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.


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.


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.


11 ways to use our book to bring change in your context

When we wrote our book we wanted to support you in bringing about change. Therefore it is our sincere hope that you will use our book to bring about change. We all know that “Shift Happens!” However we also know that it does not happen by accident. It takes intentional action.

So, here are some practical ideas to make the transition in your ministry context. It is time to move from the traditional method of making decisions based on Robert’s Rules of Order. Now is the time to change to a more faith-based process for making decisions. You can get the book at Cokesbury or Amazon.

  1. Organise Reading Groups

    Get the book into the hands of key members by organizing groups to read and discuss the book. Then name a convenor for each group and have groups meet in homes for prayer and discussion. Read and discuss a chapter a week – this will take only 8 weeks to complete the study. A basic outline for discussion can include:  What seems important to you in this chapter? How could we use this material in our church?  What might need to change around here? What questions do you have about this chapter?

  2. Use the Guide as Sunday School Curriculum

    Offer the book to Adult Sunday School Classes, or home groups for discussion.  Study a chapter a week. Ask teachers to provide a short (say, 10 minute) synopsis of the chapter. Use the Reflection Questions at the end of each chapter to guide discussion.

  3. Pastor Picks

    Name the book as a ‘must-read’ for your Congregation and order books for purchase by individuals. Provide a one page outline with reflection questions to help people move through the book.

  4. Leadership Reports

    Assign a chapter to various leaders and ask them to present the highlights of their section at your Church Council or Judicatory Meeting. This Report should be no more than 20 minutes long. End each report with the question: “How can we do this here?” or “Why is this important to us?”

  5. Sermon Series

    Read the book and design a series of sermons on the highlights. Use a Biblical text from each chapter to cover key thoughts and practical application. Be prepared to advocate for change.

  6. Pastor’s Bible Study Class

    Consider offering a series of classes on the Scripture and topics covered in each chapter. Also be sure to include some of the activities listed at the back of the book to get students involved.

  7. Retreat Focus

    Use the material at a Leadership Retreat. Focus on the  material you would like to use to bring change in your Church Board or Council meetings. For example; plan a 4-hour session on a Saturday to cover the decision making process in the book and discuss implementing it. Be sure to make this occasion a positive team building exercise with fun, music and a meal. Then at the end of the session by name an Implementation Team to plan next steps.

  8. Lead a Workshop on our Consensus-Based Decision-Making Process

    Read the book and provide a brief outline for leaders in your Judicatory or Church Council. Design a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation on the content on the process. Start with a “Values Clarification” Activity. Place words on a sheet that list possible values of your group. A sample of words may include: family, love, peace, honesty, organization, loyalty, growth, discernment, discipleship, Bible-based, community, respect, openness, patience, etc. Invite people to underline 5 words on the handout that they believe are important to them about the group. When this step is finished, invite participants to star 2 words that are really vital to them. Have them cross off one of the two words with stars and circle the remaining word.  Ask people what was the hardest word to give up. Then, ask for the word they feel is most important. Lead a discussion on how their method of making decisions respects their values as a faith community.

  9. Mentor and Guide another Person

    Think of a person in your ministry context that holds relational power to get things done. This person could be your Church Council Chair or someone else. Invite them to read the book. Plan a meeting with them to discuss what they have found helpful to use in your setting. Then discuss what it would take to apply the process in your context.

  10. Introduce Leaders to Elements of this Process

    People may be used to a basic parliamentary process of making amendments, suggesting substitutions and voting on ideas. They may not be aware that there is another, community-based way of making decisions. Introduce elements that are vital in consensus based discernment but that can be used in any system. For example, being sure to allow time to ask questions for clarification, find ways to help the less vocal people to contribute, set up methods for helping people to really listen to each other, encourage people to slow down and not rush to a decision, etc.

  11. Use the book at a “Clergy Day Apart”

    A powerful way to get Pastors interacting with a new process is in a collegial learning setting. Be sure to take the time to provide a basic overview of the book. Consider inviting 2 or 3 people to make a presentation on a specific topic or chapter. Encourage open and honest sharing of the positive responses and reservations about change. Allow time for participants to complete some of the activities at the back of the book and reflect on how they can use the process in their setting.


Once you have read the book and see it’s value – don’t stop there. Choose one of the ideas mentioned above to introduce the book’s content to your organisation. If you can, please order copies of the “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” from Cokesbury or Amazon. The small commission we receive helps us to maintain this site. Finally, post your experience on how you are using this book with us on this web site. We look forward to hearing from you.


