Effective Long Range Planning

By Robert E. Bingham

Planning is the determination of what needs to be done, who needs to do it, by what time, in order to accomplish an objective.

Case Study

Jack Baker was serving as a foreign missionary, specializing in communications. While the stated objective of this mission was evangelistic in nature, no evangelist alive could surpass Jack’s concern and interest in communicating the gospel. Although not a preacher, Jack was the needed link in transmitting the Word into words that flowed over the airways.

His technical training disciplined him to accept no excuse for perfection in the technical aspects of clear communication and reception. Electronics was his expertise, yet he was a man of personal devotion and spiritual commitment. He was just the man God needed in God’s plan of world missions.

The leader of the mission was J. T. Adams, a field evangelist with thirty years experience in the area. He was both knowledgeable and persuasive in understanding the culture of the people and articulating the gospel in their language. He was a master in mass preaching, as well as personal witnessing. The other missionaries looked up to him spiritually and professionally.

It was time for the annual mission conference, one year after Jack had arrived on the scene. Everything seemed to be just right-good fellowship, excellent Bible study and times of devotion, stirring preaching, wholesome evaluation of the past, and vision for the future.

On the third day of the meetings, a natural conflict of objectives arose. In making their plans for the future, there were some concepts that did not lend themselves to effective planning. Oversimplified, they were: (1) Each missionary felt his input was equal to every other missionary in every field of endeavor. (2) The chairman served as moderator, but was not an action-maker. (3) Everyone tended to support every idea submitted, rather than to offend the initiator of the idea. (4) Plans seemed to be too general and were related to personal whims rather than specific goals of the mission as a whole. (5) In order to get some consensus, the missionaries began to trade-off one idea for another. (6) There was a deep feeling of personal warmth and care, but no feeling of mission cohesiveness. (7) Everybody was doing what was right in their own eyes, but no one had collective vision. (8) There was a growing concept that if they each chipped away at their own rocks, one day they would have a great sculptured mission work for the Lord.

Chairman Adams sensed the frustration and took the meeting into his own hands. He challenged everyone present by saying, “All of us are committed Christians, on a mission for our Lord. Everyone is important and needed. Each has a specific task to accomplish. But we are not united in our objective. It seems that we are mounting our horses and riding off in all directions. We have agreed that our primary objective these five years is to give every person in our country an opportunity to hear the gospel. All agreed? Of course. But we fail to see that our combined efforts as a whole will total more than our individual efforts.

“Jack, you are invaluable as our communication expert and technician, but are you giving your total energies to accomplishing our mission’s objective? It seems that your objective is to produce a perfect electronic signal. Maybe the time you spend trying to move from 95 percent efficiency to 100 percent could be spent in personal witnessing through some home Bible study classes.”

The lid was off the can and out came the worms. Jack reacted by pointing out there was an element of truth in Adams. But he reminded the group that they were still trying to evangelize
the country with the same basic communication philosophy as they did thirty years ago, Telstar not withstanding.

Sally, the home-and-church-mother, rationalized that being a good mother and wife was enough. When she added being the schoolteacher for their children, that was surely worthy of the objective of the mission.

Bud, the agricultural missionary, confessed that his goal was assisting the farmers to meet the physical needs of the locality by providing more irrigation for more food. Yes, he tried to set a good Christian example in word and deed. But his priority as a missionary lay in agriculture, not evangelism. That was Adam’s job.

The seminary professors were caught up in academics. They were giving time-and-a-half in their teaching roles. But they were not seeing the overarching objective of the mission as dictating priorities for their tasks.

Finally a voice came from the rear of the room, “Why don’t we follow our plan? Remember three years ago when we all put the pieces of our work in place? Our puzzle of frustration became a challenging mosaic? Why not use our plan?”

With one accord the group seemed to respond, “What plan?”

Locating the Traps

* Thinking that planning is unimportant.

* Thinking that planning is everything.

* Everyone plans every day-it’s simple.

* It’s too complex for the nonprofessional.

* Whatever my boss plans will suit me.

* Just get a good slogan and stick with it.

* Planning is an annual event with us.

* It is only sophisticated gimmickry.

* It’s not biblical or theological.

