Sun. Feb 28th, 2021

By Robert N. White

Why plan? Why ask this question? Don’t most people recognize the values of planning? The answer, unfortunately, is “no.” As a consultant, an executive introducing planning into a major corporation, and a leader of numerous seminars on planning, I concluded long ago that planning is not a “natural” activity for most people. These are some of the reasons:

1. It is human nature to think more about immediate concerns. Planning is something that can be put off until tomorrow.

2. Managing by planning usually involves a change in decision-making style. This change is hard for people to adopt.

3. Planning initially takes a fair amount of effort. Unless people can clearly see benefits accruing to them personally, they hesitate about putting in the effort.

Curiously, the reasons people give for not managing by planning are not the same as those I have just cited. Instead managers offer reasons such as these:

1. Nobody can predict the future-it’s too fuzzy.

2. How can plans help you when you know things are going to change in the next few years?

3. We don’t want to straight jacket our people with a lot of plans.

4. We know our organization and its problems so well that there’s no need to get formal about planning.

5. We’re too busy running the day-to-day activities to plan.

These are common excuses. None of them is really valid. They reflect a lack of understanding of what planning is all about. I hope in this article to be able to clarify some of those misconceptions.

The arguments in favor of planning are based on some very simple premises:

1. Every organization needs to do some systematic planning for its future. Otherwise the future will just “happen” without any preparation. Organizations do not achieve their goals
without planning.

2. Communications is one of the greatest needs in an organization. Planning is one of the most effective means of communication there is. When key people in an organization are involved in assessing the future, setting targets, and evaluating ways of achieving those targets, the result is real communication.

3. Planning provides the rationale for allocation of an organization’s resources to its various activities. Without planning these resources in all likelihood will not be used efficiently. No organization has limitless resources.

4. Planning provides the basis for measuring and controlling programs and individual efforts to ensure that these are directed toward the goals of the organization. In its simplest terms, this means getting maximum horsepower out of an organization and its people.

What Is The Planning Process?

Strategic planners recognize that no one can accurately predict the future. Planning is not forecasting. Rather, planning is making reasonable assumptions about what the future will be in order to make decisions today.

Planning provides a framework for making management decisions. This framework includes a base of pertinent information, logical goals, and a means of evaluating alternatives in order to select the best decisions for your church.

Let’s look now at how the planning process accomplishes this. The planning process involves several sequential steps:

1. Analysis of the external environment.

2. Analysis of internal capabilities.

3. Determination of opportunities and threats, strengths and weaknesses, key issues.

4. Setting objectives.

5. Selecting strategies which enable you to achieve your objectives.

6. Developing action plans (tactics).

7. Determining the budget.

For the purpose of this article, we will spend our time here on steps 1 through 5 which are the long-term (more than one year) aspects of planning.

How Long is long-term planning? The common practice is to think in terms of five years. The first year is the period of the short-range (one year) plan; beyond five years, one moves into the area of “futures planning”

Analysis of the External Environment

Every church operates in its own external environment which includes the community, the state, the nation, the world, and its denomination. Within these micro- and macro-environments
there is a wide mix of trends impacting on your church.

Let’s suppose you are a member of your church’s long-range planning committee; and the committee chairman asks the committee, as its first task, to identify and evaluate the external trends significant to your church and its future. What trends are your committee members likely to identify?

It is likely that your list will include such trends as these:

1. Economic trends in your locality, in your geographic region, and in the nation. Examples of these trends are changes in personal income, employment, land values, and industry location.

2. Demographic trends , including shifts in age groups , education levels, numbers of widows and retired people, and shifts of population to different geographic areas.

3. In your community, the issues of urban vs. suburban development, growth or decline of commercial activities, transportation facilities.

4. Also in your community, changes in the services offered to people. Who is offering them? Are services primarily shifting into governmental hands or private sponsorship? How effective
are these services in meeting the needs of the community?

5. Trends in competition for your “prime time”-Sunday mornings and evenings and perhaps weekday evenings. What other things are going on that present you with competition for that
time?

6. Church attendance trends in your community and region and the reasons for changes in these trends. What activities in churches are proving to be the most popular at this point in
time?

7. Changes in social values. What do people in your community look on as being important? Is church going an important value? (Evaluation in this area can lead into issues, such as the strength of family relationships, attitudes toward moral values, etc.).

