I was just with a leader who coaches leaders of church planting movements all around the globe. He wanted to know more about church systems and structure. As we were looking at the Healthy Church Systems Matrix, he surprised me with the outburst, “There is a system for decision making!” The reason for his excitement was he was dealing with a leadership team in Belarus who were fighting over this very issue. How were decisions supposed to be made? And, more importantly, who got the final say? This leader was delighted to see that there was a way to teach them what they needed to know.

If your church has not revisited its decision making system for some time, here are some questions you can ask to see how well your system is working:

  • Have we defined what constitutes major decisions and who has the final say over them?
  • Are all decisions made within the week unless the congregation is involved in deciding?
  • Are daily ministry and financial decisions made by leaders over their ministry, who are accountable to the top leadership team?
  • Do more than 50% of our attenders understand our decision making process?
  • Does the church leadership have and follow a written policy about its accountability?
  • Is there a comprehensive policy manual that guides the leaders in their decision making and accountability?

You need to have a strong decision making system to make sure that your congregation feels that all decisions are appropriate, clear and implemented with proper authority. In other words, you want your attenders to trust you and your leaders and you want to make sure that you have the freedom to make the right decisions. This is why decision making is one of the DNA Systems grouped with vision and leadership. Your church’s vision needs both leaders who are all going in the same direction, and a way to protect the vision from people thinking they can vote it out!

Agreement on vision and direction among leaders, however, does not necessarily translate into rubber-stamped decisions. Nor does it mean that all decisions will be good and right. Agenda harmony does mean that the path has been cleared to listen and learn from each other so that collaborative decisions can be made.

Protecting the vision of your church is the crucial role of the decision-making. If you develop it right, it prevents people outside the leadership of the church from realigning its vision away from the direction God has revealed. This is not to say that no one but the leaders have a part in making decisions. Instead, the decision-making system defines the different levels in which staff, leaders, and the congregation participate in the process of resolving the various decision every church faces.

Answering the question of who should be in on decisions starts with a firm understanding of what decisions you are addressing. There are four kinds of decisions that have to be made all the time in churches. They are: 1) major ministry decisions; 2) daily ministry decisions; 3) major financial decisions; and 4) daily financial decisions. Your top leadership team will be responsible for a number of the major decisions, but a healthy growing church assigns many of the daily decisions to others who are leading the various ministries. Also, for certain decisions, the top leadership will need to ask the whole church to give input. How these decisions are allotted and to whom depends on how you develop your system.

The second important function of the decision-making system is to assure that the leaders of the church have proper accountability. Since there is no one right way to be accountable, this system guides the leadership in determining to whom and to what degree they are to be held accountable, whether internally or externally. It gives a positive answer the question, “Who do you want to look over your shoulder?” Accountability prevents the pastor, staff and top leadership from leading the church unwittingly, but dangerously, towards destruction.

What I have discovered is that this system is flexible and capable of change as the church grows. For example, at the start of a new church, the planter generally does not know who will emerge as key leaders. Leadership in a new church takes time to develop. Even good leaders in another church may not lead well in this new church. For the first several years in a new church, the planter may retain decision-making responsibilities until he knows that he has the right co-leaders for this church. Otherwise, he could find himself unable to move the church plant forward in a timely and decisive fashion.

For an established church to move from one size level to the next, the critical issue for your decision-making system is the speed which major decisions need to be made. The larger the church, the faster they need to be made. Otherwise the growth process could be compromised. The goal is to be able to make faster decisions wisely and with accountability.

Next Month: Evangelizing System