Major Trap-Any fool can draft a five-year plan. It takes a creative leader to be able to make day-to-day adjustments as the crises arise. The times change so fast that yesterday’s planning is
obsolete, tomorrow’s planning is dreaming.

This is the first great watershed in management. To plan or not to plan, that is the question. To be sure there have been classic cases of extremism on both sides of the question. Some churches seem to plan the morning worship service between hymns. Others make plans for year A.D. 2000 that are set in concrete today. Either extreme is doomed to die. It just takes a few years longer for the latter to be pronounced dead.

An illustration in management training is the person running up to the railroad ticket window and pleading, “I’ve got to go five hundred miles. Give me a ticket before the train pulls out. Don’t bother me about a specific destination. Can’t you see the train is about to leave? No, I don’t want to know what time it gets here. I just don’t want to be late leaving.”

Modern transportation has not changed the aptness of the analogy. It has only changed the acceleration by which the consequences are more dramatic. After all, you could get off the
train at the next station when you found you were really going in the wrong direction. Some people were known to jump from the train before it got up a full head of steam.

Today’s life-style makes planning, changing at the last minute, about as risky as jumping out of the airplane on takeoff. Several questions should serve as caution lights to
those about to fall into the trap of feeling that planning is not essential to good administration.

1) If you do not know your destination, how can you decide how to get there?

2) If you do not know where you are going, how will you know when you arrive?

3) If you are going at a great speed, is it in the right direction?

Other Traps-1. Long-range planning is a calculated way to make sure you cannot see the trees or the forest. You overlook the immediate needs of the organization by planning far in advance. And no one can predict what will happen in ten, or twenty years. You neither get to eat your cake nor keep it. Planning one year in advance is a strain on anyone’s prophetic ability.

These might well have been the famous last words of Rommel in Africa, or Napoleon and Hitler in Russia. It was fortunate for democracy that these generals had such errant planning models. It may be just as tragic for the kingdom that so many Christian leaders, missionaries, pastors, laypersons, have just as errant concepts of planning.

2. Whatever my boss wants to plan will suit me just fine. He’s the leader and calls all the shots. I just try to follow through and do my part.

Spoken like a loyal soldier of the cross. And like a person who is destined for stagnation of creativity. It is one thing to be loyal to your leadership. It is a different thing to assume that you can blindly follow any plan that is effected and still accomplish your personal goals.

If your goals (both structural and personal) are in conflict with those of your organization, you have three basic alternatives. (1) Try to amend the organization’s goals. (2) Try to change your goals. (3) Find another organization that has compatible goals with yours.

For the Christian, a more basic question arises: Are my goals and the goals of my organization compatible with the purpose of the kingdom? Common strategy dictates that Christians need to find out what God is doing and planning and get on with it.

An illustration used in Serving with the Saints is an appropriate analogy. A staff member in a Christian organization may not be the leader, but he may be the leader of his unit. By his education, experience, and expertise he may be the best prepared to lead in a certain task. But he takes his general leadership from the leader of the entire organization. The leader of the trombone section takes his structural guidance from the concertmaster of the orchestra. Yet, both of them cue in from the conductor. In the church, the minister of music is the leader of that segment of the church’s ministry. However, he takes his cue from the general leadership of the pastor. But both of them accept the planning and direction from Christ, the Master of the entire organization.

3. Just get a good slogan and plan around it. Everyone knows that major business companies have used this technique for years. Remember what it did for Alka-Seltzer? “Try it: you’ll like it!” “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” Biblical comics even claimed those were the original words of Adam and Eve in the garden.

Schaller and Tidwell refer to this as planning by cliches. All too often simplistic cliches, which later turn out to be fallacies, are offered as the solution to the problems of the church. For example, ours is a friendly church, and that’s our main attraction for people. Others are: (1) The youth are the church of tomorrow. (2) If we are ever going to reach more people, we will have to move to another location. (3) If we can bring in programs to our church building during the week, we will fill our sanctuary on Sunday and our membership will increase.

A tricky-play-on-words-slogan can no more provide a basis for planning, than the slogan “Everyone Win One” can guarantee a successful evangelistic program. At best, a slogan
can only capture the imagination of your public and capsulize your goal into a memorable phrase.

