5 factors that lead to failure


Making changes in any organisation may result in failure. Moving toward a consensus based process of making decisions is no different. Avoid these 5 factors and improve your chance of successfully bringing in consensus discernment.

It takes time and energy to bring change. Obviously there are factors that can lead to failure when implementing change. However it is well worth the effort when you hear people exclaim that they have finally worked together faithfully to discern the will of God. Anyone can make a decision – it takes a faith community to discern a Godly direction!

The process outlined in our book, “The Church Guide For making Decisions Together” involves Preparation, Invitation, Deliberation, and Action. When done properly, people will feel good about the decisions they make together. When not done properly, people feel cheated and misled. There are ways to reduce the risk that your change process will lead to failure.

Here are 5 major mistakes that leaders often make when introducing a consensus building approach to making decisions. Watch out for, and guard against, these 5 factors that lead to failure.

  1. Failure to model the approach

    From the Chairperson to the newest participant, active listening and respect for one another is crucial when making decisions. Leaders must be genuine in wanting to hear all points of view. Show patience and careful listening in their Deliberative Sessions. Be sure to ask people what they mean if it is not clear. Help those who need it to say what is on their mind. This helps people see how it works. Once confident, they will be willing to try it in their own context.

  2. Failure to adequately prepare people

    People deserve to know what is expected of them in this discernment process and how to engage fully. This is the same with anything new.  Therefore, there is no substitute for an Orientation Session that explains the process well and how to participate. When people are confused they make mistakes or find it hard to trust the leadership. As a result they will complain and drag their feet.

    Another failure in preparation is not forming inclusive and diverse small groups ahead of time. Neglecting to identify and train the small group facilitators to guide their work is a recipe for disaster. We recommend hiring a Process Facilitator for the first time the process is used in large groups. This ensures that no preparation is missed and leaders are trained and participants engaged.

  3. Failure to ask open questions

    Open questions (one’s that cannot be answered by “yes” or “no”) lead to a good discussion and creativity. If people are offered only the chance to agree or disagree the conversation quickly grinds to a halt. Examples of open questions are: “What might be some of the things we need to take into account about this idea?” “How do you feel / respond / think about that comment?”

    All too often, leaders unintentionally ask questions that lead people in a specific direction. “Do you believe that…?”  “Don’t you agree that…?”  “Should we do this?” Questions from the Chairperson can make people feel like they are being railroaded into a particular direction. Therefore a consensus building decision-making process crafts questions that engage people around both the possibilities and consequences of their decision. Powerful questions include: “What do you need to know in order to make this decision?” “Why is this issue important to you?”

    Closed questions close off discussion. However open questions generate the response necessary to generate new insights and options. They make it possible to complete the process with integrity.

  4. Failure to get the right people to the table

    Who would throw a party and not make a guest list?  Silly, right?  Leaders who have an important decision looming need to give thought to who should be involved in making it. When possible, leaders (as well as stakeholders) should work together. This eliminates the mistake of making assumptions or not making decisions based on reality.

  5. Failure to provide enough time for the process

    We have seen facilitators not schedule the process wisely. So inadequate time is provided for Information Sharing and not enough time for the small groups to complete their discussions. Time spent doing these things well means that the time used in moving to a decision is often much quicker. Yes, this process invests more time than a traditional “Let’s vote!” approach in the information and discussion stage. However it gets results because the best options for action get raised, there are less amendments from the floor, and reduced confusion about what is being decided. Plus, less time is spent revisiting issues later with this approach!  The book lists various tips that save time. These include the use of colored cards to gauge feelings without the need for people to make speeches at the microphone.


With knowledge, you can avoid making these mistakes. Reading our book:  “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” and using the process in your setting will work. Send specific questions to us through this site and we will respond. We are also available for consultations and training. Contact us for more information at julia@makingchurchdecisions.com or terence@makingchurchdecisions.com.

Satisfied with How Your Church Makes Decisions?

How do you like to make decisions?

Imagine that you are in a church meeting facing a very important decision.  Got one in mind?  Perhaps you are considering adding staff, starting a new ministry, or even leaving the denomination.

Would you rather:

  1. Be personally involved in making the decision? OR Let a few key leaders decide the matter for you?
  2. Have a detailed, written proposal on the issue with clear consequences? OR Trust that details will get worked out later by someone?
  3. Have time to ask questions and talk with others to shape the best decision? OR Prefer to have a straight up and down vote and get it over with?
  4. Like to know the timetable to implement the decision and how the decision will impact others? OR “Wing it” and figure it out later?
  5. Take time to discern the will of God for your faith community? OR Finish the business meeting quickly and end the angst?

