Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of congregational members quite like the annual meeting. Frequently these meetings take place in January to present or finalize the yearly budget. If you find yourself agonizing over the annual meeting, first ask yourself--am I required to feel like this about my church every year? If you answer no, try these follow up questions.
Does the meeting have to be in the worship space?
Unless it's required in your by-laws, or you have no other space to gather in your church, you do not have to meet in the worship space. Serve some food, give people the opportunity to interact in a more social area of the church. Many worship spaces are linear. Regardless of your beliefs on where your focus should be during worship, the annual meeting provides an opportunity to collectively focus on the relational goodness of congregational life.
Does the budget debate have to be during the annual meeting?
Many congregations live with tight budgets. There never seems to be enough money to do the ministry a congregation wants to do. Sometimes the pressure of budgeting explodes in small places, like contentious arguments over copy paper, paper towels, or turning off the lights; these pressure points can occlude the positive spirit of a meeting quickly. While all portions of the budget have value, focusing on the details is often done at the expense of the larger questions that pertain to mission, vocation, and neighborhood. The more detail oriented people of the congregation deserve a forum to ask their questions as much as anyone else, but the details do not have to be pored over in a meeting for the entire congregation. Deal with the finer points of the budget with people who have the interest and the gifts to do so--maybe a budget "hearing" a few weeks before the congregational meeting.
Does all the discussion have to happen in one large group?
The problem with all congregational meeting discussion in one large group is that only the people who are willing to stand up and speak in front of a large group have a voice. Unless there are certain meeting rules established, it's easy for an angry and negative person to take over the tone of a meeting. Are there discussion points in the annual meeting that can be addressed in smaller groups of 5-6 people? In smaller groups, there is a greater opportunity for all people in the congregation to have a voice.
Addressing one or all of these questions may not create a perfect congregational meeting, but these questions may provide a path for your annual meeting to be truly congregational. With a new congregational meeting ethos, more people may see that God is at work in your community of faith.