Community based decision-making process – 4th step: implementation

Implementation is step 4 in a series of steps required for effective community based decision-making. This is the most important step because without implementation you don’t have a decision that is worth anything. The first step 1 is preparation. Step 2 is invitation. Step 3 is deliberation and decision. The final step 4 is to implementation of the decision.

“The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” expands on this material in pages 96 and 187. You can get your copy at Cokesbury or Amazon.

What now? Implementation!

Decisions deserves action or follow through. This final step is so important for a community-based process of making decisions. You have taken the time to prepare people, invite them to participate, discern God’s will through deliberation, and…?  Don’t forget the final step: Implementation! This is why decisions matter – things get done.

Implementation of the decision made by your faith group involves easy but often overlooked things. All are important. All are essential. Confusion and lack of synergy shows up in groups that do this step poorly. Groups that do this step well have discovered that their membership own the decision, and just as importantly, own the process. It becomes natural to them. They discover a strength in accomplishing God’s best hopes.

So, what’s involved in this step? Here is a  list of actions for you to consider once a decision has been made.

Meet with people who are affected by a decision

Not every decision needs a special meeting to relay the results. However there are times when something is significant and needs extra effort.

If a decision is complex, contentious or affects a lot of people then it is pastoral to meet people face to face. Listen to the concerns they have. Answer their questions. Explain again the process that was undertaken, the decision and the implications. Care for one another.

Send a letter

People were invited into the process in the first step. They have been partners with you in the process of discernment. So inform members that a decision has been made on the specific matter about which they have been in prayer. If appropriate convene a meeting rather than try to cover everything in a letter.

Of course websites, newsletters, Facebook groups and other communication tools can also be used to share information. However don’t hide behind a computer screen or a piece of paper.

Other people will tell the story if you don’t. Therefore ensure that people get the right information. Do not let people rely on gossip to know what is happening. If your decision impacts a specific ministry or previous arrangement with groups, be sure to let them know in writing as well.

Request continued prayer and support

Making a decision is only half (maybe less) of the story. Implementation of the decision can take weeks, months or years. Request prayer and other appropriate support for those with responsibility for the implementation of the decision.

Make these requests for support very specific. Share the projected timeline, key people involved, and name those who will be positively or negatively affected by the decision.

Think about what specific things can people do to support the decision throughout the timeline. Then offer concrete tasks for action.

Thank people

Discernment is a team effort. Remember, encourage and thank people for participating in the process. Think of specific people who have carried a heavy load in the decision-making process or will have to in the implementation phase. What special blessing can you offer them?

Have clear lines of accountability

The meeting decided who would do what tasks and by what date. The minutes provide a clear record of the decision. The implementation of the decision must be monitored.

Whether it is a small or large decision the decision-making body should get progress reports. There is a saying that people don’t do what is expected, they do what is inspected.

Do not be naïve. A person will delay and divert attention from a project if s/he doesn’t want something to happen. The community has discerned Christ’s will for them and therefore it is the responsibility of everyone to accept that decision. People are held accountable through regular progress reports.

More positively accountability ensures that the implementation of the decision is happening. When people sense that they are being faithful to what God has called them to do, this can be an energising and encouraging time.

Assess the process

Leaders should be clear about what went well in the process and what can be improved next time. Remember, it takes several attempts at a new way of doing things before people feel comfortable. Stay the course.

Strategies for review include setting time aside at a regular meeting to reflect on the process, or hold a special purpose meeting or design a survey.

Remember when you do your review to include all four steps and the people who were involved. For example

  • Were there any steps in the preparations that were missed or could have been done better?
  • Did the members of the congregation feel invited to participate and know how that was possible?
  • How well did we do in the four phases of the discernment process – community building, information sharing, deliberations and determination? What can we do better next time?
  • How was our communication? Did the implementation go to plan?

Celebrate

In an appropriate way acknowledge that you have done well.

Conclusion

As you can see there are many aspects to implementing a decision. More than just the decision matters in a community based process. The community matters. People affected by a decision matter. When your decision-making process has an eye beyond just the decision it is easier to recognise the many steps involved in implementation.

Decisions that are made actually get put into action when you do this step well. Things change. Your faith community becomes stronger.

Let us know your experience in making decisions. We would welcome your feedback to this series. Post a response. We’d love to hear from you!

Community based decision-making process – 3rd step: deliberation and decision

In any decision-making process deliberation and decision is where most people want to rush. This is the part of the process that most people think about when they talk about making decisions. It is the very heart of a decision-making process.

