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.

 

 

Community based decision-making process – 1st step: Preparation

Be prepared for anything

A sound decision-making process needs good preparation. So put in place the steps to be effective. This series of four posts walks 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.

How you begin the work of making decisions affects how you complete it. Preparation is the crucial first step. “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” expands on this material in pages 86 – 92; and the Checklist on page 184. You can get your copy from Cokesbury or Amazon.

Preparation

In this step of the process focus on organisation. Therefore give attention to the following elements. Then you will cover all the important parts of this phase. Overlooking any of the following six steps can lead to significant negative consequences. Do not underestimate the value of good preparation!

  1. Name the decision to be made

    People need to know what is being asked of them. So put clearly into words the issue, and the form of the proposal. This clarifies what is being considered. Then people can pray and think wisely about the issue.

    Provide information about the possible decision (i.e. the proposal). Also include how and when the decision will be made. People in an organisation are more likely to accept a decision if there is transparency. People need to understand and trust the process or they will want to go over the issue again and again. So tell them the process!

    You have told people the issue / proposal being considered. They know when it will be considered ,and the process that will be used to come to a decision. In addition people need to know who is making the decision. In a local church context this may seem obvious. However when a decision is contentious it is well worth reminding the wider group who has been trusted to lead in this area of decision-making. This is a way of building confidence and trust. If there is an external facilitator involved it is important to share, widely, who they are and why they have been selected.

    The first stage of preparation is to let the decision makers, and those affected by the decision, know what is happening. Be as clear as you can.

  2.  Design the Process

    Consider forming a Process Planning Group to assist in this task. This group will take the leadership (perhaps the responsibility) for designing an effective process. Their role is to draw a road map for the journey towards discernment. On this map will be:

    + Communication strategies for the community affected by the decision.

    + Communication strategies for the decision makers.

    + A process for use within the meeting. It will cover information sharing, ways to explore an issue, strategizing about how to include all voices and how to generate creative options to resolve the matter, etc.

    + The timeline for making a decision – it doesn’t all have to be in one meeting!

  3. Fill key leadership roles

    Name the meeting chair (this is often a person already elected). If you decide to have small group discussion as a part of the process, design the groups and ensure they are inclusive. Recruit small group leaders and schedule as many training sessions as required to make them ready. When making decisions on matters that have a profound impact on your organisation we recommend that you utilize a trained facilitator to guide the process.

  4. Support the entire process with prayer and other spiritual practices

    Don’t forget to call a season of prayer, and if appropriate, fasting for the entire process. If there are Bible passages that people can helpfully study and meditate on, make these known. Immerse your community in the process. Provide knowledge about what is happening. It is nothing less than discerning the will of Christ for His church on this issue, in this place, at this time. This is a spiritual undertaking.

  5. Set Meeting Guidelines

    Be clear about who can participate in the process. Also be able to say what they need to know in order to participate. Now is the time to list respectful ways to work together (listen deeply, ask clarifying questions, be in a spirit of prayer, etc). If you don’t have a Behavioral Covenant now may be a good time to make one. Make these guidelines known well ahead of time.

  6. Provide a safe environment to meet

The location of the meeting matters. The space you choose should allow for people to clearly see and hear each other. We recommend setting the room up in a circular pattern to promote a sense of community. If necessary have a sound system. Think about hospitality and comfort – respect and care for the people who are making the decision.

If you do not already have one, consider establishing a behavioral covenant to guide respectful interactions with people. If you have one ensure that it is before people and they commit to following it.

Do not assume that people know to communicate well with one another. Encourage people to listen before speaking, to ask clarifying questions so they understand what is said, not to monopolize the conversation, etc.

Conclusion

If you take  time to prepare your decision-making process, you will lay the groundwork for a good experience and make better decisions. The goal of your preparation is to give people confidence in the process and therefore to be better able to accept the outcome.

 

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.

Conclusion

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.

The story of a first time Discernment Group facilitator

Consensus discernment processes have many parts. Discernment Groups are one very important strategy for discernment. However groups need leaders – facilitators.

The WCRC, an international ecumenical gathering meets every seven years. About 1,000 delegates attend from over 350 churches. They come from diverse church and social cultures. The meetings operate in four official and two other languages.  To run its Discernment Groups the meeting used 18 facilitators.