This is not a comprehensive list, but it should initiate discussion within your committee. These items are typical of trends in the external environment. Some of them present
opportunities; others represent threats to your church.

In making an analysis of the external environment, essentially you are looking for opportunities and threats in the trends of change. Having identified these trends, you need to make some judgments as to the rate of change and the direction of the trend (increasing, decreasing, holding steady).

A key question now arises-where do you get information on these trends? Looking back at the list, a little thought will disclose the more obvious sources. Banks and the chambers of
commerce are storehouses of economic data. Builders, real estate people, and local business leaders keep current on land values, industry changes, and shifts in the demographics of the community. The city planning board and the local utility companies are excellent sources. The mayor’s office, the regional office of HEW, and the pastor are knowledgeable on
issues on community needs and availability of services.

Most churches have within their congregation people who have the kinds of information that the external analysis requires. The key to tapping information sources is to formulate the right questions. That’s the job of your long-range planning committee.

A word of caution is needed on this issue. Avoid collecting too much information at the outset. Formulate a limited number of realistic questions to collect information you believe is really pertinent to your church’s forward thinking.

Much more data than you can possibly use is available. Accumulating a mountain of data is a great way to build a wall against doing planning.

Analysis of Internal Capabilities

This is step 2 for your planning committee. The purpose is to evaluate the resources of your church in order to compare them with the opportunities and threats identified in the external environment. This comparison or “assessment” will be the basis for setting the objectives for the church. After all, you are not likely to seize an opportunity or counter a threat unless you have the resources required and have decided to use them for these purposes. Your planning committee needs to understand this basic point. If they understand this principle, they will go through these first two stages of analysis with greater enthusiasm and effectiveness.

All right, how do we do “analysis of internal capabilities”? The planning committee should first develop a checklist of the church’s various “resources” that need to be evaluated. Let’s look at a representative list of resources and some evaluative questions relating to these-

1. Financial resources of the church, including operating funds, special funds, income, and expenditures. What has been our performance over the last five years in adhering to budget
limits? What is our ability to raise funds when needed?

2. Equipment and space. Is it adequate for present needs and for planning future needs? Is it in good operating condition? Is it costly to maintain or operate?

3. The demographics of our congregation. How many people do we have in each age group? What are the basic categories of jobs and income levels? What percentage of the congregation consists of retired people or widows?

4. Sociological profile of our church. Are we conservative or liberal? Are we community minded? Does our church collaborate with other community agencies and institutions? As a church,
what are our primary interests and social values?

5. Power structure of the church. Who makes the decisions and by what process?

6. Church organization and management. Quality of staffing, lay leadership, personnel policies, financial and business management capabilities, organization structure.

7. Present programs. What are they? Is the leadership in each program effective? How much interest and support from tile congregation does each program have?

The planning committee needs to develop its own checklist of internal resources and capabilities. Then it should make brief evaluative notes on each item, noting key facts which can later be used to decide whether the particular capability is a strength or weakness. For example, having an experienced and well-loved pastor is a strength; but if he is two years from retirement, we have a potential weakness. We may have excellent day-care facilities; but if they are not being used, they are not really a strength.

It is usually helpful to review the entire internal capabilities checklist once to see where more information may be needed; then develop the additional information before proceeding further with evaluation.

A common problem with this step in planning is failing to be objective about internal capabilities. That’s why the need for developing facts is stressed. Facts tend to speak for
themselves. Furthermore , some member of the planning committee is likely to say, “Let’s not bother writing all this stuff down-we’ve all been in the church long enough to know what its
internal capabilities are.” In a group of four or five people you are going to get surprising discussions on what the real capabilities of the church are in a number of areas.

However, since you are dealing with an organization you know well , this step of analyzing internal capabilities is not a tedious or drawn-out effort. With skillful committee leadership the task can be done in one or, at the most, two sessions.

Assessing Internal Capabilities vs. External Environment

This is step 3 of the planning process. Visualize taping your list of external trends on the wall; then alongside of it tape your analysis of internal capabilities. Now compare one to the other to identify opportunities and threats, strengths and weaknesses.

A trend in the external environment is really an opportunity for your church only if you have the internal capability to exploit it. A threat to your church emanating from the external environment must be evaluated in the light of your resources for countering this threat.

Your internal capabilities are strengths if they permit you to exploit an opportunity or counter a threat in the external environment. They are weaknesses if they do not permit this positive action.

