Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Promotion-Focused vs. Prevention-Focused

A couple weeks ago, my thesis supervisor was in Muncie for an on-site visit. We reviewed the work of the first few chapters and talked about areas that needed work. One of the oversights was psychosocial research. I assumed that confidence in decision-making was something that would naturally lead to better decisions. I needed to evaluate whether this assumption was true. In the past couple of weeks I have read a variety of studies about confidence and decision-making. One of the studies caught my attention and I would like to share it with you.

Andrew Chervev from Northwestern University wrote an article entitled Choosing Versus Rejecting: the Impact of Goal Task Compatibility on Decision Confidence. While the title is a mouthful, the results are interesting. In his research he discovered that promotion-focused individuals tend to be more confident while prevention-focused individuals do not. He describes, “the data reported in a series of three experiments show that promotion focused individuals tend to be more confident in their decisions in the context of the selection rather than a rejection task, whereas prevention-focused individuals this effect is reversed.” 1

What does he mean by this? What is a promotion-focused individual as compared to a prevention-focused individual? I have to admit, I don’t really like these terms. Promotion-focused sounds self-centered, institutional. What he means by a promotion-focused individual is one that is positive thinking, looking ahead, task and goal oriented. In turn, a prevention-focused individual is one who is trying to prevent something bad from happening. They are not necessarily forward thinking, they are just trying to put out fires.

So what does this have to do with the church? What does it have to do with decision-making? While Chervev’s research is from a psychosocial viewpoint (it does not take into account spiritual dimensions of decision-making), his conclusion should be considered. It seems that promotion-focused churches would be those that have a sense of mission, churches who are seeking God’s direction, mission-focused, considering God’s work in our world. We have to be careful, in terms of missional thinking, that the promotion-focus is not about ourselves, our institution. Rather, we are focused on promoting God’s mission in the world.

In contrast, prevention-focused churches are those who are simply trying to appease its members. You probably know churches like this. In board meetings, the discussion usually centers around those who are upset. We question how we can fix the problems; little time is given to vision, considering what God is doing in the world.

So if the result of Chervev’s study is true, we will be more confident in our decision-making if we are missional, promotion-focused (promoting God’s mission, not ourselves). If we are simply putting out fires, attempting to appease members, our confidence level will remain low.

I thought this study was applicable to churches and decision-making. I hope you find it interesting.

  1. Chernev, Alexander. “CHOOSING VERSUS REJECTING: THE IMPACT OF GOAL-TASK COMPATIBILITY ON DECISION CONFIDENCE.” Social Cognition 27, no. 2 (April 2009): 249-260. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 4, 2011).