First time users of consensus discernment

This is the second post where we share with you the experiences of some people who were in Leipzig. Many participants who are sharing in these blogs experienced consensus discernment for the first time. We trust that they will be an encouragement to you. They speak about the value of, and possibilities for, consensus discernment. We hope that you will share their stories widely.

Rev Dr Gonda is Associate Professor in Missiology and Ecumenical Studies at Debrecen Reformed Theological University.  The General Council meeting held six sessions for Discernment Groups. Laszlo, a first time facilitator for this methodology, led one of these groups for their six sessions.

His reflections include that this methodology

  • helps the church to be true to its character
  • encourages us to listen to each other but also to listen for what the Spirit is saying to the churches through one another
  • avoids the trap of winners and losers
  • allows Christians to express what it believes about the church – we are one
  • encourages Christ like behavior

I invite you to spend a couple of minutes listening to Laszlo share about his experience in his own words.

Rev Dr Laszlo Gonda

The spiritual foundations for discernment

  

Foundations matter

A long time ago I built a retaining wall in the backyard of my new house. At its highest point it was about 1.5 meters (5 feet) high. It was made up of large keystone blocks that weighed 20kgs (44lbs) each. There were over 200 of them across 25 meters (27 yards) of ground and five high at their peak. It took six months before they started to tumble.

I spent so much time getting that foundation of concrete wide and deep and flat enough to hold them. But I didn’t quite get it right. I was lucky that I only had to pull out 25 blocks to fix it.

The solid foundation for discernment is that it must have spiritual foundations. So there is no Christian discernment that does not have spiritual foundations. Discernment is the process of determining God’s desire in a situation, or being able to distinguish that which is of God and that which is not. Hanging out with God is inherently a spiritual activity.

From this understanding we can identify the spiritual attitudes and practices that support discernment.

Commitment to Jesus

Commitment to Jesus is the first prerequisite for discernment. Christ can only be known through the presence of the Holy Spirit made accessible through faith. The Holy Spirit makes possible an awareness of God’s character and desires.

God’s work in Jesus makes it possible to have unity with God. So all the barriers that prevent this relationship and the capacity to faithfully follow God’s way have been overcome. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are sustained in relationship with Christ, invited to serve God and empowered to do so.

A yearning to find God

Discernment presupposes that the people want the will of God to be achieved and not their own. So nourish the spirit in you that hungers after God. Yearn to know and please God – it is not limited to the prayer cells of mystics.

Self-emptying and being filled with the Holy Spirit is a core practice of the Christian life. This is what makes it possible for us to distinguish between willfully pursuing our own preferences and willingly surrendering to the will of God. Radical openness is required in group discernment as well as is in our personal life.

Believing in God’s goodness

Discernment will often take us where we do not want to go. The Spirit will lead and at times we will be afraid. When we walk in the Spirit we go where God takes us. We can only let go of our own wisdom, fears and great ideas if we have embraced at a deep level the goodness of God. When we have developed spiritual confidence we can go anywhere in response to what we discern because we know that God desires good for us.

The goal of Christian discernment is to put people of faith in a place where they can participate in the hopes and purposes that God has in store for the community of which they are a part. That is always a good place to be.

Belief that we have no higher calling than love

The Christian life is a journey towards living a Christ like life. Christ reveals the true character of God. God is love and we show our allegiance to God as we love God, others and the world (1 John 4:8).

Cultivate a loving disposition because it is foundational for discernment. God will never do anything that does not show love towards people. A core spiritual foundation for discernment is to keep asking “What does love require?” And then listening for the answer!

Obedience

The Christian life is impossible without obedience to the will of God. So there is no point making decisions in church meetings if we have not nurtured our capacity to follow God – come what may.

Community

Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German martyr and theologian said about the Christian community “It is a gift that we cannot claim. It is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in which we must participate. … Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ…” (Life Together, NY, Harper Collins, 1954, pp30-31.)

The community of discernment finds its identity as it gathers around the person of Jesus. This community is transformed and reshaped by Jesus who stands at the center of our community.

Only when Christians convert to this sense of identity – as a community in Christ – is it possible to see that we are not just meeting to do business but that we are a spiritual community.

Spiritual foundations for discernment

Commitment to Jesus, yearning, confidence in God’s goodness, love, obedience and community.

Which foundations have you applied? Do you have any to add to the list? Please share them in the comments section.