Suggestions for Better Decisions

A number of basic suggestions have been stated in the various publications that deal with decision-making. These principles will help the Christian leader to make more right decisions.

1. Be certain a decision must be made. Christians are sometimes guilty of answering questions that no one is asking, and making decisions that are not needed.

2. Recognize that there are probably no easy answers. There is not a single right answer, at least for many of the decisions that need to be made. Do not to worry too much about making the wrong decision because few decisions have an absolutely right or wrong answer, but make the best decision one can make at the time needed, and then make the decision work.

3. Don’t make decisions when under stress. A physical or emotional problem will hamper a person’s ability to make the right decision. It is better to delay a decision than to make it when a person is angry, upset, or under great pressure. Preachers need to avoid those Monday morning decisions to resign.

4. Gather all the information that time, funds, and energy will allow. Better decisions are made when there is adequate information. Many times pastors have started new ministries without really counting the cost. Jesus warned against doing things without counting the cost.

5. Review the church’s policies and procedures to see if there is help to make this decision. Perhaps that decision or a similar one has been made even as a policy.

6. Determine the known impact on everything and everybody involved. What are the possible impacts on people and things? Remember, for every action there is a reaction.

7. Decide if there are any ethical and/or moral questions to answer. The values of the decision maker and the organization may differ, and would present a problem.

8. Decide if it is possible to reverse the decision after it is made. Decisions that cannot be reversed without great expense should be made more carefully than those that can be reversed with little cost.

9. Identify the advantages you can take of other things if you make this decision. Sometimes one decision will open up a number of other doors for ministry.

10. Involve the people in the decision-making process. Proverbs 11:14 says that in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom. This increases the information and the possible solutions. When the people who are to carry out a decision are involved, this will increase their acceptance of the choice. They need to feel the decision belongs to them, and not just sold to them. As a general rule a decision should be made as close as possible to where the work is being done. Decisions have a tendency to drift up an organizational structure, but they need to be pushed down. The atmosphere needs to be informal, comfortable, and relaxed. There should be a lot of discussion in which nearly everyone participates, but the discussion stays relevant. The objectives are well understood and accepted by all members. The members listen to one another. Every idea is given a hearing. There are disagreements, for disagreements are not overridden. Most decisions are reached by some form of consensus. The group does not trust formal voting with a simple majority. Criticism is frequent and frank, but comfortable, and shows little evidence of personal attack. Members feel free to express their feelings as well as their ideas. Assignments to members are clear and accepted. The group leader does not dominate, nor is there evidence of a power struggle. The group is self-conscious about its own operation.

Group decision-making has a number of advantages. There is a greater sum total of knowledge or information. There is a greater number of approaches to a problem. The participation in decision-making increases general acceptance of the final choice. Group decision-making will also provide better comprehension of the decision providing for fewer problems with communication. Group decision-making also has some liabilities. Social pressure to be a good group member tends to silence disagreement. Acceptance of first solutions that receives strong support usually takes place even if better solution comes later. Individual domination takes place often. Winning the decision divides the group up as they take sides.

11. Some decisions that are very large should be broken down into several smaller decisions. Caution must be used not to communicate that since the group has made one decision they are bound to make later decisions. Sometimes a decision is made to study something, and then pressure is put on to accept the decision of the study group. A decision to study is just that, and not a decision to implement.

12. When pressed into a decision, it is better to say no and later change it to yes, than to say yes and later try to change it to no.

13. Set a time to make a decision, and make the best decision possible at that time. This helps to avoid putting off decision-making for an unnecessarily long time. When the decision is made, then start moving, and if it becomes evident that the wrong decision was made, then make whatever corrections are necessary to get back on course. John Maxwell stressed the importance of timing when he stated:

The wrong decision at the wrong time is a disaster,
The wrong decision at the right time is a mistake,
The right decision at the wrong time is unacceptable,
The right decision at the right time leads to success.

14. Consider the difference in finding a satisfactory solution rather than the maximum solution. Sometimes a satisfactory solution should be accepted; then you can move on. When joined with challenging goals, a realistic level of aspiration, and appreciation of the cost of obtaining information, the solution is rational.