4. Planning is an annual event in our organization. We all take time off for a week and give our best thoughts toward our plans for the coming year. We develop objectives, goals, and actions and type it up into a neat booklet for everyone to have on his desk. Sounds good. It is not bad. It just prevents us from doing our best, and that may be the most insidious trap of all.

Planning is a process, not an event. It must go on continually, or it is destined for an early demise. The last factor in the process is evaluation and redesign, and the cycle begins again. The above illustration probably ends up with the booklet filed away in obscurity or ostentatiously placed on the desk for display purposes. A real plan book is dog-eared and penciled throughout. It is like a needed road map through unfamiliar territory. It is kept close by for ready reference.

5. Everyone must plan to exist. What’s the big deal about that?

Tell me something new. We plan every staff meeting. You fellows try to make something complicated out of something as inherent as breathing. Sounds impressive. Maybe he is a natural planner, maybe not. More than likely his staff associates have a different response to his planning style. They might say, “We don’t do any planning. It sounds simple enough to him when he says, `Look here! Our purpose is to have more Christians and better disciples in our organization. Now, let’s get out there and get the job done.’ ” If the example were not so true, it would be humorous rather than tragic.

6. Planning is only window dressing, substantiated by pages of statistics-more properly called “statics.” If we see enough pages of figures, charts, and graphs, we believe most anything.

It is true that statistics turn off many people. They either cannot understand them or cannot believe them. Which one of us has not quoted one of these accusations: “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure”; “He who lives by statistics will die by statistics.”

Planning may be used by some groups for window dressing, but it is the lifeline of any organization that has succeeded in accomplishing its objective. The plan need not be sophisticated, but you can rely on the fact there was a plan: well-conceived, well-understood, well-implemented, and well-evaluated.

7. Only trained professionals can really plan. Ask one of them to come in and help us. You don’t expect a plumber to practice law nor the attorney to lay the pipes for a new home. Get a pro to do it for us. Like most traps, these are half-truths to misguide us. Professional consultants can give guidance and insight to organizations as they begin their planning process. But the leadership of the organization are most likely to put all the pieces together for an effective plan. You know your environment, your human and financial resources, and the barriers toward accomplishing your objective. You know the gifts and talents of your personnel to match the needs of the tasks to be done.

But another word of caution-you may be too close to the trees to see the forest or too blind to see the trees. Remember Amos, the unlikely moonlighter from Judah. He was not the outside professional nor the inside experienced practitioner. He was God’s man to serve as the consultant to Israel. Avoiding this trap might mean that we must look to God for direction in our planning using whomever and whatever he chooses to use in the process.


If you can truthfully answer yes to each of the following questions, turn immediately to chapter 4. If not, the balance of this chapter will help you to get the feel of the basics in improving your planning procedures.

Yes or No

1. Planning is a continuing process.

2. My objectives are clearly stated.

3. My goals are realistic and reasonable.

4. Planning takes at least 10 percent of my time.

5. My long-range plans have current implementation.

6. My personal objectives are compatible with the objectives of my organization.

7. I plan from a basis of strength not weakness.

8. My plans set direction. I expect to make exceptions.

9. I have implemented this year’s plans this month.

10. A shallow planner seldom makes a deep impression.

11. I know the vital steps in the planning process.

12. I know the basis of program planning to budget planning.

13. Deadlines are a built-in security system.

14. Always evaluate the last year’s results before finalizing next year’s plans.

15. Past failures are a vital ingredient to future planning.

How to Avoid the Planning Traps

General Guidelines-1. Jesus practiced and taught good planning. Look at his entire life as recorded in the Gospels. He was a master in knowing exactly where he was in his time line related to his purpose and objectives. He advised his family that they did not understand his plan. He took about two decades to do his planning and only three years to carry out these plans.

Recall Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:28-30 when he warned that if a man wanted to build a tower, he had better stop to count the cost to see if he could complete it. Otherwise, if he was unable to finish it he would subject himself to ridicule. Today, Jesus might have included bankruptcy!
Some people claim that planning short-circuits the work of the Holy Spirit. How could the teachings of Jesus be in conflict with the work of his Spirit? Planning need not preempt
the Spirit, but it can enable the Spirit to do his work more effectively. People who excuse themselves from planning based on the above theology may be more lazy than orthodox.
2. It may have helped Jesus, but how can it help me?