Let’s look at some typical examples of strengths and weaknesses resulting from this assessment step. One such example might be a church’s day-care program. This program, carefully developed over the last several years, is doing an excellent job of which the church is justifiably proud. From an “internal capabilities” standpoint this is viewed as a strength.

However, in the external environment we find that other churches have been responding to the same need for day-care centers. Furthermore, the Mini-Schools chain has moved into town
and set up three centers. The market for day care is pretty well saturated; thus the need for our churches’ day-care services is considerably reduced. A capability which was a strength is a
strength no longer.

Another example: the church has a relatively new classroom wing as well as a fine parish hall for group meetings, banquets, etc. Usage of these facilities is, at the most, six or eight hours a week. These facilities are a strength if there is a need for them in order to service a desired purpose. Until that need is defined and the facilities are being used for that purpose , the facilities are not a strength.

Setting Objectives

Unfortunately, many organizations view planning as a two-stage process involving “Where do we want to go?” (setting objectives) and “How are we going to get there?” (strategies and
action plans). They fail to recognize that objective setting is not the real starting point of planning.

As we have discussed earlier in this article, the planning process must start with analysis of the external environment and of the internal capabilities. Unless this sequence is followed, objectives are not only difficult to establish, but they are also likely to be quite unrealistic.

They will not be grounded in pragmatic considerations of what needs to be done and what can be done. Setting objectives is step 4 in the planning process.

With this caution in mind, what guidelines are most helpful in this task of setting objectives?

Objectives can be short-term or they can be long-term. It is important to establish the time frame in the statement of the objective itself.

Furthermore, a good objective statement needs to have a built-in yardstick enabling the leadership of the organization to evaluate progress toward the objective. For example, it is
better to say, “We will increase congregation membership by 25 percent over the next three years,” than, “Our objective is a significant increase in membership.” Even better might be this
statement: “We will increase membership by 10-15 percent for each of the next three years.” The latter provides a yardstick for evaluating performance annually.

Other criteria for judging whether objectives are well stated and meaningful include these:

1. Are the objectives understandable?

2. Are the objectives feasible? Will our congregation have confidence that we can, in fact, accomplish them?

3. Do these objectives challenge people to increase effort in a meaningful way? Are they motivating concepts?

What kind of objectives will a church want to set for itself? The church is likely to establish objectives in these topic areas:

1. Growth in membership and/or in the geographic area served.

2. Range of programs and/or services to be offered, improved, expanded, or initiated.

3. Financial resources.

4. Physical resources or facilities (modernization, upkeep, expansion).

5. Collaboration with the community or sectors thereof.

6. Governance of the church (for example, an objective to revise the governance method to a unicameral system).

7. Constituency-people to be served or involved (for example, an objective to shift the makeup of the congregation to more younger people or more ethnic groups).

These are simply the examples of areas in which churches typically set objectives. Your own selections will be tailored to your church’s situation. However, another caution: limit the
number of objectives to perhaps ten or twelve. A significantly longer list usually embraces tasks rather than long-term objectives. (Exhibit 2-1 provides examples of objectives developed by a church in its strategic planning efforts.)

Sample Objectives for Outreach and Program Development

1. To become a growing church attaining an annual rate of net growth of fifty members per year by 1983, increasing to one hundred members per year by 1985.

2. To commit 50 percent of incremental funds to an expanded level of outreach by 1983.

3. To create a community awareness of the Christian ministry of this church through establishing a major media program beginning in 1981.

4. To conduct an evangelistic outreach emphasis in the spring of 1981.

5. To conduct a continuing series of quarterly events beginning in 1981 designed to involve total church participation and community outreach.

6. To emphasize 1981 as a year for renewal of spiritual life development through all the programs of the church.

7. To expand opportunities for church retreat activities beginning in 1981.

8. To establish a transportation service with the purchase of a minibus or bus to be used in the varied programs and ministries of the church by 1982.

9. To establish an ad hoc group to work with the associate pastor to study needs of and develop a comprehensive program with single adults by December, 1981.

10. To expand the program of Leadership recruitment and training to undergird the total ministry of the church in 1981.

11. To implement a year-round program of continuing stewardship education beginning in 1981.

12. To increase the church’s support of the denominational mission program beginning in 1981 with an increase in that year of 10 percent of the total church budget receipts.