15. Use an authority or expert.

16. Recognize that each time we make a decision, we increase the probability that we will respond in a similar way to that kind of issue in the future.

Dangers in decision-making

1. Pressure
2. Lack of criteria and/or objectives
3. Insufficient information
4. Timing
5. Strong emotions present
6. Support
7. Authority
8. Insecure leader

Defining Your Risk Taking Style

Although people are rarely consistent in their decision-making styles, most of us can detect some regularity in the way we make important decisions. Think of the important life decisions you have made (e.g., marriage, divorce, major moves, career changes), and then answer the following questions. You may not answer some with complete confidence, but give the answers that come closest to what you believe. This is not a test, it is just a device to help you understand your own decision-making behavior. For each dimension, choose the one response out of three that best describes how you usually respond in making a big decision.

I. Attitude toward change
1. I prefer security to novelty.
2. I value security and novelty about equally.
3. I prefer novelty to security.

II. Search strategy
1. I make a quick overall survey of possibilities hoping that something will hit me.
2. I keep producing and then going over my possible choices.
3. I think of a number of alternatives but stop after a reasonable search.

III. Attention to feelings
1. I decide among alternatives not only by reasoning but by taking my feelings into account.
2. I made major decisions almost exclusively on the basis of my feelings.
3. I mistrust my feelings as a basis for a major decision; I try to rely on reason almost entirely.

IV. Decision rule
1. I believe there is one right decision, and it is my job to dig it out.
2. I believe there is no one right decision, I just need to find one that is good enough.
3. I believe in choosing the first decision that really grabs me.

V. Sense of consequence
1. I don’t try to predict the consequences of my decision because I expect things will work out okay.
2. I do think about consequences, tending to focus on the bad things that might happen.
3. I try to think of good and bad consequences of my decision.

VI. Pre-decision emotions
1. In thinking about taking a risky step, I feel mostly anxiety.
2. In thinking about taking a risky step, I feel a mixture of anxiety and excitement.
3. In thinking about taking a risky step, I feel mostly excitement.

VII. Time expended in decision-making process
1. I usually make decisions—even big ones—quickly.
2. I usually take a fairly long time to make big decisions.
3. I usually take a very long time to make big decisions.

VIII. Attitude toward new information
1. I will consider new information even after I’ve arrived at a probable decision.
2. I’m not interested in getting new information after I’ve made a probable decision.
3. I feel compelled either to seek out new information or to shut it out after I’ve made a probable decision.

IX. Post-decision strategy
1. Once I’ve made a decision, I usually don’t think about it before launching into action.
2. Once I’ve made a decision, I often experience serious doubts and may change my mind.
3. Once I’ve made a decision, I usually rally behind it after rechecking.

X. Evaluating the outcome of a risky decision
1. After I have acted on the decision, I tend to worry or regret that I didn’t do something else.
2. After I have acted on the decision, I tend to put it out of my mind.
3. After I have acted on the decision, I tend to think about what I have learned from it.

Tally the number of “A” responses, “B” responses, and “C” responses, using the following guide:

I. 1. A 2. B 3. C
II. 1. C 2. A 3. B
III. 1. B 2. C 3. A
IV. 1. A 2. B 3. C
V. 1. C 2. A 3. B
VI. 1. A 2. B 3. C
VII. 1. C 2. B 3. A
VIII. 1. B 2. C 3. A
IX. 1. C 2. A 3. B
X. 1. A 2. C 3. B

Most people evidence a mixture of styles. The average number of A responses is 6.7. The average number of B responses is 2.3. The average number of C responses is 1.0. The goal is to be balanced.

Style A: The anxious risk-taker makes big decisions with great effort, is afraid of making mistakes, takes lots of time, and tends to ruminate and worry about the outcome.

Style B: The balanced risk-taker makes big decisions fairly slowly, is more concerned with reasonably good outcomes than with fear of failure or the need to make a good decision, and tends to plan and to review, but without worrying too much.

Style C: The careless risk-taker makes big decisions quickly with little experience of mixed feelings, may feel “inappropriately optimistic,” and spends little time in introspection or evaluation.