A good plan should be the basis of your program, your decisions, and your control. It helps you get something accomplished, instead of just wishing you could get it done.

3. Recognize that planning is essential to living. The person who says, I don’t believe in planning does not realize what he is saying. Human existence is dependent upon individual and
collective planning, conscious or subconscious. When you get up in the morning, you choose what clothing to wear based upon your anticipated activities that day. You pay your bills at the end
of the month in terms of your plans for credit, savings, and future purchases. Your financial security is dependent upon your plans for retirement, the government’s plans for Social Security, and your savings investment plans. Or, you have a plan that says all of these are not helpful to you in reaching your objective, and your plan is to take each day as it comes. Unfortunately, that plan usually takes into consideration that if you fail, some other persons or institutions will bail you out! Almost everyone plans. Some plans are good, some poor; some near-sighted, some farsighted; some selfish, some unselfish; some relate to objectives, some do not. Almost everyone plans. But almost everyone walks, too. Some walk at the infant’s pace, and some walk at Olympic pace.

Likewise, there is a quality to planning, and it is just as dramatic as the difference in the toddler and the gold medal winner. A shallow planner seldom makes a deep impression. Many leaders are impressive at first glance. They can move masses of people to make quick decisions. They can gain a following based upon the here and now. However, without balanced planning, their
leadership remains static and their adherents dwindle.

4. Long-range plans must include the quality of vision but not be visionary. The latter quality tends to be without reason and credibility. The former requires an element of faith in order to achieve the objective. Long-range planning is seldom effective beyond five to ten years. But vision can span a decade or two. How can you have a long-range plan and begin each year with a shock to the organizational system called. “Surprise!?”

Daily implementation, if not in action at least in mindset, is necessary for two reasons. First, if your plans for the next five years cannot be acted on today, the plans are not valuable today. And today is the only day you have. If they only have a future sense about them, the realism absent today will most likely be unrealistic in the future. Searching through the twenty-four cases of files of Mrs. Una Roberts Lawrence, noted writer, editor, and historian for Southern Baptists in the first half of this century, I found that she had predicted that women would begin to assume more leadership in our churches by the year 1975. Her files showed that she worked at that cause from 1910 until her death in 1973.

5. Planning affects more than dollars and budgets, far more. Actually, dollars only supply the financial basis for our objectives. They are not, or should not be, our objectives.

Religious institutions are not in the business of accumulating and saving money. We are involved in investing our faith in the lives of others. In that process we may have to erect buildings,
finance salaries, and support programs of work. Therefore, plans for our organizations involve spending money through wise planning.

6. Planning is a tool. It does not take the place of administration or promotion. The Inter-Agency Council of the Southern Baptist Convention adopted its plan for planning in 1978. The following material came from their research.

Like any other tool, it may be wrongly used, as when it is substituted for action and decision, or when it becomes an evasion from the difficult tasks of management. It may also be wrongly used when it is developed without adequate understanding and applied without thorough follow-through.

Planning is merely the application of common sense to future work. It is not a predetermination of the future. Rather, it is an intelligent estimate of what the future will be like, and a procedure for dealing with it in an efficient manner.

Planning is the projection of the realization or achievement of a program. Its chief value is that it helps us to know what decisions to make now, and what is possible in the future.

7. Usable plans come off of objectives. What are some qualities of good objectives? Oversimplified, they are:

1. Related to your purpose

2. Limited in number

3. Attainable

4. Challenging

5. Measurable

6. Specific

7. Related to plans of other units in your organization

Specific Guidelines-1. The chief executive officer of your organization must believe in and practice planning or forget it structurally. You can plan personally, but do not waste your time in organizational planning without the example and support of your leader.

2. Understand the steps in a sound planning process. The organization determines the following:

1. Statement of purpose

2. Environment (situation in which you do your work)

3. Objectives

4. Goals

5. Action plan

6. Evaluation

3. Base your budget on your tasks in your action plan priorities. So often churches get these two reversed. Often, the finance committee decides on what the total amount of the budget should be. Then the church council plans next year’s program off of that base. A budget is only a road map allowing your church to reach her objectives through programs of work.

