The Decision-Making Ethos of Large, Growing Congregations Located in Metropolitan Areas of More than One Million
The focus of this project is the decision-making ethos of large, growing congregations located in metropolitan areas of over one million people. For the purpose of this project, the term ethos is used to describe the atmosphere or culture in which decisions are made within an organization. The current conversation concerning decision-making ethos in the church tends to juxtapose hierarchical and collaborative structures and prioritize one over the other. This project hopes to suggest that there exists a third way of organizational decision-making that is best described by the term collaborative hierarchy. Collaborative hierarchy provides clarity concerning the ultimate ownership of a decision based on positional authority within the hierarchy, but encourages the decision-maker to invite others into the conversation, regardless of position in the hierarchy, for the purpose of making the best decision possible.
The examination of the decision-making ethos of congregations is important because cumbersome or unclear decision-making can have a debilitating effect on the ability of a congregation to engage the culture with the good news of the kingdom. Additionally, it often results in underutilization of kingdom resources.
The research for this project includes a combination of interviewer-administered questionnaires and self-completion surveys. Surveys were given to the staff of six congregations that have experienced an average annual growth rate in weekend worship services of at least 10 percent year over a period of ten years and are located in U.S. metropolitan areas of more than one million. The survey measured the degree to which the decision-making ethos of each staff member's particular congregation was hierarchical and the degree to which it was collaborative. In addition, the senior pastor of each of the six churches surveyed, with the exception of the author, completed an interviewer-administered questionnaire. Each senior pastor has served at his present church for a minimum of ten years.
The findings of the surveys revealed that all the congregations surveyed for this project possessed a decision-making ethos that reflected collaborative hierarchy. The results did not seem to be significantly impacted by the gender or age of the respondents. Additionally, a brief review of key biblical passages pertaining both to Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church offer examples of a decision-making ethos that is consistent with collaborative hierarchy.
This project concludes that a decision-making ethos, which reflects collaborative hierarchy, is a worthy alternative to rigid hierarchical structures or purely collaborative systems. This conclusion is reinforced by the results of the surveys and interviews utilized in the project.
The project recommends that congregations examine their own decision-making ethos in an effort to determine if the way they make decisions is negatively impacting missional success. In some situations, the decision-making ethos of a smaller congregation may be so unhealthy that it has completely paralyzed the congregation's missional impact. The project recommends, in those instances, that a larger congregation that already has a healthy decision-making ethos "adopt" the smaller congregation. This would involve the adopted congregation setting aside its decision-making structure and functioning under the structure of the adopting church for a season in the hope that a new decision-making ethos could emerge in the adopted congregation.