Drafting Groups – devil or angel?

Drafting Groups are the most contentious part of a consensus building approach to discernment. Sending proposals to small groups where members discuss them is a strategy that can be used for complex business. These discernment groups have a facilitator who works through a well prepared process. Their views, along with recommendations for changes and new ideas, are sent to a drafting group.  The role of the drafting group is to bring all the ideas together.

Devils or Angels?

The most frequent objection to this process is that drafting groups have a lot of power. Cynics say that this small group can impose its views on the meeting and manipulate the process to achieve what it wants. The members of Drafting Groups are sometimes accused of being self serving and manipulative.

Drafting (sometimes called Facilitation) Groups take the information that has been provided through a small group discussion process. After attending to all the input they re present the views that have come to them. They do this by writing a report that is presented back to the meeting in a plenary session. The report explains what was reported to them, what they did with the information and why they made the decisions that they did. Drafting Groups help the members to have their say and to influence the final outcome of the discussion. If this group did not exist then the small group time would just be a lot of hot air.

Why you can have confidence in Drafting Groups

  • People are appointed who are known to be fair, trustworthy and true servant leaders
  • Members are not chosen to represent interest groups but because of their skills and maturity
  • Response sheets that are used in Discernment Groups are prepared by an experienced leader and are in a standard format
  • Reports from the Drafting Group explain every step of its work and the reasons for any new proposals that they bring
  • Members can ask questions of the report and have to receive it
  • If the new proposals do not reflect the developing consensus in the meeting then there will be significant push back
  • The Drafting Group makes no decisions but seeks to support the discernment of the members of the meeting

Trust is an important part of any meeting process. Appointing the right people and using tried and tested reporting formats means that members can have great trust in Drafting Groups.

Rev Norbet Stephens was Chairperson of the Drafting Group at the recent General Council meeting of the WCRC. He acknowledges that it is a challenging process, but with a skilled team it is possible to produce proposals that move forward the process of discernment. Hear Norbet in his own words.

What is a consensus approach to discernment?

What is consensus?

I’ve just spent a few minutes doing a search for quotes on consensus. Wow!!!! The quotes I found show that people have a lot of ideas on what is “consensus”. Apparently if I believe seeking consensus is important I might be a traitor, turn great ideas into mundane ideas, abandon all principles and beliefs, be a scam merchant and lacking in leadership. Clearly I need to say something about “consensus”!

The first thing to say is do not confuse consensus with compromise. Consensus is a perspective, an understanding, reached by a group. The Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) call it “the mind of the meeting”.

Compromise always has a focus on getting what I want. Compromise trades off some of my interests to get some others interests met in return. In contrast consensus seeks the interests of the organization, the cause, the whole – not the interests of the individual decision makers. Through a search for consensus people find words that can all say what all deeply believe.

The convergence texts that have come out of the World Council of Churches and other international church bodies on key theological positions are examples of this. The Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church have not compromised their positions on justification. However it has been possible for them to sign a significant convergence document on justification just a few years ago.

Of course there will be times in consensus building when our preferred words, emphases or priorities are set aside. However we do not put them aside to gain something for ourselves. We put aside personal preferences in the interests of the group as a whole, and the common cause that the members share.

Leadership and consensus

Martin Luther King Jnr observed: “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” I take this to mean that consensus is an outcome that results from a process. A good leader provides a process through which it is possible for a group to fashion a common mind on the subject at hand.

From a theological perspective consensus – a common mind – is always possible when we seek the will of God. We know how rare that seems. Yet to abandon seeking consensus denies that it is possible to know God’s will.

A consensus building approach is a set of processes and tools that may be used by a leader. They will, as Martin Luther King Jnr said, allow you to be a “molder of consensus.”

What’s the point of consensus?

Consensus building is not an end. It is a process that makes it possible for a group to reach high levels of agreement on things that matter to them. It does this by being

  • Biblically based
  • theologically sound
  • sociologically relevant
  • culturally appropriate
  • faith-encouraging

The end point of consensus building is not to get agreement for its own sake. A genuine experience of consensus gives confidence that a community is in tune with what God wants as a decision. The end point of consensus is not agreement – it is discernment.

Discernment is a spiritual experience. Therefore discernment means that you recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. You recognise God is present.

So, when consensus building takes place in the church it is a journey in community towards experiencing the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Have you had experiences of the Holy Spirit’s leading in your community? We would be greatly encouraged if you share when you have discerned the leading of the Holy Spirit. Please add a comment.