4. Plan with people and priorities in mind. Granted that your organization may take on new persons in the future, your plans begin with those now in your organization. What are their skills, gifts, and talents? How do they fit into the achieving of your objectives? Survey the tasks to be done and strive to match up your people with the tasks. Get the round pegs in the round holes.

The word people sounds so warm. Priorities sounds so cold. At its coldest, priorities keep people from doing what they want to do when that is contrary to the objective of the group. The apostles had one set of objectives. Jesus had another. The apostles were often frustrated when Jesus determined to follow his priority system rather than theirs. That’s the price of leadership. It goes with the territory.

5. Develop a calendar with deadline dates and specific assignments. An insurance executive put it bluntly when he said that in his company people are not motivated as much by what you “expect,” as by what you “inspect.” It did not sound right. It did not square with my concept of Christian leadership. Since our deacons’ family ministry plan was only operating at 35 percent efficiency, his concept was worth the risk.

The following year we did note our common objective: to visit every family of the church during the year, and at crisis times as needed. One small addition was made to the plan. We agreed that each month a sheet would be printed and distributed at the deacons’ meeting. Each deacon’s name, number of families, number of families visited to date, was listed on the sheet. Are you surprised that our efficiency leaped to 94 percent that year?

Deadlines are a friend to the achiever. They are an abomination to the dreamer. They help us reach our intended goal if we take them one at a time. Merrill Moore used to proclaim,
“Life is hard by the yard; by the inch, it is a cinch.”

6. Many a well-meaning rookie has gone through the whole planning cycle except evaluation. The process helped, so it was concluded to do it again next year. And the next year.

And so on. And that is why some horse and buggy companies folded when the automobile was invented. They did not reevaluate their purpose and objectives. No one misses the carriages. Tragically, many churches have failed for the same reason, and we miss them. Don’t let yours be the next to be missed because you failed to evaluate your plan each year, correcting and improving as you go.

R. O. Loen, president of a management consulting firm, gives this advice, “Get the facts before they get you.” He then goes on to say that the following questions are basic in evaluating.

1. What deviations from planned performance are significant?

2. What caused such deviations?

3. What actions might you take?

4. What are likely results of each action?

7. Be aware of the traps to effective planning. Leslie This interviewed one hundred managers and accumulated this list in descending rank order.”

1. Inadequate communication

2. Insufficient data

3. Faulty or inadequate problem identification or definition

4. Insufficient time to plan

5. Unclear parameters for the plan (staff, budget, time, facilities, equipment, etc.) in the planning request

6. No emphasis on planning; the organization prefers to work on a crisis basis

7. I don’t like to plan.

8. Nobody will cooperate in the planning process.

9. We don’t have a range of alternatives to choose from in our planning.

10. The timing is bad for submitting plans.

11. The knowledge or views of the planners are too limited.

12. My organization resists change.

13. We don’t know the organization’s major goals; objectives are not clear.

14. We don’t involve the people who have to implement the plan or who are affected by it.

15. It is never clear who is to do what or when.

16. The planning approver is not knowledgeable or is disinterested.

17. We plan only after a problem has become acute.

18. The plan is never followed up.

19. Nobody respects the abilities of the planners.

20. Past plans were too optimistic.

21. Goals are too ambitious.

22. People resist any plan.

23. Premature implementation

24. If the plan doesn’t show an immediate dollar return, it hasn’t a chance.

25. Planning is not coordinated; others are doing similar planning.

26. There’s no point to planning; too many unforeseen things are beyond my control or vision.

27. If I commit myself, I will be held accountable.

28. The boss and the organization shoot from the hip; should I?

29. I don’t have the authority to implement my planning.

8. Plan from strengths to weaknesses. Often, it becomes more natural to try it the other way. Schaller and Tidwell explain it this way. A hypothetical church was bemoaning its condition and wanting to make some changes. Noting the absence of young couples, the conversation between two church leaders went something like this. “You’re right, Martha,” agreed another older leader.

“We do a pretty good job here at Ebenezer for couples in their fifties and sixties, but there is no future for our church in that age group. There’s no question but that reaching out to young couples should be our top priority.”

