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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.
Churches make countless decisions about things like strategic planning, budgeting, ministry programs, the way it manages their volunteer labor, internal operations, and countless more.
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: A pastor feels called by God, and his focus is to implement the vision that God has given him for the church.
2. Members: Church members tithe and have an interest in how those tithe dollars are spent.
A healthy church does a good job of balancing all of these different perspectives.
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 is 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 the necessary projects.
If the spiritual and social needs of members are not 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 vital to creating a healthy decision-making process, but every decision should line up with the strategy for achieving the church mission.
So, How Should Church Decisions be Made?
Bylaws are the rules that govern the internal management of the church. A legal document that defines church governance, administration and sets the direction for the church by articulating how the church is run.
A church board should facilitate the process of creating a church strategy by spending time developing a strategic plan document.
This includes formalizing a mission and vision statement and determining the steps and timeline for achieving the 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. One part of the goal development process is placing accountability for goal completion.
Every goal is 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 it is responsible for.
The hierarchy should then dictate who the decision-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, which 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.
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 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 hierarchies are formalized, and many are not 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 in improvement teams that help to solve church problems.
Soliciting feedback from members is a great way to ensure engaged members.
Also, 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 primarily because the ultimate responsibility of the church 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 the 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 organizational structure.
All other high-level decisions come from the board and senior pastor.
Create a good church communication process, communicate often, and you will help members understand the mission and strategy for achieving it. This commitment to sharing information will ultimately help members understand the decisions that your church makes!
What kind of decision-making model does your church have?