Case studies are like art models in that they require a participant to study a situation, examine the angles, and form an idea based on the information at hand. A good case study not only challenges an individual to use their noggin, but also encourages group discussion.

Case Studies: A Treadmill for Leaders

So, what makes a case study such a powerful tool for leaders, teachers, and students? Look at a case study like a leader’s treadmill: the overall purpose is to paint a picture of an actual situation—often ambiguous in nature—whereby the participants are left to process the situation and provide a solution to the problem, which may have multiple outcomes.

Paul Lawrence, who co-authored the article, Administering Changes: A Case Study of Human Relations in a Factory, put it this way:

A good case is the vehicle by which a chunk of reality is brought into the classroom to be worked over by the class and the instructor. A good case keeps the class discussion grounded upon some of the stubborn facts that must be faced up to in real-life situations. It is the anchor on academic flights of speculation. It is the record of complex situations that must be literally pulled apart and put together again before the situations can be understood…

Case Method

Case Method originated in Harvard Law School in 1870; students were immersed in actual situations as opposed to memorizing legal principals and theorizing about hypothetical situations. The method was later adopted by Harvard Business School to prepare students for management positions by instilling in them the skills needed to analyze difficult situations and make difficult decisions.

What Studying Case Studies Can Contribute to Your Leadership Team?

Using case studies can add a unique element to your ministry, especially if you are trying to nurture spiritual leadership within the culture of your team or organization. In a group setting, case studies often have crescendo affect as your team can begin to explore and discuss all of the possibilities of a scenario. Leaders are challenged to consider options, develop a Christian worldview, and prepare an apt response for trying situations.

Alan Neely, author of, Christian Mission, A Case Study Approach writes,

The goal of a good case study discussion is not to win a debate, but to understand the nature of the problem and make a decision about a course of action that is possible, reasonable, and ethical.

A good case study will often be the result of reflecting on your own experiences. You may know one when you see one, but you might not necessarily have one just by looking for it.

Four Criteria for a Good Case Study

  1. A case describes a difficult problem, a dilemma for which there is no single obvious solution. (If the solution is obvious, or if the courses of possible action would not produce a difference of opinion, then you do not have the material for a good case study).
  2. A case must describe an actual event, not hypothetical. A good case is a true one. People are drawn in by the fact it actually happened. Its okay to change the names, but don’t embellish the story.
  3. A case should be a question or problem with which many people can identify and in which they have a genuine interest. Think to yourself, am I trying to make this into something relevant, or does this really matter to our cause.
  4. A case is written from one person’s perspective. When writing, gather as many details and facts as possible, but avoid trying to see it through the eyes of everyone involved. Don’t attribute feelings or motives to anyone involved unless stated by that person.

An Example Case Study

John Barley is a leader at a Christian summer camp. One of his duties is to “clear the cabins” during dinner to ensure the campers are in the dining hall and not in their rooms. During this process, Barley, and one of his co-leaders, discover a group of campers in a room full of marijuana smoke.

Barley searches the room and presses the campers for information about where the marijuana is and who brought it. None confess and no drugs are discovered. Protocol calls for the campers to be sent home, yet Barley feels the campers need a chance to hear the Gospel.
by Patrick Crossland – a guestblogger from the Center for International Youth Ministry


Neely, Alan. Christian Mission: a Case Study Approach. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995. Print.

Hiebert, Paul G., and Frances F. Hiebert. Case Studies in Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987. Print.

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