendance when someone else is the board chair is 927.

2. Size of the board. Likewise, when ECFA’s survey looked at the total numbers of members in a church board, we found that the larger the board, the more likely someone other than the pastor is chair. Current results show that when the senior pastor is the board chair, only 18% of the boards have 11 or more members. When someone other than the senior pastor is chair, 36% of the boards have 11 or more members.

While these are the patterns, they don’t tell us which is right or wrong. There are rationales and exceptions for both ways. One argument for someone other than the pastor being the board chair is found in the book Lessons from the Church Boardroom by Dan Busby and John Pearson. In a section on removing dysfunctional board members, they observe, “These situations demonstrate another reason why the board chair should be someone other than the senior pastor.  If the senior pastor must personally handle these matters, his or her effectiveness in other roles will likely be diminished” (p. 114).

When was the last time your church had a discussion about whether it’s more effective for the pastor or someone else to serve as board chair? Please let us know your thoughts at