Determining How Much Risk You Will Take

This self evaluation test will help to determine how much risk you are willing to take within the church.  The answer key follows the test.

1. What is your education? (Check all that apply to you)
a. No higher education degree
b. Bible College degree
c. Liberal arts degree
d. Seminary degree
e. Non-seminary master’s degree
f. Doctorate

2. What is your current church membership size?
a. Less than 100
b. 100–199
c. 200-499
d. 500 or more

3. How long have you been at this church?
a. Less than one year
b. 1–2 years
c. 3–4 years
d. 5 or more years

4. What is your age?
a. 30 or under
b. 31–40
c. 41–50
d. 51–60
e. over 60

5. Which church is this in your ministry history?
a. My first church
b. My second church
c. My third church
d. Fourth or later church

6. What do you believe to be your dominant gifts/talents in ministry?
a. Preaching
b. Teaching
c. Administration
d. Counseling
e. Pastoral ministry (visitation, etc.)
f. Evangelism
g. Music
h. Other

7. Do you use a biblical character (such as Jesus, Paul, or Moses) as a model for decision-
a. Yes
b. No

8. How many times in a typical year are you required to made decisions that you know will
upset, offend, or bring disagreement from people in the congregation?
a. Theological decisions
(e.g., to take a stand on eschatology, spiritual gifts, divorce/remarriage, etc., that
differs from some members’ views.)
1) None
2) 1–2 per year
3) 3–4 year
4) 5 or more per year

b. Institutional/organizational decisions
(e.g., to recommend a ministry program that clashes with the polity or tradition of
the church.)
1) None
2) 1–2 per year
3) 3–4 per year
4) 5 or more per year

c. Interpersonal decisions
(e.g., handling a counseling session in a way that offends a church family, or having a conflict with a board member.)
1) None
2) 1–2 per year
3) 3–4 per year
4) 5 or more per year


Use these guidelines to score you answers:
RISK POINTS: If you are facing a risky decision at this time, each risk point increases your chance of ultimately having to leave your current ministry position as a result of it.

SAFETY POINTS: Each safety point decreases your chance of ultimately having to leave your current ministry position as a result of a difficult decision.

Not all of the answers from the questions were shown to have a measurable level of riskiness or safety. The ones that do are shown below.

Risk Points

Safety Points








  1a.   No higher education degree

1c.   Liberal arts degree

1d.  Seminary degree

1e.   Non-seminary master’s degree

1f.   Doctorate



  2b.  100–199

2c.  200–499



  3b.  1–2 years

3d.  5 or more years




  5b.  My second church

5c.   My third church

5d.  My fourth or later church



  6a.   Preaching

6b.  Teaching (-3 only if preaching is not also listed)



  7a.   Yes, I use a biblical character as a model for decision-making

7b.   No, I don’t use a biblical character as a model for decision-making.






  8a1)     No theological decisions per year

8a2)     1–2 per year

8c1)     No interpersonal decisions per year

8c3)     3–4 interpersonal decisions per year

8c4)     5 or more interpersonal decisions per year


Add the safety points and subtract the risk points. The more positive your total score, the more safe is your current environment in ministry decision-making.


+14 and higher A very high score.
You are in a relatively risk-free environment.
Continue to be sensitive to your flock as you also continue your vigorous approach to tough decision-making.

+6 to +13 An average score.
Take stock of the currently risky factors about your background and/or your church environment.
Evaluate your own decision-making process to see how it could be strengthened.

+5 or less A very risky score.
Look closely at the combination of your background and your current church environment to see where your dangers lie.
Be aware of the dangers.
As you evaluate your own decision-making process, seek out advice from experienced pastors on decision-making itself as well as the tough decisions you face.

The Decision Maker

Regardless of how decisions are formally handled within the church, there will be one person who is the driving force behind a decision.  Often this will be the pastor but it may also be a board chairman or another person of influence who pushes heavily for a decision.  Here are some things that are going to weigh on whoever is behind making a decision.

