Five Barriers to Effective Decision-Making in Church

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 248

Effective decision-making is a cornerstone of successful church leadership. As pastors, elders, and ministry leaders, we are regularly called upon to make choices that significantly impact our congregations and communities. These decisions can range from day-to-day operational matters to long-term strategic planning, and each carries its own set of challenges.

However, the process of making these decisions is often hindered by various obstacles that can impede our ability to choose wisely and act decisively. Many church leaders find themselves grappling with uncertainty or hesitation when faced with important decisions. This struggle is not only common but also understandable, given the weighty responsibility of shepherding a congregation and stewarding its resources.

In this article, we will explore five critical barriers that frequently impede effective decision-making in church contexts. These barriers are not merely theoretical constructs but real-world challenges that we have observed and encountered in our work with numerous churches across various settings.

By examining these barriers in detail, we aim to provide church leaders with a deeper understanding of the challenges they face in decision-making. More importantly, we will offer practical strategies and insights to help overcome these obstacles, enabling more effective and confident leadership.

Our goal is not merely to highlight problems but to equip you with tools and perspectives that can enhance your decision-making capabilities. As we navigate through each of these barriers, we encourage you to reflect on your own experiences and consider how these insights might apply to your specific context.

Whether you’re facing a major strategic decision or grappling with day-to-day ministry choices, this article is designed to help you lead with greater clarity and confidence. Let’s explore these barriers together and discover how to make more effective decisions for the health and growth of our churches.

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Barrier 1: Blind Spots

Blind spots in decision-making occur when we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s a common issue in churches where leaders might think they’ve “tried everything,” when in reality, they’ve only tried everything they know about.

This limitation in perspective can significantly hinder effective decision-making. For instance, if your church has been facing the same challenges for years and you feel like you’ve exhausted all options, it might be because you’re operating within a limited range of experiences and ideas.

One way to combat blind spots is to seek outside perspectives. This could involve working with consultants who have experience with multiple churches in various contexts. These professionals can bring fresh ideas and strategies that have worked in similar situations elsewhere, helping you see solutions that were previously invisible to you.

Another approach is to assemble a diverse team within your church for decision-making processes. The key is to expose yourself to ideas and solutions that you couldn’t have thought of on your own. Even if you’ve been in your church for many years, your experiences are still limited.

It’s crucial to recognize that new ideas and approaches are constantly emerging in church leadership. What worked (or didn’t work) a decade ago might yield different results today. The church landscape is continually evolving, influenced by changes in society and generational preferences.

Remember, there’s always more to see and learn. Staying curious and open to new perspectives can help you overcome the blind spots that might be holding your church back from making effective decisions. By recognizing and addressing blind spots, you can expand your field of vision and make more informed, effective decisions for your church.

Barrier 2: Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is a significant barrier to effective decision-making in churches. This occurs when we continue with a course of action because we’ve already invested time, money, or emotional energy into it, even when it’s clear that it’s not working out as planned.

In a church context, this often manifests as an unwillingness to stop or change a ministry or program that isn’t effective. For example, you might have invested heavily in a particular approach to Sunday School or small groups, and even though it’s not yielding the desired results, you’re reluctant to try something different because of the resources you’ve already committed.

This fallacy can be particularly challenging in churches because of the emotional attachments we often form to our programs and initiatives. It’s not just about the financial investment; it’s about the time volunteers have given, the hopes we’ve pinned on certain approaches, and sometimes even the fear of disappointing people who have been involved.

To overcome this barrier, it’s important to recognize that the cost of failure is often higher than the cost of starting over. While it might be painful in the short term to admit that something isn’t working and to change course, in the long run, sticking with an ineffective approach will cost your church more. This cost isn’t just financial – it can include lost opportunities, decreased engagement, and even declining attendance.

