The problem with autonomy in church leadership is group think.
Autonomy – a self-governing community.
Group think – the -practice of approaching problems or issues as matters that are best dealt with by consensus of a group rather than by individuals acting independently; conformity.
Translate that to the church.
Autonomy is all the rage in church leadership circles these days. It’s almost heresy to present the concept of getting outside help from another board or body when making decisions. If you read the latest leadership magazines or listen to the speakers at leadership conferences they all pretty much say the same thing: Your leadership team knows best; you have been called to lead locally, do it boldly.
And the result is group think.
I hate to say it, but sometimes instead of acting boldly groups act stupidly.
Too often, locked in a board room and forced to make a decision, a leadership team goes with a BIG IDEA and changes everything.
The result is a pendulum effect. Attendance is down? Let’s find the boring and replace it with the exciting. Let’s get rid of game time and go with meditation circles. Let’s stop passing the offering plate around and force people to text in their donations. Let’s fire the organized youth pastor and hire a relational one.
There is something in our DNA that looks at problems and processes only two solutions…. stay the same or make an extreme change.
And the nature of group think is that you are always going to chose A or B. No one in a room is going to fight for options C, D, E, or F. Because they want the meeting to end.
And in a group, consensus is viewed as good even if it is bad.
Pendulum swing vs. Minor Correction
Let me introduce two concepts to you since you probably sit on some sort of leadership team. Maybe internalizing these things will help your organization end the tennis match of pendulum thinking?
#1 Slow down – I’ve been in these meetings. And I know that at the board level there is a desire to move quickly in order to look decisive. (Or empty the agenda) And I know that those closest to the situations feel the most urgency to make drastic changes. By making the time to study and really understand a problem you will make a much more wise decision. When your board is on the verge of swinging the pendulum, just ask that a decision not be made for 2 more meeting cycles. Give everyone some assignments about the problem. Then agree to talk about it briefly at the next meeting. Then at the third meeting, make a decision.
#2 Side step to the right or left – Chances are that you are largely doing the right things for your organization. And what you are doing today did actually get you to the place you are at today. (In a good way) So rather than killing a program or firing a staff person, take the time to invest in minor corrections as opposed to swinging the pendulum. Consider investing in the staff people that you have. (Way cheaper, kinder, and wiser for the long-term health of your organization.) Or consider visiting other organizations that run a similar program to see what you can learn. And also consider that you probably have the best program, staff, or idea for your context in play and that you might just need to ride out a temporary downward cycle.
Break group think and its pendulums!
One thing I’d like to see if for autonomous bodies (not bad, by definition) getting more comfortable with outside voices. You can be autonomous and still bring in outside voices. Bring in visitors from outside the organization to regular meetings… just for a fresh outside perspective. Once a year do a retreat with another similar board where you spend a weekend working on your problems together. When faced with a big decision, produce a white paper and ask another board for their advice.