When Is Top-Down Decision-Making The Right Choice For Your Church?

Top-down leadership is not always right or always wrong. Pastors need to use the right tool at the right time.

Last week I published the article, 5 Problems With Top-Down Vision-Casting – And a New Testament Alternative to address some common errors in the usual way we cast vision and make decisions in the church. It created a bit of a positive stir, and inspired a few questions.

The main question was “when is top-down decision-making appropriate”

The answer? Top-down decision-making works best in three situations:

1. In times of crisis or sin

This was the predominant model of Old Testament prophets. God’s people were sinning. The priests weren’t leading, so God anointed a prophet to call them to repentance. This is also a theme in some of Paul’s instructions to churches that were straying.

Top-down leadership can also be helpful in a time of crisis, like when Moses was called to free the people from Egypt, and when Paul instructed congregations to give consistently to the collection for the suffering saints in Jerusalem.

2. In times of rapid change

When a church is undergoing significant shifts in a short period of time (like a church plant, a building program, a cultural shift, or a significant upward or downward attendance shift) there needs to be a strong hand on the wheel.

When time is of the essence and quick decisions are needed, there’s no time for long meetings or indecisiveness. But times of rapid change should be seasonal, not constant, or the church’s culture becomes frantic.

3. When a church gets really big

In small churches, a lot of people have input into the decision-making process. In big churches, there’s a smaller percentage of deciders.

There should never be one person with no accountability, but a church of thousands will have a much smaller percentage of decision-makers than a church of dozens.

The basic rule is this: the bigger the church, the fewer people are involved in the making of major decisions.

Leadership In Normal Seasons

In small churches (about 90 percent of congregations) during normal, non-crisis seasons (about 90 percent of the time), leadership and vision-casting should happen more from the ground up than from the top down.

Too often, we’ve been told that it’s a problem when congregation members want to have input on decision-making and vision-casting. Certainly there are times when the control freaks must be dealt with, as I wrote about in Dealing With Control Freaks In The Small Church, but that’s not what’s happening in most smaller congregations for most of the time.

In a typical, healthy church of 100 or fewer people, regular congregational involvement in most decision-making is normal, healthy, and desirable.

Don’t fight it. Embrace it, guide it, and be grateful for it.

(Photo by yrjö jyske | Flickr)


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