One strategy to help mitigate the sunk cost fallacy is to adopt a “beta testing” mentality for new initiatives. Instead of launching something as a permanent fixture, present it as a trial run. For instance, you might say, “We’re going to try this new approach for the next semester, and then we’ll evaluate its effectiveness.” This sets the expectation that change is possible and makes it easier to pivot if needed.

This approach also allows you to gather data and feedback more objectively. When people know something is a trial, they’re often more willing to provide honest feedback, which can be invaluable in your decision-making process.

Remember, it’s okay to admit when something isn’t working and to try a different approach. In fact, being willing to change course when necessary is a sign of good leadership. Don’t let past investments prevent you from making the best decisions for your church’s future.

By being aware of the sunk cost fallacy and actively working to counteract it, you can make more objective decisions that truly serve your church’s mission and goals, rather than simply maintaining the status quo out of a misplaced sense of obligation to past decisions.

Barrier 3: Time Constraints

Time constraints can be a significant barrier to effective decision-making in churches. When leaders are pressed for time, they often default to programmed choices – the familiar, safe options – even if these aren’t the best solutions for the current situation. This tendency can lead to missed opportunities for growth and innovation in your church.

It’s important to recognize that it’s not always possible to eliminate time pressure entirely. Urgent situations will arise, and sometimes you’ll need to make quick decisions. However, there are strategies you can employ to mitigate the impact of time constraints on your decision-making process:

Intentional Planning and Problem Solving: 

By forecasting potential issues and planning ahead, you can buy yourself more time to make decisions. For example, if you own a church building, you should be aware of the lifespan of your roof and HVAC system. Having a long-range plan for these maintenance issues allows you to make decisions proactively rather than reactively. This approach can be applied to various aspects of church life, from budget planning to ministry development.

Improve Your Default Programming

Since you can’t always avoid snap decisions, work on improving the quality of your automatic responses. This involves developing a solid framework for decision-making that aligns with your church’s mission, values, and goals. When you have a clear understanding of these foundational elements, you’re more likely to make good decisions quickly when necessary.

Maintain Good Data Points

Keeping track of key metrics and information about your church can help you make faster, more informed decisions when time is short. This might include attendance trends, financial data, ministry effectiveness metrics, and feedback from your congregation. Having this information readily available can provide valuable context for quick decision-making.

Develop a Decision-Making Framework

Have a set of prioritized criteria that guide your choices. This might include questions like: Does this align with our mission? Does it fit our values? Will it help us achieve our vision? Is it financially feasible? How will it impact our various ministries and congregation members? By having these criteria established in advance, you can more quickly evaluate options even under time pressure.

Create a Culture of Preparedness

Encourage your leadership team to think ahead and bring potential issues or opportunities to the table before they become urgent. This proactive approach can help reduce the number of last-minute decisions you need to make.

Remember, while you can’t always control the time you have to make a decision, you can control how prepared you are when those moments arise. By implementing these strategies, you can improve the quality of your decisions, even under time pressure. The goal is to create a decision-making environment where, even when time is short, you’re drawing from a well-prepared foundation of knowledge, values, and priorities.

Barrier 4: Risk Tolerance Levels

Your level of risk tolerance can significantly impact decision-making in your church. Some leaders are naturally inclined to take risks and try new things, while others are more cautious and prefer sticking with the familiar. Neither extreme is inherently better; the key is finding a balance.

It’s important to recognize your own risk tolerance level and how it affects your decisions. If you’re always eager to try new things, you might make impulsive decisions without fully considering the consequences. On the other hand, if you’re overly cautious, you might miss out on opportunities for growth and innovation.

One effective strategy to balance risk is collaborative decision-making. By involving a team with diverse perspectives and risk tolerance levels, you can achieve a more balanced approach. For example, if you’re naturally risk-averse, having team members who are more comfortable with risk can help you consider options you might otherwise overlook. Conversely, if you’re prone to taking risks, team members with a more cautious approach can help you consider potential downsides and plan for contingencies.

