A Four Step Problem Solving and Decision Making Structure
When facing challenging problems and important decisions it is critical that church leaders examine all of their options carefully. An effective approach divides the process into four steps:
- Define the Problem
- Develop Potential Courses of Action
- Predict Outcomes
- Make the Decision
This is a useful structure because it helps church leaders establish a balanced and informed picture of the risks and rewards associated with each possible course of action.
Step One: Define the Problem
The first step for addressing any problem is to clearly define the problem you are trying to solve. With most complex decisions there are multiple problems to address and you can only address one at a time. Typically there is one problem that supersedes the others. Further, it is easy to find yourself treating symptoms rather than the underlying problem.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose church leaders realize that Sunday morning attendance in both Worship and Bible Study is plateaued.
Separate the problem from the symptoms. Through a congregational survey church leaders discover that plateaued attendance is only a symptom of a high frustration with parking and campus ingress and egress. Church leaders could treat the symptom of flat attendance by increasing advertising in the community. This might result in a temporary bump in attendance but wouldn’t solve the core problem, lack of parking and limited ingress and egress to the campus.
Separate the problem from other problems. In our example, it is possible that the effectiveness of the Small Group ministry also contributes to the flattening in attendance. But, that is a separate problem, a solution to which won’t help with the parking and ingress and egress problem.
Step Two: Develop Potential Courses of Action
The second step is to list as many possible solutions to the problem as possible. The more alternatives listed the more likely you are to make a good decision.
In our example, the problem of sufficient parking and campus ingress and egress, decision makers might consider solutions like, offer dual Worship Services and Bible Study hours, increase time between services, provide services on another day of the week, hire off duty police to direct traffic, enlist traffic engineers to help maximize parking and traffic control, purchase more land for additional parking and ingress and egress, etc.
Step Three: Predict Outcomes
The third step is to try and predict the outcome for each solution. Each solution may have multiple potential outcomes.
Here it is helpful to assign a probability of success to each alternative, such as: Good Chance of Succeeding, Moderate Chance of Succeeding and Poor Chance of Succeeding.
Another approach is to forecast scenarios, such as: Best Case Scenario, Worst Case Scenario and Most Likely Scenario.
An additional option is to assign risk and cost, such as: High Risk, Moderate Risk, and Low Risk or High Cost, Moderate Cost and Low Cost.
Yet another filter to consider is that of impact, such as: High Impact, Moderate Impact, and Low Impact on solving the problem.
Step Four: Make a Decision
The last step is to make a decision by selecting the option that has the most desirable and achievable outcomes. This optimal decision is based upon the decision makers’ analysis of the potential risks and rewards and the costs and benefits of each potential solution.
This four step structure provides church leaders an effective method for problem solving and decision making by:
- Clearly defining the most pressing problem so it can be researched, discussed and challenged.
- Allowing for thorough analysis of the possible consequences of each potential decision.
- Providing a framework to quantify the values of outcomes and the probabilities of achieving them.
As with all church decisions this approach should be used in conjunction with scripture, prayer, listening and spiritual wisdom, and thus is just one important part of your problem solving and decision making tool kit.
Posted on December 13, 2016