13. To increase the total financial support of missions to a level of $125,000 per year by 1985.

With this reference to long-term objectives, let’s recognize another fact about objective setting. In a church that is just starting up the planning process, it may be better initially to set a limited number of short-term objectives and leave the longer-term ones for later. The rationale is simply that the likelihood of accomplishing a few short-term objectives is much greater. Once the church organization or several committees have met some practical short-term objectives, their enthusiasm for the utility of defined objectives rises significantly. They are then more willing to commit themselves to longer term and perhaps more challenging objectives.

A little later in this article, reference will be made to the task of measuring performance against objectives. Suffice it to say here that there must be some periodic measurement of
performance; otherwise the objectives lose their motivational strength rather quickly.

Strategies

In the field of planning, the concept of strategies seems to be the most difficult one for the lay person to grasp.

One of the problems is that of making a clear distinction between objectives and strategies. Theoretically this is quite simple-an objective is where you want to get to; a strategy is a broad course of action that will get you there. But what is an objective to you may be a strategy to me. For example , you may say that it is our strategy to reach our growth objective by adding more community services. I might say that it is our objective to add more community services, which is one of several ways by which we intend to grow. These controversies do arise-but they are not particularly important. Some organizations resolve the problem very simply by grouping objectives and strategies together under a common heading.

Let’s look at some guidelines for identifying strategies. A definition goes something like this: “A strategy is a broad course of action selected among alternative courses of action for reaching long-term objectives and involves the allocation of resources in order to implement the strategy.”

What does this say? “Broad course of action” means something that can encompass a variety of tactics. “Alternative courses of action” means that there are various ways to attain a long-term objective. For example, take an objective of growth. The strategic choices are by merger with another church, by promotion, or by adding services. Take an objective of improving financial resources. The strategic choices are increasing income, reducing costs, or both.

A key phrase is “allocation of resources.” A strategy involves allocating a resource, such as money or people, to a basic course of action which will improve the condition of the church over time. If $10,000 is a major sum of money to your church, then spending it on one course of action would be a strategy. For another church $100,000 may be the “strategic” sum.

Selection of a desired strategy must be geared to the available or anticipated resources of the church, specifically people, funds, or facilities. Essentially the committee appraises which strategy will do the best job of ensuring attainment of the long-term objectives in the light of available resources.

Let’s look at more examples of strategies illustrating ways in which a church can attain objectives. For example, let’s assume that the objective is for growth expressed in some specific terms (i.e., double in five years). The strategy options might include these:

1. Grow by extension of more services needed by the community. Implementing this strategy may involve setting up program committees to plan and initiate specific services aimed at specific community segments requiring such services.

2. Adding capacity in order to respond to demand that has already been identified. This can be viewed as strategy since it involves the allocation of resources, namely, the major capital
requirements of building facilities.

3. Training of the congregation in evangelistic methods. By so doing, the opportunities for adding membership are significantly increased. Of course, this strategy could also be employed to meet another objective, that of achieving greater parishioner involvement in the church.

Revising the Stategic Plan

In the preceding sections of this article we have outlined the basic concepts of strategic planning as they can be applied to a church. Strategic planning establishes the framework and direction of the church over the long pull. Once this framework has been established, it is normally necessary to make major revisions only when there is some really significant change in the external environment. An economic downtrend , for example, may change the timing of a building program. The movement of a new industry, with additional people, into a community may accelerate the rate of growth of the church membership.

These events, probably unforeseen at the time of the writing of the strategic plan, do not render the plan obsolete as some critics of planning are wont to charge. Rather, the existence of the strategic plan in writing greatly facilitates the church’s ability to adjust to the new contingency or opportunity. The new development is appraised for its impact in specific terms on the church’s strategic plan. Revisions are made in that documented plan to take account of the new developments. This is a much more systematic and logical way of dealing with the unforeseen than saying helplessly, “What do we do now?”

Short-Term or “Action” Planning

The action plan spells out the specifics of what we will do, who will do it, and when it will be done. An action plan normally is a one-year plan. It is much easier to develop than the long-term plan because it involves much less uncertainty.

Most of us are not all that uncomfortable about looking a year ahead. After all, we are used to working out the budget for a year ahead. The action plan essentially is the logic that underlies the budget. Putting it another way, the budget is simply the financial expression of what it takes in dollars to carry out the one-year plan.

The action plan, the church’s one-year plan, is normally a summation of the several program plans.

