I recently had an email from a reader asking “who should make church decisions”? This is a loaded, but great question!
Churches are like many other organizations in that people have opinions and can have strong feelings about how things are done. The tensions that arise as a result of church decision making are healthy – but often challenging.
There are typically three groups of people that make church decisions. Each has a different perspective, but all feel like they have the best interest of the church at heart.
1. Pastor Rule: A pastor feels called of God and his focus is to implement the vision that God has given him for the church.
2. Members Rule: Church members tithe and have an interest in how those tithe dollars are spent.
These three groups can have very different perspectives on what is in the best interest of the church creating a healthy conflict. Determining which group makes decisions can be a source of conflict and should be managed from a strategic perspective.
To balance these tensions, you need to think about a few things.
- What is our mission and what are we trying to accomplish?
- What is our strategy and plan to fulfill our mission and how will we fund it?
- How do we manage the resources (people, time and money) that God has provided to fulfill our mission?
So in other words, if there is no focus on the mission and vision of the church, then what’s the point?
If there is no accountability for managing resources then there won’t be the funds available to finance necessary projects.
If the spiritual and social needs of members are not being met then congregants question the investment of their tithe.
If turf wars begin and politics become the norm, all kinds of issues develop taking the focus off of what the church is trying to achieve.
Balancing each of these tensions is important to creating a healthy decision making process but, every decision should line up with the strategy for achieving the church mission.
So How Should Decisions be Made?
Bylaws are the rules that govern the internal management of the church. This is a legal document that defines church authority and sets the direction for the church.
A church board should facilitate the process of creating church strategy by spending the time developing a strategic plan document.
This includes formalizing a mission and vision statement and determining the steps and timeline for achieving strategy.
The board is also responsible for developing a church budget to fund the strategy and allocating resources for church projects.
Once the plan is in place, then church goals are developed and part of the goal development process is placing accountability for goal completion.
Every goal should be assigned to a church department and ultimately a person’s name should be attached to each goal.
Each department/ministry of the church has a corresponding budget to implement the goal they are responsible for.
The hierarchy should then dictate who the decisions makers are and all decisions should line up with the strategy, goals and budget.
For example, if a church strategy is to develop a children’s program, then there should be goals and a budget to support that strategy.
The person who is responsible for completing those goals must do so within the allocated budget. This takes decision making to the front line for day-to-day spending.
So whether the responsible person is a church employee or church volunteer, they are accountable for completing their goals within the allocated budget.
Advisory councils help to steer direction and support employees and volunteers who are implementing church strategy.
For example, the facility review committee might make recommendations for facility enhancements and submit capital improvement recommendations to the board for budget approval.
Once these recommendations are approved, it then becomes part of a goal for the facilities department. The employee or volunteer is then responsible for implementing the goal within the approved budget dollars.
Every church has a hierarchy. Not all are formalized and not all are even consistent but there is a hierarchy whether it is formalized or not. Creating a hierarchy or church organizational chart document helps to keep everyone on the same page.
For example, volunteer training should include an overview of the church organizational chart so volunteers understand the chain-of-command and who to go to with questions and concerns. This formalized process takes the guesswork out of who is in charge of what and helps to provide order in the church.
Church members tithe and have an interest in church operations. They can contribute by participating on improvement teams that help to solve church problems.
Soliciting feedback from members is critical to member satisfaction and utilizing the skills and knowledge base of members is a great way to enhance church operations and validate member contribution.
I’m not a fan of members voting on church issues because the ultimate responsibility falls on the pastor and board, and member votes can be very time consuming, emotional and political – which ultimately slows the process.
Church decisions should be made based on the mission of the church, the strategy for achieving that mission and corresponding goals to implement strategy.
Decision makers are those who have day-to-day responsibility for completing goals. If the board does a good job of defining strategy and writing goals, decisions should naturally fall within the org structure. All other high level decisions come from the board and senior pastor. Creating a good church communication process helps members understand the mission and strategy for achieving it.
What kind of decision making model does your church have?
photo by: MoDotPhotos