Influences of personality on decision makers

The personality of a decision maker will affect his decisions. Personality is hard to define. Bits and pieces of definitions include the characteristic traits and patterns of adjustment; the qualities, habits, interests, and ideals of a person; the entire system of relatively permanent tendencies that are distinctive of an individual; and the pattern of responses made by an individual to stimuli. A number of specified personality factors have been identified that affect the decision maker.

1. Social class. The middle class thinks more about the future than the lower class. The lower class believe more in fate and supernatural and “good things will happen” and “bad things won’t happen” than middle class. This is the group that plays the state lotteries.

2. The achievement potential. There is a strong correlation between the decision maker’s achievement potential and his willingness to make difficult choices from among equally attractive alternatives.

3. The sex of the decision maker. Women are more conservative than men when unsure of their decision and more extreme than men when very sure of their decision.

4. The decision maker’s personality will determine his preferences for high, moderate, or low risks; and his preferences for innovation or proven methods. Personality influences the decision maker’s ability to accommodate large amounts of information, to deal with pressure in a crisis, to restructure ideas to relate specifically to a situation, and to use various leadership styles.

Risk-taking and decision-making

There are a number of variables that influence the willingness of an individual to accept risks. These variables include motivation, intelligence, personality traits, social class, sex, expectations, the amount of information available, and the complexity of the choice itself.

There is a “risky shift” when individuals belong to a group. Group decisions move in a risky rather than a conservative direction. Risk takers have a lot of power and insecure group members feel safe with group decisions.

Characteristics of risk takers

Risk takers have certain characteristics that have been identified:
1. More intelligent people will have a low variability in risk-taking. They develop one strategy and stay with it, while less intelligent people tend to make choices at random, with no particular strategy.
2. People whose values belittle failure will tend to settle for a low risk and low payoff strategy.
3. High risk takers are more dissatisfied on low risk jobs than low risk takers, but not more satisfied on high risk jobs.
4. High risk takers will reach a decision with much less information than low risk takers.
5. High achievers tend to seek risk, and low achievers tend to avoid it.
6. High achievers associate risk and uncertainty with high reward. When uncertainty decreases, then the outcome will become less attractive.
7. Low risk takers would rather accept the certainty of failure than attempt to cope with the uncertainty of only probable success.

Brinkmanship is to come as close to the edge as you possibly can without falling off. If you do fall off, then you should have the faith to trust God to deliver you. This kind of faith requires no calculation and no risk, but only obedience. This concept of brinkmanship definitely belongs to the risk taker.

The Decision Making Process

Decisions are made on the basis of intuition, emotions, experience, deductive logic, tryout, or considered judgment. The best approach to take would be the last, that of considered judgment. This would involve using a decision-making process.

Setting goals and priorities.

The decision-making process starts with the setting of goals. This begins a given cycle that culminates when the goals are met. The next complete cycle begins with the setting of new goals. The goals should state what is to be achieved, preserved, and avoided. Criteria for making good goals include relevance, practicality, challenge, measurability, balance, flexibility, timeliness, growth, cost effectiveness, and accountability. Priorities need to reflect the goals that must be met, and which are desirable but not mandatory.

Defining of the problem or situation

Three questions need to be answered. What is the apparent problem? What are the facts about the problem? What is the real problem? Sometimes when the facts are in, the discovery is made that the apparent problem is not the real problem.

Searching for alternatives

In the decision-making process, search involves scanning the internal and external environments of the organization for information. Relevant information is formulated into alternatives that seem likely to fulfill the goals. Some are rejected immediately, but many alternatives are kept for additional study. Decision makers need to be open minded. Limits of time and money will have to be placed on the search. A creative brainstorming approach might be used when all kinds of solutions are suggested, and then the better ones are investigated.

Comparing and evaluating alternatives

There is a danger here of “paralysis of analysis.” Alternatives represent various courses of action that singly or in combination may help attain the goals. By formal and informal means, alternatives are compared based on the certainty or uncertainty of cause and effect relationships and the preferences of the decision maker for various probabilistic outcomes. Here the decision maker needs to consider what the Bible says, what ethical issues are involved, and what impact this decision will have on the people involved.

