Do Your Church Leaders Always Say No to Innovative Ideas? Try This

YesDo you remember that great idea of yours? The one the church leadership team shot down?

You were sure it was the right move for the church to make. You may still be sure.

But they said no. They couldn’t see what you saw.

You felt hurt, disappointed, maybe even betrayed. You may still feel that way.

And it wasn’t the first time. Although they talk about wanting to move forward, your church leaders keep saying no to innovative ideas. Big ideas. The kinds of ideas that your church needs to do if you have any hope of real forward motion.

What’s going on here? And what, if anything, can be done about it?


Why Do They Keep Saying No?

I went through several years of the same problems.

I was at a church that said they wanted to move forward, be healthy and impact their community. But every innovative idea got killed within minutes (sometimes it seemed like nanseconds) of being presented. 

They didn’t even offer a clear reason for saying no. Just vague mumblings like, “It doesn’t feel right” or “I don’t think we’re ready for that yet”.

It was especially frustrating for me, because I was always looking for ways to say yes to their ideas – including developing a culture of bottom-up leadership that sought out good ideas from all quarters.

But when it came to my ideas, the church leaders stepped on the brake with a cement foot.


Give Them Time to Make the Big Decisions

After one particularly frustrating non-starter, I sat down to assess the situation.

As I reflected on the months of thought, prayer and planning I’d given the idea, only to have them reject it in less than 20 minutes, it hit me.

It had taken me months to say yes to this idea myself. But I expected them to say yes as soon as they heard it.

That wasn’t a fair request to make of them, especially when the idea was a big one.

They needed time to let it soak in their hearts, just like I needed time for it to soak into mine.

Think back on that great idea your leadership team shot down. Now try to remember the first time you thought of it or heard about it. Did it come fully formed and ready to implement? Or did it take you a while to warm up to it, pray about it, even edit it into a better form than it started out?

In my experience, every great, God-breathed idea takes time to rest in our spirit before it’s ready to hatch. We usually have to wrestle with it for a while.

If you want your leaders to make wise decisions, give them the time to do it well. Just like God gave you.

The bigger and better the idea, the longer it needs to incubate.


Let’s Help Leadership Teams Lead

From that day on, I’ve made a pledge to every leadership team I work with.

I will never ask church leaders to make a decision about a big idea in the same meeting in which they first hear about it. 

Big ideas take time. Time for thought, prayer, reflection, editing, planning, conversation and more.

This is especially true in Small Churches.

That’s why churches have leadership teams. (You’ve wondered, haven’t you?) It’s their job to assess these issues and help us make better decisions. They can’t do that if we don’t give them the tools to do it well – including some time to think and pray it through.

After all, equipping the saints to do the work they’re called to do is a big part of our calling as pastors.


Not An Excuse for Endless Delay and Debate

No, we don’t debate endlessly over every trivial decision. I have zero tolerance for that. Our leadership meetings are thorough, but we don’t linger. Most decisions get presented and made quickly, then we move on.

And yes, emergencies arise in which big decisions have to be made very quickly. But, by definition, emergencies should be rare. If you’re always having to make big, last-minute decisions, you need to reflect seriously on your entire leadership method.

The kinds of ideas I’ve used this method for have included:

  • Changing the church name
  • Moving to a new facility
  • Adding a second service time
  • Re-organizing the budget to pay for a new staff member
  • Starting a new ministry
  • Ending a long-term ministry

None of those decisions should be made too quickly.


They Didn’t Want to Say No, After All

No, this isn’t a one-shot answer to all your church leadership disagreements. But it’s a great addition to your leadership tool belt.

Has this method worked in my church? Absolutely.

Does the leadership team say yes to all my big ideas now? Of course not. But they say no less often and less automatically.

And now they have a third option they love to use. Saying “yes, but” so they can help make a good idea better.

As it turns out, my church leaders were (almost) as frustrated saying no to their pastor’s good ideas as I was about hearing them say no. But they felt like they had no choice.

I was handing them innovative ideas, but giving them almost no time to consider the full ramifications. And, as leaders, they would bear some responsibility for it – especially if it didn’t work. They didn’t wanted to say no. But they weren’t ready to say yes, either.