This is the 3rd post in a series of four posts that walk through the steps required for effective community based decision-making. Step 3 is deliberation and decision. Step 1 is preparation, step 2 is invitation and step 4 is implement the decision.

The material below is expanded upon in the book: “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” in pages 93 – 95 and 186. You can get your copy at Cokesbury or Amazon.

Before the deliberations begin

We are absolutely convinced that when you complete the first 2 steps properly (Preparation and Invitation), then this step is a real delight.

First a reminder. Because this process is community-based, gathering the community for this work is crucial. Therefore people should know the issue(s) in advance and receive all relevant materials before the meeting. They should come to the meeting with a sense of prayer and wonder at what God is about to do through them. Supported this step with deep prayer and reflection. Sadly, some people come to meetings loaded for bear. That is, they take sides in advance and are convinced that they need to argue their point. Winning is their motivation. However, nothing is further from the truth of what community based discernment is about!

Here is a basic outline of an agenda for the deliberation and decision-making part of a discernment process.

Gather the Community

Participants are reminded, affirmed and built up as a community in this part of the meeting. When done well people will:

  • be welcomed
  • share a time of worship or devotion
  • build community
  • set boundaries or guidelines to complete the work ahead
  • review and agree to the agenda with appropriate break times
  • receive an overview of the consensus process.

Information Phase

Most leaders tend to ignore or limit this part of the meeting. Many questions and confusion easily arise when this happens. The issue or topic to be discussed is presented and relevant supporting material distributed.

Often this material takes the form of a petition or proposal to considered. Time must be given to answering questions on the topic so everyone is clear what they are being asked to do, understand the matter before them and the implications of their decision.

An often overlooked important piece of information is what is important to the decision makers as they consider the issue. People decide things on what they think is important. If other people don’t know what matters to others then they will not know where each other are coming from. Worse still, important needs and concerns will not surface. This means that all the issues will not be addressed and the full range of possible outcomes will be cut off.

Deliberation Phase

It is very important that you provide enough time for this phase. This is where creative options surface and the shape of the decision starts to come into focus.

In Robert’s Rules of Order, this is often a time of making amendments and substitution which can be confusing. In a community-based consensus process, it is a time for respectful conversation and consultation with one another to share experiences, hopes, values, feelings, and theology on the proposal. By doing this you begin to see what is acceptable in the proposal and whether there are other ways to achieve goals.

There are many ways to help these sorts of discussions and to capture the developing consensus. One valuable technique to foster these conversations is to form smaller groups of 6-8 people to seek direction.

Determination / Decision Phase

This is the place in the meeting where the decision is made. Perhaps the decision is that it is not time to finalise the issue. So the matter will be referred to a group for further work. That group will then bring back the next phase of the discernment in a new proposal.

Often, a group decides they have had enough conversation and are ready to share alternate ideas gleaned from conversation and prayer in the Deliberation Phase.  If you have completed the previous phases with integrity, there may be a clear cut sense of direction. This is the point where leaders ask the group if they are ready to make a decision. A revised petition or proposal may be presented to the entire group from feedback in small group sessions, or through other strategies.  Remember the point is to draw from the wisdom of the community.

Ultimately it is time to make the decision. This can be done with a show of hands, ballots, or other means. Once the decision is made it should be documented so anyone not present at the meeting understands what has happened and what the next steps will be.

Conclusion

Close the meeting by thanking people for their participation and hard work. Where appropriate end the meeting with an acknowledgement of what the group has worked on and been through. This may be a time for a prayer or song.

I am deeply troubled when a group says that this work takes too much time. They prefer a simple yes or no vote. The answer is simple: take just enough time to discern the will of God on a matter with your brothers and sisters. Then people have ownership of the decision. You will know that you have spent time wisely when you hear people say that they fully understand the decision and are prepared to support it.

If you do not take adequate time for this step then you will waste time later revisiting the matter, or suffering from people’s confusion or lack of support. Groups have split over less!

What a wonderful feeling it is when a faith community knows that they have discerned the will of God on the matter and are prepared to embrace it together!

Post your response to this article so that we may hear your experience and insights about making decisions well.

 

 

 

Community based decision-making process – 2nd step: invitation

 

Who would throw a party and not send an invitation to guests? Sounds silly, right? Would you believe that many church leaders plan for an important decision and fail to get the right people to the table? Therefore in an effective decision-making process invitation is essential. So give careful thought to who should be present. It takes effort to think this through. However it is well worth it.

This post is part of a series of four that walk you through the steps required for effective community based decision-making. The first step is preparation. Step 2 is invitation. Step 3 is deliberation and decision. The final step 4 is to implement the decision.