In the church context, it’s crucial to recognize that some level of change and risk-taking is necessary for growth and relevance. Staying the same is not actually maintaining the status quo – because the world around your church is constantly changing. You can strategize for the future or you can be a victim of it.

However, this doesn’t mean recklessly pursuing every new idea. The goal is to make informed decisions that balance potential risks and rewards. This might involve starting with small, manageable changes and gradually taking on bigger challenges as you build confidence and see positive results.

Remember, your church’s mission and values should guide your risk assessment. A decision that aligns closely with your church’s core purpose might be worth a higher level of risk than one that’s more peripheral.

By understanding and managing risk tolerance levels – both your own and those of your leadership team – you can make more balanced, effective decisions that help your church thrive in changing times.

Barrier 5: Conflict Avoidance

Conflict avoidance is a significant barrier to effective decision-making in churches. Many leaders hesitate to make necessary changes or decisions due to fear of relational damage or potential disagreements within the congregation.

A common example is the reluctance to modify or end a long-standing ministry because of concerns about upsetting dedicated volunteers or long-time members. However, this fear of conflict can paralyze a church and prevent it from adapting to changing needs and circumstances.

It’s important to recognize that the fear of conflict is often greater than the reality of potential conflict. While it’s true that almost any decision, especially those involving change, may upset someone, this shouldn’t prevent you from making decisions that benefit the majority of your congregation and align with your church’s mission.

Here are some strategies to manage conflict in decision-making:

  • Communicate clearly: Explain the reasoning behind decisions and how they align with the church’s mission and values.
  • Involve others in the process: When appropriate, include key stakeholders in the decision-making process to gain buy-in and diverse perspectives.
  • Set expectations: For new initiatives, consider framing them as “beta tests” or trial periods, which can make it easier to make changes later if needed.
  • Focus on the mission: Remind yourself and others that decisions should be based on what’s best for the church’s mission, not on avoiding conflict.
  • Be prepared for some pushback: Accept that not everyone will agree with every decision, but that doesn’t mean the decision is wrong.

Remember, the fear of conflict shouldn’t override your ability to lead effectively. While it’s important to be sensitive to people’s feelings, it’s equally important to make decisions that move your church forward in fulfilling its mission.

As a church leader, part of your role is to have those difficult conversations when necessary. By approaching potential conflicts with empathy, clear communication, and a focus on the church’s overall mission, you can navigate these challenges more effectively and make the decisions your church needs to thrive.


As we’ve explored these five barriers to effective decision-making in the church, it’s clear that leadership comes with its fair share of challenges. Blind spots, sunk costs, time pressures, risk tolerance, and conflict avoidance can all hinder our ability to make the best choices for our congregations.

But here’s the good news: awareness is the first step toward improvement. By recognizing these barriers, you’re already on the path to becoming a more effective decision-maker.

Remember, the goal isn’t perfection. It’s about progress and a commitment to leading your church with wisdom and discernment. Sometimes, this might mean stepping out of your comfort zone, challenging long-held assumptions, or having difficult conversations. Other times, it might mean slowing down to gather more information or perspectives before moving forward.

As you face decisions in your ministry, big or small, keep these barriers in mind. Ask yourself: Am I seeing the full picture? Am I holding onto something just because we’ve always done it that way? Am I rushing this decision unnecessarily? Am I balancing risk and caution appropriately? Am I avoiding a necessary change because I’m afraid of conflict?

Leadership in the church is a weighty responsibility, but it’s also a tremendous privilege. By improving your decision-making process, you’re not just becoming a better leader – you’re helping your church more effectively fulfill its mission and make a lasting impact in your community.

So, take heart. With God’s guidance and these insights in mind, you’re well-equipped to navigate the challenges of church leadership. Trust in the Lord, lean on the wisdom of others, and lead courageously. Your church’s future may depend on the decisions you make today.

Watch this episode on YouTube!

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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