Summary: There’s no such thing as a decision-making expert. Even so-called “experts” disagree on what could or should happen much of the time, and they routinely misjudge the quality of their decisions. Whole-church decision-making offers health and protection.
As I laid out in this previous post, maturity in a church matters to its ability to make consistently wise decisions. But, it has to be careful not to “fall off the other side of the horse” so to speak. While you can’t expect a bunch of immature Christians to be consistently wise, you also can’t expect a few of the smartest, most mature to be either.
Let me explain with an example…
There are no decision-making experts
In the book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowieki points out how between 1984 and 1999, almost 90 percent of mutual-fund managers underperformed the Wilshire 5000 Index, which is a relatively low bar. Remember, these are people that get paid to make money for people that entrust it to them!
The Wilshire 5000 Index is something that basically mirrors the performance of the stock market in general and that any individual could just buy on their own and not pay the additional fees to the manager. So, if a person would have simply done that, they would have made more (or lost less) money than giving their money to the expert.
But this is just one example. In fact, Wharton professor J. Scott Armstrong did a survey of expert forecasts and analysis in a wide variety of fields and wrote, “I could find no studies that showed an important advantage for expertise.” Here’s a look at a graph that illustrates his conclusion…
I see this all the time with sporting events. The pre-game shows come on and they have a bunch of ex-players and coaches who are “experts” in the game and they make their predictions about what’s going to happen and who’s going to win. I don’t have any data on this, but they seem to be wrong just as much as they are right about what’s going to happen. What’s more, most of the time the 4 or 5 “experts” they have contributing to the show don’t even agree on what’s going to happen.
In fact, the between-expert agreement in a host of fields is below 50 percent, meaning that experts are as likely to disagree as to agree.
The point here is there can be experts in knowledge and skills that depend on application, hard work, and native talent. You can be an expert football player, mathematician or Bible scholar. But there’s no real evidence that one can become an expert in something as broad as decision-making or policy or strategy.
People don’t know how bad their decisions are
Again, this doesn’t mean you can assemble a group of diverse immature people and expect their decisions to be wise. On average, less mature people, of course, will make worse decisions than more mature people. I mean, decision-making ability is one of the signs of maturity after all.
What you need is to assemble a group of people that possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight and entrust it with major decisions, rather than leaving them in the hands of a few people, no matter who they are.
While more mature people may make better decisions overall than immature people, they are still surprisingly bad at calibrating their judgments. This means they don’t have a great sense of how correct their judgments are; routinely overestimating the likelihood that they have the best solution.
So it’s not just a matter of being “right” or “wrong,” but of being aware of the quality of any given decision. Even if it’s a minority of the time, when they do come up with a bad solution, they have no idea how bad it really is.
Group decision-making offers protection
Even if you have a few people, they can still fall prey to this tendency if they are too much alike. Groups that are too much alike can find it difficult to investigate alternative opinions, which is one of the keys to making consistently wise decisions.
Surowiecki points out…
Homogeneous groups are great at doing what they do well, but they become progressively less able to investigate alternatives. They spend too much time exploiting and not enough time exploring.
So even if the additional people that are included in the group aren’t that mature, the important thing is that they’re bringing new information and a different perspective to the table that isn’t redundant to everyone else in the group.
This is the protection that making decisions as a church offers. No matter how mature people are, they carry around (some more than others) blind spots and routinely overestimate the quality of their own opinions. A commitment to making decisions as a church helps to circumvent this natural tendency.
Why we rely on “smarter” Christians
So if this is the case, why don’t we do this more often? Why do we seemingly always tend to look for the “smarter Christians” to handle decisions for us?
- We, especially the less mature, don’t know who they really are in Christ and in their church. Every Christian, no matter where they are in the maturation process, is a child in God’s family, a priest in God’s temple, and a part of His body. When people don’t know this, they’re more accepting to free ride and hand off responsibility to others that are willing to take it from them.
- We, especially the more mature, tend to assume that adding less mature people to the mix somehow makes the group less wise. There’s no evidence for this.
- Life outside of the church (and many times within the church) is inundated with the world’s system, which is structured to push decision-making “up the ladder” to the smartest individuals. Doing things completely opposite of what you’re used to is hard.
- Because of our lack of experience making decisions in groups, we are blind to the wisdom a crowd brings. This lack of experience causes us to settle for the suboptimal option of leaving decisions in the hands of a few.
A huge part (maybe the biggest) of what brings people to maturity in Christ is how they’re treated by other Christians. I mentioned in a previous series on relationships that people tend to behave how you treat them. This psychological principle is called “labeling.”
For people to mature, the area of decision-making is one where they need to be treated like who they are…so they will grow into who they are.
We tend to think that “finding the right person” to follow and make decisions is the way to go.
Don’t chase the expert
Ever notice when churches turn over pastors, how frequently they will choose a replacement that is the opposite personality and has different skills than the person before them? They see the frustrations they had with that one person (who of course had deficiencies) and see the opportunity to relieve those frustrations with the replacement. Maybe the last person was a great preacher, but a bad administrator, for example. Then lo and behold, the replacement comes with a whole new set of frustrations!
Because even experts are imperfect, their performance with decision-making will vary wildly depending on the problem they’re asked to solve.
All of this means that attempting to “chase the expert” that will make decisions and solve problems is not the way to go. Depending on the situation, they are also prone to making the worst decisions.
The rest of the posts in the Consistently Wise series are here.