“The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” expands on this material in pages 92, 93 and 185. You can get your copy from Cokesbury or Amazon.

Decide who should be present

I know – it sounds obvious, but this step is often overlooked. Who should be on your invitation list? Some meetings have a limited group of people involved in the decision-making. Some decision-making bodies like congregations can be quite large. When holding important meetings make sure to hold them when as many people as possible can participate. The first group of people who need to be present are the people who need to make the decision – plan for maximum involvement.

Decision-makers need good information and good processes. Therefore the second group of people you need at a meeting are resource people. They may be subject experts who offer technical information or other data.

Some discussions are complex and need processes that can maximize participation, exploration of issues, and the drawing out of opinions. Not every Church Board or congregation has experts in meeting processes. So consider – do we need some help in developing the processes for our discussions?

Decision-makers are not the only persons affected by a decision. So it is important to have people who are affected by a decision, present at some stage in the decision-making process. Decisions-makers need to understand the impact of a decision. This is important information for decision-makers. Therefore think about who can help a group understand the impact that their decision will have. Then add them to the invitation list.

When possible, make a list of people who need to participate. This group will include those with authority to decide, people who can assist the knowledge base and processes of the group, and others who help to make the impact of the decision clear to the decision-makers.

Develop a clear communication plan – invitation

Participants need to know what is happening. Encourage people to understand why it is important that they attend. Also they need to know where the meeting will be held and other important details.

A note in the bulletin or minutes is not enough to get the word out. Try some of these ideas: send an open letter to the congregation or organization, make numerous announcements, present involvement as an invitation to something important, and introduce the process leaders to your group and have them explain what will happen.

Practice the Means of Grace

Invite people to be in a spirit of prayer for the meeting. Encourage them to pray and reflect on scripture during this time. Every member of the community of faith is a partner in the process. So respect them and affirm them by providing them with the opportunity to support the process through prayer and other acts of faithfulness.

Conclusion

When you have the right people at the table, the process of making decisions goes better. Take the time to invite people in as many ways as possible. Encourage their participation by providing good information, specific invitations and concrete recommendations for how they can be involved.

Do the ideas in this article match things that you have done? How did that work out?  Let us know your thoughts, experience and questions.

 

 

Teaching Your Church about Discernment

Decisions and Discernment – not always the same

Most leaders know how to make a decision.  Not so many know how to discern the will of God. Sadly in our churches we have assumed that making decisions in our meetings is the same thing as discernment.

Discernment is a process that allows a gathered faith community to seek and understand God’s will for a specific time and subject.  It actively engages people in prayer, study, reflection and Christian conferencing to accomplish this vital work together as disciples of Jesus Christ. These tools are different to the ones that are used to just “make a decision” in a meeting.

Teaching in your church about discernment

Here is an activity at your local Church Council or Board meeting to explain discernment to your leaders and generate a shared meaning.

  1.  Prepare a handout with various Bible passages about discernment on one side and an acrostic on discernment on the other side (see #2).  Suggested passages include:                                                                               Phillippians 1:9-10 – And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.
    Romans 12:2 – And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
    Psalm 119:66 – Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments.

    Hebrews 4:12 –  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Proverbs 3:1-6 – My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. John 7:24 – Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.    Proverbs 2:15  – My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

  2. Prepare a sheet of newsprint with the letters of the word “discernment” vertically.  Leave a space for responses.

D ______________________

I  ______________________

S  ______________________

C  ______________________

E  ______________________

R  ______________________

M  ______________________

E  _______________________

N  _______________________

T  ________________________

2.  Lead a Bible Study on the word “Discernent.”  Have participants take turns reading the selected Scripture.  After each reading, ask:  “what does this passage tell us about discernment?”

3.  Explain for every letter in the word “Discernment” they are to think of a word or phrase that explains what discernment means to them.

4.  Distribute handouts and pens to people. Provide a few examples:  ‘D’ stands for disciples or decision, ‘I’ means involvement; ‘R’ means reflection, etc.

5.  Provide 10 minutes for participants to complete their acrostic.

6.  Walk down the letters n the newsprint beginning with D and record people’s responses in the space provided.

7.  In concluding ask participants what they have learned about discernment.  Ask: “Does our way of making decisionss lead to discerning God’s will?””What changes could we make to move in this direction?”

Next Steps

At your next meeting return to the conversation about what changes are needed if your group is to move into a discernment mode of operation. Look closely at each part of your agenda and meeting procedures and make concrete decisions for change.

The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together includes a number of other strategies and conversation starters that you can use to foster discussions and learning about discernment.

Please share what you are doing to foster the practice of discernment in your church. We’d love to learn from you.