Church leaders are required to make decisions every day. And, making good decisions is what great leaders do!
There are many approaches to decision making and successful organizations have systems in place to ensure consistency in how decisions are made.
There are countless decisions that need to be made every day. A structured process for making decisions helps to ensure that all decisions are made in a consistent, unbiased, and principled manner.
4 Decision Making Tips
1. Use the vision as the guide.
One of the many benefits of developing a mission, vision, and values statement is that it provides the framework for decision-making.
All high-level decisions should be filtered through the organization’s mission and vision. Why it exists and what it is trying to achieve.
And when a difficult decision needs to be made, the question should be asked: “Does this line up with our mission, vision, and values?”
The second question should be: “Do we have or can we solicit the resources needed for this?” The answers to these two questions should make the decision easier and quicker.
2. Remove the bottlenecks.
Decisions are often held up because of a bottleneck in the hierarchy and the decision-making process. This happens when decisions that need to be made are stuck at a decision point.
This is typically a decision that only one person can make and the hesitation in making that decision holds up the entire process.
Here’s an example: A decision has been made to paint the interior walls of the offices.
The volunteer painting team is ready to go to work but is waiting on the decision regarding the paint colors.
The goal is to paint the offices before the office open house in January, but the team assigned to paint is held up waiting on the colors to be picked.
In this example, a church goal is delayed by no fault of the team but by the person who is responsible for choosing the color.
A solution to this example would be for the facility review council to create a palate of approved colors from which the painting team could be empowered to choose a color.
This is an example of creating systems and processes to speed up the process and empower employees to make decisions that help achieve objectives.
3. Want, Need, Have-to-Have
Decisions that need to be made regarding spending and budgeting should be based on a simple decision-making model that asks three simple questions. Is this expenditure a:
Want – Something that would make the job easier.
Need – Something that is important to get the job accomplished.
Have-to-Have – Something that is necessary for the success of the operation.
For example, a new version of a software program is available.
The question that should be asked is, is this something we want, need, or have-to-have?
The obvious answer would be it can probably wait even though it may make the job easier.
However, if the copy machine goes down and putting together children’s ministry packets is part of the daily operation, this request would fall into the have-to-have category.
This is an expenditure that affects the success of the operation, so the resources need to be available.
The budgeting process should allow for budgeted dollars specifically designated for emergency expenditures that would cover any have-to-have spending decisions.
If there are no budgeted dollars available, you may need to determine if there are other budget items that could be modified to free up available dollars.
For example, if there are dollars allocated for a church special event, determine if there are ways to cut some of those costs so you can put those dollars toward something else.
Or perhaps there are overtime hours budgeted that can be controlled to free up resources for an unexpected expenditure. Sometimes you need to get creative with how you manage unexpected expenses.
4. Difficult Decisions
Making difficult decisions is inevitable, and sometimes those decisions are painful because they impact the lives of others.
It may be a decision to end the relationship with a vendor who is not delivering what was promised – and this vendor just happens to be a church member.
Perhaps an employee is not fulfilling her job responsibilities and needs to be terminated, but her entire extended family attends the church.
Or, a longtime volunteer has been caught doing illegal activity and needs to be asked to step down from a key leadership position.
Regardless, these kinds of issues come up in church, and leadership needs to be able to address the issues and make the tough call, no matter how difficult.
Sometimes difficult decisions have an impact on the entire church and the way the decision is made and communicated can have a global impact.
For example, if the church is experiencing rapid growth and new leadership is needed to take the church to the next level, the difficult decision of changing leadership is made.
Acting on that decision quickly or slowly can impact those who are impacted by that decision.
When faced with these kinds of decisions, I always ask this question: “Do you like to take a band-aid off slowly or quickly?”
Acting on a decision quickly can create a lot of sudden pain, but the pain is adjusted too quickly and it will go away.
Another approach is to take the band-aid off slowly. This approach takes a little more time, is less painful, and can be adjusted more slowly—but it is still painful.
Either approach has its advantages and disadvantages. The question is what is the best approach for any particular situation?
“To let people languish in uncertainty for months or years when in the end they aren’t going to make it anyway is ruthless. To deal with it upfront and let people get on with their lives is rigorous”
Jim Collins – Good to Great
It is always difficult to make decisions that impact others but when decisions are filtered through a structured unbiased process they can be made and communicated in a professional, rational, and civil way.
Those of us who have responsibility for making some of these tough decisions need to realize that sometimes decisions need to be made in the best interest of the church and our responsibility is to not allow personal biases or feelings to affect the decision-making process.
Learn more tips for managing your church by enrolling in our Fundamentals of Church Administration Course.