A careful review of probable consequences of each alternative must be made. When this is done, an elimination of several alternatives can be completed. Three techniques are used:

Judgmental, which is based on experience, values, perceptions, and intuition. This is frequently used because it is the quickest.
Bargaining, where choices are controversial and external forces have power.
Analysis, where the choice is made based on maximizing objectives. This last technique is very thorough.

Act of choice

This is just one part of the process. Choice is a moment in the ongoing process of decision-making when the decision maker chooses a given course of action from among a set of alternatives. There are constraints to deal with, such as the cognitive limitations, time and cost restrictions, and imperfect information.

There are some special problems in choosing between alternatives:
(1) When two alternatives appear equally attractive, flip a coin.
(2) When no choice will accomplish all the objectives, use two or three choices.
(3) When side effects or consequences appear too harsh, keep looking for other alternatives, or revise this one.
(4) When there are too many choices, then organize them.
(5) When none of the alternatives will accomplish the goals, keep looking or modify the goals.

When a choice of alternatives is made, it will produce two results:
(1) A change of organization. Organizational changes cause anxiety, hostility, and resistance. Implementation plans for the decision needs to include how to change the organization with the least amount of problems.
(2) A commitment of resources: finances, human, and physical. These resources are not unlimited and so a commitment to one decision makes resources unavailable for other decisions or programs.

Implementing the decision

Implementation causes the chosen course of action to be carried out within the organization. It is that moment in the total decision-making process when the choice is transformed from an abstraction into an operational reality. The formal communication of that decision to the members is next.

Follow-up and control

This function is intended to ensure that the implemented decision results in an outcome that is in keeping with the objectives that gave rise to the total cycle of functions within the decision-making process.

IDEAL Decision Making

A simple and easy to remember anagram of decision-making based on the word “Ideal” has been suggested:

Identify the problem
Define the problem
Explore possible strategies
Act on your decision
Look at the results of your solution.

There are criteria to use to evaluate if the decision made is a good decision:
1. A good decision inspires initial confidence––you feel good about it.
2. You based your decision on an adequate amount of information. You stopped to ask, “Exactly what is needed to know to make this decision––and how do I get the information?” Unless you have done this you may continue to feel uneasy about your decision.
3. The decision was clearly necessary and directed to the real issues.
4. It coincides with what you believe the Bible teaches and with your overriding priority to worship God and to please Him.
5. Your decision will best achieve the basic purpose for making the decision and accomplish your goals better than alternatives.
6. It is a well-balanced decision (you achieve what you want to achieve without too great a risk to available resources) and it will not create additional problems.
7. You can support it objectively and defend it logically.
8. You are confident it will be implemented by those on whom its success depends.

Decision Options

Not every decision is the same.  In fact, there are no two decisions exactly alike.  There may be similar circumstances but the details will vary from decision to decision.  There are three major types of decisions to make and numerous variables which will affect those decisions.

Types of decisions

Christian leaders are faced with three types of decisions: cyclical, confrontational,
and innovational.

Cyclical decisions are those which recur repeatedly and are predictable. They have a definite cause and effect relationship. The repetition often permits establishing a policy or procedure for handling the decision. The outcome of these decisions is fairly certain. These cyclical decisions are also called programmed, generic, routine, or computational decisions.

Confrontational decisions are forced on the leader by circumstances or events. They are based on crises or emergencies that always seem to be popping up and demanding a solution. They are also called negotiated and compromise decisions.

Innovational decisions occur only when sought out. They only happen when a decision is made to do something new or different. These are the kind of decisions that follow an effort to move ahead. The outcome is uncertain with some degree of risk. These types of decisions may require more judgment, have unknown criteria, and uncertain cause and effect relationships. They are also called non-programmed, unique, inspirational, judgmental, creative, adaptive, or entrepreneurial decisions.

A climate for decision-making

Decision-making occurs in a special climate. This climate has an impact on the
process. There are at least seven factors that interact in this climate:

1. A need for action does exist that requires a decision. There is no need to make a decision unless there is a real need. As long as things are going well, and nothing happens, then no new decision is needed. The popular saying is “if it is not broke, don’t fix it.” If something upsets the status quo in such a way that something else needs to be done, then a decision needs to be made.