What are the options?

Did you answer “yes” the majority of the first choices? If so, the odds are high that you are not satisfied with a parliamentary style of making decisions. Unfortunately, that’s the only method most churches use to make decisions. Yet most people long for a better way. There is one!

A parliamentary style of making decisions comes from government processes. It was never designed to reflect the interests and practices of a faith community. Therefore, it does not immerse itself in the ‘means of grace’ like prayer, study and conferencing. It is a business model that tends to focus on the inital proposal brought before a group.

Problems with a parliamentary way of business

This approach:

  • limits information to 3 “speeches” for and against a motion
  • over simplifies issues by creating an artificial binary choice between “yes” and “no”
  • creates winners and losers by forcing the majority view on the minority
  • can be confusing when people try to amend or substitute motions
  • usually does not spend time in study, or small groups interaction
  • is not concerned about implementing the decision – just making it

Yes, this process can work when the situation warrants a simple, quick decision like the paint color in the Fellowship Hall, but it is not highly participatory or engaging except for the final vote. However, on important issues it is less than effective and can actually cause harm.

Benefits of a consensus approach

A consensus-based approach to making decisions is designed especially for a faith community. So it includes prayer, study and discussion. Also it is respectful of different viewpoints and considers creative options.

Further, it:

  • can involve the entire community and hear diverse viewpoints
  • lessens conflict by sharing information and practicing respectful listening
  • surfaces creative options for consideration and seeks common ground before a vote
  • “perfects” a proposal so it speaks for the whole community
  • allows people to ask questions and get clarification on complex matters
  • moves naturally to a decision point when people have felt heard

To learn more about the differences between a parliamentary model of making decisions and a faith-based model, I invite you to read our book:  The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together.  It details a consensus-based approach to use when making decisions.

I encourage you to move toward a consensus-based model to strengthen your faith community. This approach will allow it to deal well with hard challenges. Be the faith community God intends you to be.  Live out of your values. Use a decision-making process that expresses the Christian values of attending to God, respecting the people Christ has called into a community of discernment, is Spirit led and leads to discernment.

Leave your comments below to let us know what process you use to make decisions and how well it is working for you.  We welcome your feedback!


My Consensus Compass for Good Decision-Making

A compass is used to learn where you are and which direction you are headed. Use this consensus compass to get your bearings on good decision-making processes.  Then summarize what you know about making good decisions together in your church group. Where are you strong? Where is there room for improvement?

Christ centered Community

What would be different in your meetings if you placed Christ first in your decision making process? What practices will help you to do that? How do you recognize Christ’s presence when you gather to make decisions in your Congregation or Church Board?

Options to explore

How does your current process of making decisions generate creative options to consider rather than simply an ‘either’ ‘or’ choice? What practices do you find helpful to surface these options? 

Ministry matters

How does your process of making decisions take into account your shared values about mission and ministry? How do you share information when making a decision so everyone understands how your decisions will affect ministry?


How do you invite people to participate fully when making important decisions? How do you prepare them for this task? Is your process safe for people to participate in, and be respected for their contribution?


How often does your decision-making process lead to implementation or action? How do you communicate your decisions to the entire congregation so that they understand what has been decided and how it will affect them?


What are the basic steps you follow when gathering to make decisions? How do these steps provide information, allow ways for people to discuss the issue, and make a decision that honors one another? How do you orient new members to your way of making decisions?

Seek God’s will

How do you know that your decisions reflect God’s best hope for and through you? Rather than relying on popular opinions or the loudest voice, how do you listen for the voice of God in your process? How confident are you that you have discerned God’s will when you make a decision?

A compass is only any use if you use to to help you get somewhere. I encourage you to use these questions to lead you into a faithful discernment process.

5 Questions that Build Consensus

The way people come together to make decisions is really important. How they participate and feel is just as important as what they think should be done. If you want to build consensus in your organisation consider the following questions. You may even use these questions to discuss people’s experience of your decision making process at your next meeting and explore ways to make improvements.

