Every congregation has a set of expectations, mostly unspoken and never completely identified, about making decisions. And sometimes, these expectations are unhelpful. One such unhelpful expectation is the belief that everyone needs to know everything, and the church can’t act until everyone approves.
The expectation that everyone must know and approve gives tremendous power to discontented members. The whole church can be held hostage by a few people who object. This expectation both reveals and fosters lower trust.
In churches operating with this expectation, many leaders expect to be included in every decision. “Why wasn’t I asked about that? Why didn’t that come through my committee?” Leaders genuinely search for clarity about their responsibilities. Yet when every leader expects to be included, the system becomes increasingly complex. No one wants to be left out of the loop. This expectation causes ideas to circulate through an endless number of committees up and down the organizational chart. It slows down processes and requires people to vote and re-vote on mundane decisions.
Churches that expect that everyone must approve everything surrender at the first sign of disagreement. They coddle critics and modify plans to appease anyone who objects. They settle for mediocrity instead of demanding excellence and fruitfulness. They accept a peaceful intransigence and a less-threatening inertia rather than pushing for action.
Moreover, the expectation that everyone must know and approve gives tremendous power to discontented members. The whole church can be held hostage by a few people who object. Regrettably, meeting everyone’s expectations slows down processes and expands the size and number of committees.
The desire to please everyone is a prescription for decline. Leaders must be able to handle the stress of occasionally disappointing people. Growing churches reach a point where no one person knows everything that’s going on. The insistence that someone, or everyone, must know everything limits growth.
The expectation that everyone has to know everything both reveals and fosters lower trust. If laity do not trust staff, the finance committee has no confidence in the mission team, the council questions the motivations of the day school, and old-timers mistrust newcomers, then the church creates a system overpowered by rules, prescribed procedures, slow processes, and long circular sequences of permission seeking.
Changing this expectation requires a conscious decision, and it demands a higher level of trust and maturity. It requires leaders who can let go when it’s appropriate to let go. As one long-time layperson told me, “Sometimes I have to let go in order for someone else to take hold.”