The P Conundrum: Practice, Procedure or Policy?
What is best for your church…a practice? Procedure? Or policy?
When a practice suffices, great. When a documented procedure is needed, do that. And save the policies for when those two aren’t enough.
Too often churches become policy-heavy and the result is slowed ministry and confused workers. Over-the-top policies become “red tape” that stifles ministry progress.
Yet, there are certain policies required by law (and we should obey). And even below the legal threshold, there are best practices for putting some polices in place even when not required by law.
But many times churches implement policies when a simple stated practice would suffice.
Determining whether an issue should have an established (stated) practice, procedure or policy will depend on the frequency of its occurrence or the margin for error or inconsistency for a particular issue.
We often look to large churches to model what should be done in our (smaller) churches. Large churches may use policies to deal effectively and efficiently with the scope of their work. But where a large church might deal with a certain issue 100 times a year, the same issue may only occur three times in another church. So, it doesn’t need the same treatment.
When you place policies or procedures where a practice suffices, it leads to slow work, it frustrates the people enforcing the policy, and the people abiding by the over-the-top policy.
The differences and self-assessing which one is needed
- Practices are most often “what we’ve done in the past.” They’re precedents and come within the authority of current leadership. Practices give a sense of direction about an issue, but also communicates there can be flexibility and exceptions.
- Procedures occur when less ambiguity is desired. The issue’s decision points might have multiple steps and a documented procedure is best. A documented procedure gives clarity about how a decision is made and provides steps on how to get it done without a lot of interpretation by those involved.
- Policies assume legal or fiduciary accuracy. Or it addresses an issue demanding straightforward behavior or outcomes. Or it could be the issue happens with regularity, and it no longer makes sense to slow a decision down by having to consider the uniqueness of a practice or procedure.
Policies protect the people (decision-makers). It removes the leader from having to use personal discretion or persuasion in deciding an issue. An effective policy will be the right way 98% of the time. There could be exceptions, but they should be exceptional reasons (such as, a pandemic…consider how many policies got [rightfully] upended in this time).
Scaling of the Ps
Most times it’s best to begin with a practice. And use that as long as it’s effective. But as the decision points grow in number or complexity, you’ll move to the procedure or policy stage. And when you do, you’ll have the experience of what content needs to be included in those procedures and policies.
Policies are great, if written well and wielded prudently. I’m pro-policy, but only after I determine a practice or procedure is insufficient.
Want examples, continue on—
Examples for what P stage makes most since in typical church setting:
Licensing ministers: If this is happening 1-2 times a year, it could just be a practice. But if that number grows or to ensure fairness and standards each time, a procedure may be best.
Room reservations at the church: If you have a church building, depending on frequency of requests, at least a procedure is needed, and perhaps, a policy. And it could be, it’s a procedure for internal requests, but you have a policy for “outside request of usage.”
Whistle Blower complaints: Policy.
Credit card purchase review: Procedure and should move to policy as quickly as possible or as advised.
Guest baptizers or speakers: A practice might suffice. But if you’re getting requests more than once a year and the vetting of each situation or person needs to delegated or shared my multiple people, then a procedure that outlines your biblical understanding, along with other standards and expectations of the guest, than a procedure makes sense.