May, 2019 Mailing

Dear friends:

How do you achieve order out of chaos? More pointedly, how to congregational leaders (clergy or laity) lead or facilitate meetings and decision-making processes so that the group is able to make a good decision and not hopelessly divide the group by forcing everyone to take a side?

Since shortly after the Civil War, Robert’s Rules of Order have been the de facto model for meetings and decision-making in many congregations, judicatories, nonprofits, and other organizations. Robert’s Rules are even specified in some congregation’s constitutions and by-laws. In the real world of organizational—particularly congregational leadership, the results of using this model are typically mixed. While no one would deny the need for good process, whether or not Robert’s Rules provides the best option is at least up for debate.

Are there alternatives? Actually, yes there are, though many congregations have never heard of them or used them. This month’s mailing will point you to some resources that may help you explore this issue. I hope they will give you some insights into how to help the leaders and congregations that you work with make decisions more effectively.

This first article from the Co-Intelligence Institute was written by Tom Atlee and Rosa Zubizaretta. It provides a helpful comparison of Robert’s Rules of Order with two alternative approaches to meetings and decision-making—Consensus Process and Dynamic Facilitation. Collectively, these three approaches serves as “archetypal” approaches to group problem-solving and decision–making.

The second resource is an article written by Norah L. Jones, Jodi P. Patt, and Jacon L. Zerkel. The authors work for Quarles & Brady, a legal services provider that employs approximately 500 attorneys across the USA. Their article entitled, Five Pitfalls of Putting Robert’s Rules of Order in Your Non-profit’s Bylaws, describes five issues that commonly arise when Robert’s Rules are incorporated in an organization’s governing document.

In this third resource, you will find a discussion of Professor Larry Susskind’s (a professor at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning) and Jeffrey L. Cruikshank’s book entitled, Breaking Robert’s Rules: The New Way to Run Your Meeting, Build Consensus, and Get results. The article link is here: The authors describe a Consensus Building Approach (CBA) as a helpful alternative to Robert’s Rules. If you want to buy the book from Amazon, here’s that link as well:

If you are still stuck with using Robert’s Rules of Order but looking for a simplified version that is more approachable and understandable, you might consider this fourth resource entitled, Simplified Rules of Order The linked document was originally written by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and later adapted by the Psychiatry Residents’ Association of the University of British Columbia. With a total of only 41 pages, it is far more useable and accessible than Robert’s Rules of Order that comprises 716 pages (11th edition)!

Finally, I was recently given a copy of a book by Alice Collier Cochran entitled Roberta’s Rules of Order. Sail Through Meetings for Stellar results Without the Gavel: A Guide for Nonprofits and Other Teams. Cochran described her approach as less formal, more feminine (but not just for women), and more flexible. Her system is built on seven beliefs. Perhaps the most notable one of the seven is her belief that starting with a problem is more logical than starting with a solution (a motion is a solution). Here’s the Amazon link if you want to purchase a copy:

As congregational leaders try to navigate ever more complex and polarized leadership contexts, new ways of leading are needed. I hope some of these resources can spark your thinking and your creative imagination.

Grace and peace as you serve faithfully day by day,


Rev. Christopher R. Gambill, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Congregational Health