Church congregations, committees, and leadership teams often meet to discuss issues related to running their ministries. While many meetings are somewhat informal, certain board meetings or church business meetings follow formal parliamentary procedure, usually based in some way off of Robert’s Rules of Order. The rules of parliamentary procedure are those followed by legislative bodies like the British Parliament or the U.S. Congress, but Robert’s Rules adapted the rules for use in meetings by other groups. Today many voluntary associations use these rules of order to conduct business including clubs and neighborhood associations as well as churches. For people unfamiliar with these rules, a meeting run in this fashion can be confusing with people reading the minutes, asking for the floor, making motions, calling for seconds, amending motions, or laying issues on the table.
The meeting will be led by a moderator or chairperson. Someone else will generally have been appointed to act as secretary or clerk and keep the official notes of what transpires at the meeting. These notes are called the minutes of the meeting. The moderator opens the meeting with a call to order and explains what the meeting is about and what they hope to accomplish. The moderator should not start the meeting until enough members are there. The minimum number of group members needed to make decisions on behalf of the group is called a quorum. The issues the group needs to discuss are called items of business. Once the moderator has determined a quorum is present, the meeting may begin.
Usually the first order of business is approving the minutes from the previous meeting. The secretary either reads the minutes aloud or distributes a written copy of the minutes for everyone’s review. Once the minutes are approved, the moderator moves to the main business of the meeting which may include reports from committees or other members, revisiting business items that were not resolved at the last meeting, or discussing new business items. Members of the group can introduce new business by making a motion. For instance, if someone says, “I move that we repave the parking lot,” they are making a motion for the group to consider the question of whether they will repave the parking lot. The moderator will ask for a second to the motion, meaning at least one other person has to support discussing the topic. If there is a second, then that motion is the item of business on the floor, a term used for the main area of focus in the meeting at the moment. During discussion, others may move to amend, or make changes to, the original motion. After discussion, the group votes on the motion. If the motion is to repave the parking lot, a vote in favor means the church approves repaving. Most motions can be approved by a simple majority vote. Certain issues require a vote where two-thirds of the people are in favor.
If discussion is dragging on for a particular item of business, a motion could be made to limit the time allowed for further discussion, or someone can move to table the discussion. This means that the item is taken off the floor (the area of main focus) and placed on the table (a holding area for issues to be discussed more later). Either motion needs a second, and the majority has to vote in favor of the motion to either add time limits to discussion or to table the topic.
If every item of business on the agenda has been covered and no one has any additional business to discuss, the moderator may announce that the meeting is adjourned. A member may also make a motion to adjourn, but someone else would need to second the motion. Instead of voting, the moderator may just ask if anyone objects to the meeting being adjourned. Usually a motion to adjourn only comes after the meeting has either run its scheduled time or it is apparent that the main items of business have already been addressed.