The bigger the decision, the more time the leadership team needs to make it.

Let’s give them the tools to do it well.


So what do you think? Is this a tool your church leaders can use?

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Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Nos and Yes photo from Abhi • Flickr • Creative Commons)

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7 thoughts on “Do Your Church Leaders Always Say No to Innovative Ideas? Try This”

  1. Very wise advise. As spiritual leaders who suffer with ADD, it is especially frustrating when new ideas are not immediately acted upon, even when all the evidence points to how it contributes to the overall health of the church. I have learned the hard way, as you have Karl, if it took 6 months to a year for the Lord to capture my heart, count on it it taking that long and longer for my leadership to grab it. The secret, PRAYERFUL PATIENCE.

  2. One thing that I have found works well is to give new ideas 30 days to germinate. When someone approaches me with a new idea, I have them spend the next 30 days praying and writing the idea down on paper, including the number of volunteers, the budget needed, the organizational structure needed, the desired outcome, and impact. If they come back to me after 30 days and have taken all of these necessary steps, then I know they are serious and are generally prepared to impliment the idea into action. I then take the time to read all they have prepared and meet with them to make any adjustments that would be helpful or practical. If the idea has Kingdom merit and is able to produce fruit that will remain, we run with it. After 90 days, we then analyze the idea to see if any more adjustments need to be made, or whether it needs to be abandoned.

    1. 30 days is my church’s usual time between deacon meetings, so that’s our regular germination period, too. I agree it’s a good amount of time for people to think and pray big ideas.

  3. With this reality of believers having difficulty interacting and acting on ideas about moving beyond their existing plateau of church function as wide spread and axiomatic as it is you would think somebody would think to examine the prevailing system to see if it is actually breeding this comfort zone mentality. There is something 99% of churches do the same that just might be driven by tradition and not the clear, specific word of God. When it comes to equipping the saints, the dominant factor is the weekly sermon. I can’t find where lecturing the word in one-way communication equals preaching or teaching the word. Yet EVERY book on preaching assumes this stance. If one-way communication is the dominate truth mechanism and there is almost zero time for specific response or interaction on the truth, why do we expect believers to suddenly turn the corner and be great at interacting, expressing, evaluating and responding to truth ideas? You don’t realize it but every Sunday morning the saints are practicing zero interaction on the truth and the preacher is leading them in that practice. Why the sanctified law against ANY participation by the rest of the saints? Why zero expectation (if you are doing a book study) that saints read the passage ahead of time and prepare to contribute? Just because it’s never been done? Hebrews 10 tells us the story of the “new and living way” prepared for us by our great high priest for the gathering of his “royal priests”. 1. Let us draw near – That’s 7 days a week drawing near to God with our hearts and minds. 2. Let us hold fast our confession of faith – That is meditating deeply about his word and work in what we are doing. 3. Let us consider how we can spur one another on to love and good works, and encourage one another. There is God’s design for gathering the saints are not to forsake. That is God’s design for the saints coming together having filled up on God all week, not coming on Sunday hungry, thirsty, and worn out. I can guarantee you that if this dynamic is brought into their worship time (24/7 worship time) they will be ready to engage in dialogue – two-way communication about any ministry opportunity. What do you think about my idea? Say I’m a layman in your church presenting this idea to you. Give me some feed back. This is a major change. It is driven by direct revelation, not merely my creative juice. God has already approved this. I’ll give you 20 years because it took me that long to recognize it in plain english.

    1. Hi, T. I started to write a response to your comment, some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t. But my reply is becoming much longer than I can use here, so I plan to make it a blog post instead. It will probably go up within a week or two as a response to you and to others who have made similar comments to yours.

      In the meantime, you may want to check out these previous posts of mine in which I address some places where we may agree.

  4. Golly, Karl…I think I might know the church whose leadership you’ve used as an example of “just say NO.” Seriously, though, you’re right that an idea needs to germinate in our hearts before we can (or should) jump in wholeheartedly, with both feet (and a sizeable chunk of the budget). It isn’t fair to expect others to be on board right away upon hearing our fabulous notions, even if they’re the best ideas ever. Thanks for that reminder.

    P. S. I appreciate the thoughtful responses on this thread. Thank you, everybody!

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