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?

Participation

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?

Action

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?

Structure

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 .

 

 

Agendas – a road map for discernment

Why we have agendas for meetings

Church business agendas are not like a grocery shopping list. I use shopping lists to remind me what I need to buy. I rush up and down the aisles ticking them off. Usually I don’t notice other people unless it is to ask them to move out my way so that I can keep moving along with my jobs. Of course I do this in the nicest possible way. Thankfully church meetings never have this character.

Agendas are not a job list to get through as fast as humanly possible. Church meeting agendas are road maps to the destination called discernment. When followed they will lead us to the point where we can celebrate that we have discerned the will of Christ for his church in this time and place.

The road map to discernment will hold before us the final destination. It will take us to the resources that we need to get there. It will set out a sure and trusted route to take us along the right path.

What should be in an agenda?

Agendas will be full of spaces where prayer, Scripture, the people around us and the Holy Spirit can influence us.

Build your agenda with an eye to how you can grow the quality of your community life, hear one another well and respond well to what you hear.

Therefore agendas focus on process as much as task.

How to know when your agenda has worked.

Like all good road trips there is one question that is always asked. Are we there yet?

There are many signs that we have arrived at the point of faithful discernment. These are the wins that come from using consensus based discernment.

  • experiencing God’s presence with us in the meeting
  • feeling a sense of community among the group
  • achievement / movement on an issue and looking forward
  • growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • confidence that we have arrived at the right place
  • energy and commitment towards doing what has been decided
  • spiritual renewal

The wins from an agenda that is focused on consensus building are in the quality of the fellowship that it creates among the participants, and their ability to implement the decisions that they have reached. Consensus based discernment helps us to be the church as God intends us to be.

Tell us what you include in your planning for in your church meetings. How do you know that you have nailed it?