Measuring Performance Against Objectives

Defined objectives represent commitments by the congregation and its leadership to certain accomplishments. Therefore, a key step in effective management-by-planning is periodic appraisal of progress toward long-term goals and achievement of short-term objectives.

In this appraisal step the value of clear, specific, measurable objectives becomes evident. When the “built-in yardsticks” are a part of the objectives statement, then measurement of accomplishment is greatly facilitated-i.e. , percentage growth, reduction or containment of costs , numbers of participants in the program , etc.

The appraisal process should be done by the church leadership normally at the beginning of the annual planning cycle. Other appropriate times might be at the beginning of the stewardship campaign or as the first step in the budget revision process. Findings should, of course, be communicated to the congregation, taking this opportunity to stress the significance of the planning process to church management decisions.

Conclusions reached as a result of this appraisal against objectives become an input to the plan for the next year. They clarify the need for shifts in program targets, reallocation of resources, timing of efforts, even changes in organization.

How to Begin Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is not an easy process. For one thing, even business people on the lay board are not necessarily familiar with this process in their own businesses. Don’t Let that lack of knowledge stop you from pushing for strategic planning in your church. It simply isn’t that difficult.

Strategic planning involves common sense first and foremost.

However, it is important that the church leadership engaging in strategic planning talk through the concepts expressed in this article. They need to get themselves oriented to the idea that deciding “what we want to be like at some point down the road” is a useful activity. They must also come to accept the principle that managing the church in the context of a long-range plan, however simple, is preferable to managing it without any plan at all.

Second, don’t try to “do it perfectly” the first time around. That’s not possible and you shouldn’t expect it. For the first time through the planning process your goal should be a limited one. A realistic goal for the first year of planning might be “Let’s learn how to do this planning and find out where the rough spots are.” Specifically you may decide to do something like this:

1. Go through all the steps in long- and short-range planning in a nine-month period from January to September (if September is when you start to finalize next year’s budget).

2. In the process seek to learn what information is really important to your planning, what are the gaps in needed information, and what questions you really have to ask to decide where you’re going to go and how you’re going to get there.

3. Spend the next few months gathering the needed data.

4. In Year 2 concentrate just on refining objectives and strategies.

5. In Year 3 you should be in good shape to develop good sound basic planning. By this time your lay leadership will be pretty comfortable with the concepts and will be “over the hump”
as far as developing basic information.

From that point forward, updating planning on a regular basis is not difficult. In fact, you will have saved so much time by avoiding the time-consuming efforts inherent in “management by crisis” that planning will seem pretty simple.

Looking back at the strategic planning process, you will perceive these values:

1. Strategic planning provides a framework within which short-term and program planning can be done in an organized, systematic manner.

2. Short-term objectives are made consistent with long-term objectives. This avoids a lot of the “backing up and starting over again” so typical of organizations that plan for the short term only.

3. Managing finances becomes a much more sensible, logical process. Money is now going to be spent on things that will enable you to reach defined, clear-cut goals. Money will be spent in a more “efficient” manner.

4. Commitment by both lay leadership and parishioners to the goals and philosophy of the church is greatly enhanced.

5. The effectiveness of your interaction with other organizations with whom you must coordinate efforts, including your own denomination, is greatly facilitated. When you are able to spell out for others your objectives and plans for achieving those objectives and the specific actions you’ll be taking in the short-term with the Logic behind them, your ability to communicate with other organizations is increased.

Furthermore, your ability to decide on your participation in their activities, in terms of whether this will further the progress of your church toward its objectives, is likewise increased.

Churches which are growing or declining in a period of change-and all churches fit into that category today-face perplexing choices among needs to fulfill and use of limited resources. Planning makes it easier to resolve these perplexing choices. “Knowing where you are going helps greatly in selecting the routes for getting there.”

Used by permission
Keyed in by John Buckley Jr.

Christian Computer Network –
02/14/87
6. Church attendance trends in your community and region and the reasons for changes in these trends. What activities in churches are proving to be the most popular at this point in time?

7. Changes in social values. What do people in your community look on as being important? Is church going an important value? (Evaluation in this area can lead into issues, such as the strength of family relationships, attitudes toward moral values, etc.).

This is not a comprehensive list, but it should initiate discussion within your committee. These items are typical of trends in the external environment. Some of them present opportunities; others represent threats to your church.

