August 28, 2016

How Great Pastors Make Bad Decisions for Their Churches


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“Well it looked great on paper but…”

It happens all the time. Strongly gifted and well-intentioned church leaders make bad decisions that hinder their ministries. I’ve made my share right along with the rest. Sometimes everything makes sense on paper until reality tells a different story.

In those moments, it’s easy to assume that the issue is simply poor judgement. However, you and I both know that’s not always the case.

We do a disservice to ourselves and others when we assume the quality of a decision is solely based on the quality of the person making it. If it looked great on paper but bad in reality, odds are something was wrong with the paper.

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Or to put it more plainly:

Your decisions are only as good as your information.

So how can you be sure you’re getting the right information to make the best decisions for your church? Here are a few places great leaders should be looking:

  1. Clear and Accurate Metrics

Beyond attendance and giving, it is important to track the percentage of people taking next steps into other ministries. Doing so helps you better understand and evaluate your discipleship path. If you’re unsure about the reliability of this information, it’s worth taking a look at what you track and how you track it. You may have the right metrics in place but the wrong systems for capturing information. If the data is inaccurate, your metrics may actually lead you headlong into a poor decision.

Are you confident you’re tracking the right metrics and capturing accurate information?

  1. Honest Conversations with Your Team

The natural inclination of most team members is to paint the best possible pictures of their departments. I’m not suggesting that your team is dishonest. But I am suggesting they may not be inclined to tell you everything. You have to constantly work to create safe spaces and open conversations. Asking great questions without trust will result in guarded communication. Deep trust without intentional questions will result in shallow communication.

How clear and open is the communication between you and your team?

  1. Frontline Feedback

David Salyers of Chick-fil-A recently acknowledged that most of their great ideas come directly from store operators. There’s no mistaking the value of frontline feedback. You may walk into your church every Sunday and attend a weekly small group. But your perspective is tainted by history, insider-information, and leadership responsibilities. If you really want great information on the effectiveness of your ministries, you’ll need to hear it directly from those who experience it firsthand. Don’t underestimate the value of a cup of coffee with a guest or new volunteer.

When was the last time you spoke with someone who had fresh eyes on the frontline?

  1. Financial Reporting

Every decision comes with a financial implication. Without evaluating it fully, your decision-making process is incomplete. Like metrics, if your tracking systems are inadequate, you’ll be making decisions from incorrect information about the financial health of your church. “Buyer’s remorse” is unavoidable at that point. If you’re not confident in your financial reporting systems, the team at BELAY Solutions would love to share how you can improve them.

How accurate and understandable are your financial reports?

  1. Outside Experience

When you’re making a major decision for the first-time, it’s almost impossible to know what information you even need. In those moments, it is important to learn from someone who has been where you are trying to go. I believe every church should have a budget for consulting and coaching. During budget season, you may not know what insights you’ll need that year or who can provide them. But you can be certain you’ll encounter a decision that would be better made with an outside voice involved.

How could you benefit from someone who has been where you’re going?

What About God’s Guidance?

By now you may be thinking, “Shouldn’t pastors be seeking wisdom from God rather than man in times of decision?” Absolutely. In fact, gathering the best information does not replace God’s voice. It actually improves our ability to hear it. Consider the following scenarios:

Say you feel God nudging you in a new direction that at first makes no sense. But then after gathering the appropriate information, you recognize it is the clear next step for your church. That information may be confirmation of God’s voice.

Or, say you gather accurate information that suggests one decision, but still feel God calling you in a completely different direction. There, you’ll at least be prompted to confirm that you are truly hearing from God. You’ll also step into the decision with an understanding that it is based solely on faith and a greater confidence that God has spoken. Caleb and Joshua experienced this upon surveying the land of Canaan.

So what information is lacking in your decision-making process? Where might you actually have misinformation generating bad decisions? Take time to have open conversations and develop the right systems. As you do, you’ll find that what makes sense on paper actually prepares you for reality.

Ryan Stigile

Ryan Stigile serves as the Co-Founder and Executive Pastor of Nuvo Church. Prior to that, he served as the Executive Pastor of Ministry at Rock Bridge Community Church and Director of Expansion for NewPointe Community Church. Ryan has a Master of Business Administration from Kennesaw State University and degrees in business administration and discipleship ministry from Lee University. He lives in Columbus, OH with his wife Emily and their daughter, Addison.

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