1.  What is the shared purpose of our group?

It is extremely helpful for leaders in your church to be able to express their core purpose. Supporting people to reach a shared understanding of their purpose is a key leadership task. Once everyone fully understands why their group exists, they can live out of that purpose in the way they make decisions. They reflect and articulate their reason for being in the conversations they have and the decisions they make. This is much better than having leaders operating on different assumptions and a scattered sense of purpose. Be focused on why you exist and help people get on the same page to make decisions that reinforce their purpose. Some churches have a visioning retreat or meeting to intentionally articulate their core purpose.

2.  How do we make decisions together?

When people know and trust the process used to make decisions they can fully participate. When people feel unprepared, they cause problems or drop out of the work entirely. Have an orientation at the start of each year when leadership changes so that members are taught, or have reinforced, the way the group makes decisions. Explain the specific steps in your decision making process. Be sure to discuss the terms used so people understand and are comfortable with the way you make decisions.

3.  How do you help people grow in confidence as they gather to make decisions?

Making decisions can be difficult enough without having people’s feelings hurt by reactions to what is said. Foster self-awareness in your leaders so they can monitor how much they talk and how well they listen. Do all you can to promote respect. Encourage people when they participate and affirm them for their contributions. Support one another.

4.  How do you work with different opinions or conflict when making decisions?

Sometimes people disagree on a course of action. This does not make them disagreeable. In fact, exploring various viewpoints can help you eventually arrive at the best decision. Being soft on one another and hard (or serious) about the issues is vital when making decisions together. Take the time to acknowledge differences when they arise and what they mean for the people who hold those positions. Affirm that different ideas are important when working toward consensus. Be patient and provide information about the options that are raised. Explore options intentionally and fully.

5.  What happens to decisions once they are made?

Once a decision is made, your job is not done. A decision is meaningless unless plans are made to implement the decision. Members of your faith community must be informed when a decision is made. Otherwise, you will not get their support. Have a clear timeline for action steps and share it. Be transparent and open to questions from the wider faith community. Take the time to celebrate the decisions you make in appropriate ways. Communicate clearly, and in various ways, to get the word out on what is being done and why it is important to the church.

By carefully answering these 5 questions, you will find that your next major decision is easier to make, engages people and is actually implemented in a timely manner. What questions do you need to have answered if you are going to build consensus where you are? Share them in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

The way we make decisions is broken

What is wrong with this picture?

Last year I was at a major international church meeting that had to make some big decisions. There was a lot of conflict and high emotion. Many people kept asking questions. I thought they had already been answered. So it was not possible to make decisions and so the issue ground to a halt because of confusion. Later I spoke to a Minister of that church who has incredibly high standing across the denomination. I made a comment about how so many people kept asking questions throughout the debate. His reply still shocks me today! He said, approvingly, that this was all part of the plan to derail that business. People were conspiring to prevent decisions being made.

How do you know if something is broken? I think something is broken if it doesn’t perform according to the maker’s promises.

When you think of church meetings that use parliamentary processes for their decision-making, what kinds of behaviors and attitudes do you see? What actions are valued and affirmed?

What I see, in the vast majority of cases, is:

  • people do not listen to each other
  • praise for people who criticise and pull down the opposition
  • political manoeuvring to prevent understanding, participation and power for others
  • cutting off the debate before all voices have been heard
  • privilege given to certain cultures, gender, ages and backgrounds
  • people are hurt
  • selfishness
  • lack of the joy and hopefulness of life in the Spirit
  • no consensus as to the will of Christ for his church
  • decisions don’t get made

What should we expect?

Through Jesus Christ, God has created us as a new community. This is a community that is identified by love, kindness, lack of envy, pride and boasting, it honors others, rejoices in the truth, protects one another, and is trusting and hopeful (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7). It is also a community that respects, needs and values the contribution that all members can make to its life. (1 Corinthians 12: 12-26). This is not an ideal to which we are invited to aspire. This is a God given reality in which we are expected to live, in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

What do you see?

What do you see in church meetings? Do the behaviors, values and culture match what you think a Christian community should look like? Do your church meetings reflect the maker’s promises about how Christian community operates? Do you make decisions that people respect and can work with? If not, then your way of making decisions is broken.

A discernment process that fails to take seriously the system in which it operates will have limited capacity for spiritual vitality. I invite you to look at the way you organise your meetings and make your decisions. Do they have a deforming or transforming effect on Christian character?

Please share your experiences of church business meetings. Tell us about when you have seen them support, or not support, the true character of a Christian community .