In making an analysis of the external environment, essentially you are looking for opportunities and threats in the trends of change. Having identified these trends, you need to make some judgments as to the rate of change and the direction of the trend (increasing, decreasing, holding steady).

A key question now arises-where do you get information on these trends? Looking back at the list, a little thought will disclose the more obvious sources. Banks and the chambers of
commerce are storehouses of economic data. Builders, real estate people, and local business leaders keep current on land values, industry changes, and shifts in the demographics of  the community. The city planning board and the local utility companies are excellent sources. The mayor’s office, the regional office of HEW, and the pastor are knowledgeable on issues on community needs and availability of services.

Most churches have within their congregation people who have the kinds of information that the external analysis requires. The key to tapping information sources is to formulate the right questions. That’s the job of your long-range planning committee.

A word of caution is needed on this issue. Avoid collecting too much information at the outset. Formulate a limited number of realistic questions to collect information you believe is really pertinent to your church’s forward thinking.

Much more data than you can possibly use is available. Accumulating a mountain of data is a great way to build a wall against doing planning.

Analysis of Internal Capabilities

This is step 2 for your planning committee. The purpose is to evaluate the resources of your church in order to compare them with the opportunities and threats identified in the external environment. This comparison or “assessment” will be the basis for setting the objectives for the church. After all, you are not likely to seize an opportunity or counter a threat unless you have the resources required and have decided to use them for these purposes. Your planning committee needs to understand this basic point. If they understand this principle, they will go through these first two stages of analysis with greater enthusiasm and effectiveness.

All right, how do we do “analysis of internal capabilities”? The planning committee should first develop a checklist of the church’s various “resources” that need to be evaluated. Let’s look at a representative list of resources and some evaluative questions relating to these-

1. Financial resources of the church, including operating funds, special funds, income, and expenditures. What has been our performance over the last five years in adhering to budget limits? What is our ability to raise funds when needed?

2. Equipment and space. Is it adequate for present needs and for planning future needs? Is it in good operating condition? Is it costly to maintain or operate?

3. The demographics of our congregation. How many people do we have in each age group? What are the basic categories of jobs and income levels? What percentage of the congregation consists of retired people or widows?

4. Sociological profile of our church. Are we conservative or liberal? Are we community minded? Does our church collaborate with other community agencies and institutions? As a church,
what are our primary interests and social values?

5. Power structure of the church. Who makes the decisions and by what process?

6. Church organization and management. Quality of staffing, lay leadership, personnel policies, financial and business management capabilities, organization structure.

7. Present programs. What are they? Is the leadership in each program effective? How much interest and support from tile congregation does each program have?

The planning committee needs to develop its own checklist of internal resources and capabilities. Then it should make brief evaluative notes on each item, noting key facts which can later be used to decide whether the particular capability is a strength or weakness. For example, having an experienced and well-loved pastor is a strength; but if he is two years from retirement, we have a potential weakness. We may have excellent day-care facilities; but if they are not being used, they are not really a strength.

It is usually helpful to review the entire internal capabilities checklist once to see where more information may be needed; then develop the additional information before proceeding further with evaluation.

A common problem with this step in planning is failing to be objective about internal capabilities. That’s why the need for developing facts is stressed. Facts tend to speak for themselves. Furthermore , some member of the planning committee is likely to say, “Let’s not bother writing all this stuff down-we’ve all been in the church long enough to know what its internal capabilities are.” In a group of four or five people you are going to get surprising discussions on what the real capabilities of the church are in a number of areas.

However, since you are dealing with an organization you know well , this step of analyzing internal capabilities is not a tedious or drawn-out effort. With skillful committee leadership the task can be done in one or, at the most, two sessions.

Assessing Internal Capabilities vs. External Environment

This is step 3 of the planning process. Visualize taping your list of external trends on the wall; then alongside of it tape your analysis of internal capabilities. Now compare one to the other to identify opportunities and threats, strengths and weaknesses.

A trend in the external environment is really an opportunity for your church only if you have the internal capability to exploit it. A threat to your church emanating from the external environment must be evaluated in the light of your resources for countering this threat.

Your internal capabilities are strengths if they permit you to exploit an opportunity or counter a threat in the external environment. They are weaknesses if they do not permit this positive action.