2. The conditions will degenerate if a decision is delayed. This is a familiar part of the climate for decision-making, and often produces too much haste. This may be a real part of the climate, or just an imagined part. There are times when the conditions are real and haste is required or the conditions may degenerate to the point of being uncorrectable.

3. There is insufficient data to make the decision, but the decision must be made anyway. Many times leaders will say, “I wish I had more information” or “I wish I knew more about what was going to happen.” A lot of decisions require some element of forecasting, and that type of information is very uncertain.

4. There is an element of risk. Decision-making always takes place in an environment of risk. A decision maker is a risk taker. Failure is a possibility if the wrong decision is made. This is a part of the risk. The wrong decision can cause real problems. Success is a possibility if the right decision is made. This is the goal of every decision maker.

5. More than one workable solution exists. The decision-making climate is rarely black and white; usually there are a lot of different shades of gray to consider. Brainstorming and other group involvement methods can produce many possible solutions to almost any decision.

6. Many major decisions that involve a major change from tradition are voted down at least once before being adopted. It is very typical for a church considering relocating the facilities to vote against relocation two or three times before they decide to move.

7. Decisions tend to be progressive. They build upon one another. Often single decisions that seem insignificant are, in reality, gradual steps in an ultimate direction. Deep pits are begun with a single shovelful of dirt, and mountains are climbed one step at a time.

Intro to Decision Making

Decision-making is the specific process used to arrive at judgments and conclusions. It is the process of choosing among alternatives. This is a very necessary part of leadership. Every leader must make decisions. Leaders are evaluated by how quickly they can make decisions, and how many of their decisions are correct.

The two extremes in decision-making are the one who makes decisions without proper gathering and analyzing of facts (one who flies by the seat of his pants); and the one who
never seems to collect enough facts and waits too long to make a decision.

There are wide degrees of importance in decisions that are made. A person will decide what clothes to wear one day, where to eat lunch, what to eat for lunch, and many other decisions that are not life changing. However, when one decides where to go to school, what to major in, which church to accept, which house to buy, what staff position to add,
and who to fill it, then he is making major decisions.

Decision-making is not the same as problem-solving. Decision-making can be defined as choosing between alternatives, whereas problem-solving is the process of formulating and implementing a plan of action to eliminate a difficulty. Problem-solving always involves making decisions, but making a decision may or may not solve a problem.

Decision-making is an interdisciplinary process. Economics and statistics provide utility and probability. Sociology and social psychology provide an understanding of group behavior. Law, anthropology, and political science provide an understanding of the environment. Mathematics provides models and stimulations. Psychology provides an understanding of individual behavior. Religion and philosophy provides values and ethics.

Major decisions in a church should involve the church membership. The church should participate in crucial decisions such as adopting major policies, articulating church goals, incurring significant debt, purchasing or selling church property, launching a building program, approving an annual budget, and calling professional staff.  Leaders should guide the decision-making process, but not become dictators.

Leaders who fail to help churches make major decisions involving change usually make
one of the following errors:

1. They attempt to move the church toward a goal that the members do not own. Ownership of goals is vital to the achievement of those goals.

2. They use methodologies that are perceived as unprincipled or manipulative. People naturally resent being treated with disrespect or herded like cattle.

3. They fail to motivate the church to change.

4. They are frequently impatient with the slowness of church decision-making and tend to act prematurely.

5. They fail to assess accurately the capacity of the church to change. Goals must be
attainable by faith and hard work. Unattainable goals reflect poorly upon leaders.

6. They fail to enlist individuals whose support is necessary. Comparatively few people have major influence, and unless these people are involved in the process and supportive of decisions it is unlikely that good decisions can be made and implemented. It must be recognized that there are formal and informal leaders that have influence.

7. Leaders fail to understand the dynamics of groups and the process of group decision-making. Poor leaders do not detect the signals of group fragmentation, do not understand how decisions are made, and fail to assess accurately the need for encouragement, solicitation of fresh ideas, postponement of action, or implementation of a different procedure.