“I couldn’t agree with you both more,” added a man who was generally recognized to be the most influential leader at Ebenezer Church. “I know it’s easy to list a Lot of other problems we have here. The Sunday School is down to a handful of kids, we’re hurting financially, we need more parking, and we’re short of leaders; but those are really symptoms of a more basic problem. If two dozen young adults joined the congregation next Sunday, all of these other problems would soon disappear!” This approach to planning, priority-setting, and decision making is not unusual. It is one of the most widely used planning models to be found in the churches. For the purposes of this discussion it can be identified as planning from weaknesses. Or, to be more specific this planning model appears to be based on the assumption that the best approach to planning is to identify that area of ministry in which our church is least effective, or that function of the church in which we as a congregation are weakest, and make it the number one priority. This means concentrating on that specialized area of ministry in which the resources are the fewest, past experiences will be least effective, and local skills are the scarcest. There may be other approaches which have a greater probability of failure than this planning-from-weakness model, but it is very difficult to name more than two or three. There may be other techniques which are more likely to undermine the morale of the congregation, but they are very rare. There may be other administrative processes which are more likely to be nonproductive, but they too are fortunately very rare.

9. Plan for “Bad News at Flat Rock.” The poet has reminded us that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Then what? Throw up our hands in futility and cry, “I knew it wouldn’t work”? A far better option is to have an emergency plan already in the files. Although you hope that no one will rain on your parade, you know better. When the forecast is for rain, you had better get out your umbrella.

In initial planning, write down the possible risks involved in each stage of the actions planned. Then make some notes on how to act in terms of such an emergency. Far better it is to act from planning than to blindly react from a crisis. Emergency planning is like taking out fire insurance. If you do not use it, so much the better. If you need it, you have it. Perhaps we, are all tempted to say that we only have fire insurance when we don’t need it. Or, it must pay to worry because everything I worry about never happens. And we laugh about it, but subconsciously maybe we are considering cancelling the fire insurance for next year. Before you do, talk to someone who had a fire without insurance.

Obviously, we are not limiting this section to fire insurance. A fire can only burn down the church building. Other unforeseen emergencies can tear down the church itself. That is a crisis of real concern. If your planning has any boldness and imagination, it will also have some risk. Better be prepared with some emergency plans if the risks become too risky.

A Case Study

In 1960, the Wieuca Road Baptist Church of Atlanta was only six years old. Good planning and administration had given the church an unusually good birth. There were 1,100 members with a budget of nearly $200,000. But the church had plateaued two years previously. The pastor, J. T. Ford, and other leaders of the church felt it was time to plan for another five-year cycle.

We met countless times after gathering data. In May 1961, our recommendations were presented to the congregation. After three sessions of discussion and refinement, the plan was adopted. Note the plans and the historical results. (Only a small portion of the plans are listed here.)

Action Planned Results

1. Develop job descriptions for all 1. Completed in June, 1961.
personnel and committees by June

2. Sponsor a mission in 1961. 2. Mission started in 1961;
became a church in 1962.
Budget of former mission,
$500,000 in 1978.

3. Establish Family-Night Supper 3. Began in October, 1961.
program on Wednesday by October, 1961. – 500 in attendance by 1968.

4. Redesign and reactivate new member orientation class by 1962. continues in 1978. – 4. Reactivated in 1962 and use

5. Develop membership profile by 5. Kardex file instituted in
1962. 1962; computerized in 1969.

6. Develop a camping program for 6. One-week camp for children
children and youth by June, 1962. and one for youth began in
1962. By 1967, more than 250

7. Institute weekly teachers’ meetings by October, 1962. – 7. Began in October, 1962.

8. Strengthen missionary education 8. Strengthened existing for youth by doubling attendance girls groups and established by January, 1963. groups for boys in 1962. Total attendance increased by 80 percent, by March, 1963.

9. Plan to occupy interim sanctuary 9. First services held in in 1962, and permanent sanctuary respective sanctuaries in in 1970. in July, 1962 and January, 1971.

There were four objectives with twelve goals, and thirty-five tasks (actions). The church reached three objectives very well and one in a fair manner. Over 90 percent of the tasks were completed during the five-year plan. The members do not recall this time in the life of the church as one of great growth. (That came in the next five years.) But they do recognize these years as the time of foundation building.