Summary: Individuals cannot consistently outperform groups when it comes to decision-making. Churches must get the process of making decisions as a group right to make consistently wise decisions.
You’ve likely played a guessing game in your lifetime where you were asked to predict how heavy something was or how many jelly beans were in a jar. The winner was whoever was the closest to the actual answer. Since there’s usually a good amount of participants in those guessing games, you probably didn’t win. Maybe you were close, but someone else was closer. Or maybe you were way off like I usually am. 😁
As an individual participant though, you were VERY unlikely to come up with the best answer and win. Even if you did win, it probably only happened once. And if you were for some reason predisposed to being very good at estimating how heavy something was and won more than the average person, you wouldn’t be able to continue your success rate if we simply switched the challenge to something like guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. It’s VERY likely someone else would perform better under different circumstances.
This is the case because of how humans have been wired. When it comes to making decisions, individuals cannot consistently outperform groups, even if they’re experts. Any given individual may be able to outperform a group once in a while. But they cannot do it consistently. If you run ten different jelly-bean-counting experiments, you’ll likely get one or two people that will outperform the group’s average each time. But they will not be the same person each time.
On the other hand, if you aggregate the group’s answers into an average, you’ll consistently get better answers than you would by relying on one or even a few individuals over a series of trials.
Groups consistently discover the most optimal solutions
In the book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki runs through a bunch of research examples about group dynamics where experiments were done to compare the performance of individuals with that of a group’s collective wisdom. No matter what the situation (given the right characteristics that we’ll get into in another post), the group most consistently discovers the optimal solution.
For example, remember the show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Remember how participants were given lifelines when they needed help answering a question? By far, the success rate of polling the audience was much higher (91%) than phoning a smart friend (65%).
So what does this have to do with making decisions in churches?
It’s scientific evidence for what the Bible already teaches about how churches should function; including the process of making decisions.
The Church is a circle
In a previous blog series that provided insights about God’s design for the church, I pointed out in one post how healthy churches throughout history have operated in a circular structure of relationships, as opposed to the hierarchical structure found commonly in the world’s system.
Here’s some thoughts from that post…
How does a healthy church function? The 30,000 foot view New Testament answer…
It functions by mutual edification through Kingdom principles within circular relationships. Only in circles are people equals. Only in circles does everyone carry the same sense of ownership on their shoulders. Only in circles does everyone carry the same level of responsibility to contribute through their gifts and abilities for the good of the whole. Only in circles can edification be mutual.
Listen to how the apostle Paul described the church as a circle…
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (I Corinthians 12:7-11)
The bottom line is church life was designed to be a group endeavor, and that applies to every aspect of its life; including decision-making.
For a church to come to consistently wise decisions, it must involve every member. In general, the fewer members the process involves, the less wise the church becomes.
Limiting people limits wisdom
This makes total sense when you think about another way to conceptualize the church – as a body. The Bible says that the church is a body that gets its directions from it’s Head – Jesus Christ. What would happen if you slowly took away the parts of a body one by one? It would lose its ability to do certain activities.
For example, take away its hands and it wouldn’t be able to grab. As it lost its ability to do certain functions, it would also lose its sensitivity that the possibilities to do those activities even existed. Since it can’t grab things anymore, it wouldn’t even think of grabbing as a possibility anymore.
This is what happens when a church delegates decision-making to a few individuals. It limits the possibilities to only those the individuals involved in the decision-making process can perceive because of how they’re wired, their personalities, what their spiritual gifts are, etc. When you limit possibilities, you limit the ultimate quality of the outcome.
The Head delivers one message
Making decisions as a group also fits with the body concept because heads don’t deliver two different messages to two different body parts. It’s not going to tell a leg to go right and an arm to go left. The body would be perpetually injured. If the head wants the body to go right, it sends the same message to all of the parts and then they coordinate themselves to accomplish the task. So it is with Christ.
But if all the parts aren’t involved, how do you know if this is happening or not? You don’t. You can see how the body needs to be coordinated.
Since we know the problem isn’t with the message the Head is sending, we know it’s a breakdown in communication somewhere from the Head to the body parts and/or between the body parts. So we don’t want to move until we figure that out. Doing so injures the body, not because any particular decision by a certain part would be bad or wrong, but because it breaks oneness. It’s the breaking of oneness that causes the injuries.
The actual decision becomes secondary to the process of laying hold of the Head’s communications together. The process is the most important part. It’s what builds unity. It’s what creates ownership. It’s what spurs people on to participation. It’s what makes you be able to say your church is a body experientially, not just theoretically.
Get the process of making decisions as a group right and your decisions will be wise naturally.
The rest of the posts in the Consistently Wise series are here.