Let’s look at some typical examples of strengths and weaknesses resulting from this assessment step. One such example might be a church’s day-care program. This program, carefully
developed over the last several years, is doing an excellent job of which the church is justifiably proud. From an “internal capabilities” standpoint this is viewed as a strength.

However, in the external environment we find that other churches have been responding to the same need for day-care centers. Furthermore, the Mini-Schools chain has moved into town and set up three centers. The market for day care is pretty well saturated; thus the need for our churches’ day-care services is considerably reduced. A capability which was a strength is a strength no longer.

Another example: the church has a relatively new classroom wing as well as a fine parish hall for group meetings, banquets, etc. Usage of these facilities is, at the most, six or eight hours a week. These facilities are a strength if there is a need for them in order to service a desired purpose. Until that need is defined and the facilities are being used for that purpose, the facilities are not a strength.

Setting Objectives

Unfortunately, many organizations view planning as a two-stage process involving “Where do we want to go?” (setting objectives) and “How are we going to get there?” (strategies and
action plans). They fail to recognize that objective setting is not the real starting point of planning.

As we have discussed earlier in this article, the planning process must start with analysis of the external environment and of the internal capabilities. Unless this sequence is followed, objectives are not only difficult to establish, but they are also likely to be quite unrealistic.

They will not be grounded in pragmatic considerations of what needs to be done and what can be done. Setting objectives is step 4 in the planning process.

With this caution in mind, what guidelines are most helpful in this task of setting objectives?

Objectives can be short-term or they can be long-term. It is important to establish the time frame in the statement of the objective itself.

Furthermore, a good objective statement needs to have a built-in yardstick enabling the leadership of the organization to evaluate progress toward the objective. For example, it is better to say, “We will increase congregation membership by 25 percent over the next three years,” than, “Our objective is a significant increase in membership.” Even better might be this statement: “We will increase membership by 10-15 percent for each of the next three years.” The latter provides a yardstick for evaluating performance annually.

Other criteria for judging whether objectives are well stated and meaningful include these:

1. Are the objectives understandable?

2. Are the objectives feasible? Will our congregation have confidence that we can, in fact, accomplish them?

3. Do these objectives challenge people to increase effort in a meaningful way? Are they motivating concepts?

What kind of objectives will a church want to set for itself? The church is likely to establish objectives in these topic areas:

1. Growth in membership and/or in the geographic area served.

2. Range of programs and/or services to be offered, improved, expanded, or initiated.

3. Financial resources.

4. Physical resources or facilities (modernization, upkeep, expansion).

5. Collaboration with the community or sectors thereof.

6. Governance of the church (for example, an objective to revise the governance method to a unicameral system).

7. Constituency-people to be served or involved (for example, an objective to shift the makeup of the congregation to more younger people or more ethnic groups).

These are simply the examples of areas in which churches typically set objectives. Your own selections will be tailored to your church’s situation. However, another caution: limit the
number of objectives to perhaps ten or twelve. A significantly longer list usually embraces tasks rather than long-term objectives. (Exhibit 2-1 provides examples of objectives
developed by a church in its strategic planning efforts.)

Sample Objectives for Outreach and Program Development

1. To become a growing church attaining an annual rate of net growth of fifty members per year by 1983, increasing to one hundred members per year by 1985.

2. To commit 50 percent of incremental funds to an expanded level of outreach by 1983.

3. To create a community awareness of the Christian ministry of this church through establishing a major media program beginning in 1981.

4. To conduct an evangelistic outreach emphasis in the spring of 1981.

5. To conduct a continuing series of quarterly events beginning in 1981 designed to involve total church participation and community outreach.

6. To emphasize 1981 as a year for renewal of spiritual life development through all the programs of the church.

7. To expand opportunities for church retreat activities beginning in 1981.

8. To establish a transportation service with the purchase of a minibus or bus to be used in the varied programs and ministries of the church by 1982.

9. To establish an ad hoc group to work with the associate pastor to study needs of and develop a comprehensive program with single adults by December, 1981.

10. To expand the program of Leadership recruitment and training to undergird the total ministry of the church in 1981.

11. To implement a year-round program of continuing stewardship education beginning in 1981.

12. To increase the church’s support of the denominational mission program beginning in 1981 with an increase in that year of 10 percent of the total church budget receipts.

13. To increase the total financial support of missions to a level of $125,000 per year by 1985.

With this reference to long-term objectives, let’s recognize another fact about objective setting. In a church that is just starting up the planning process, it may be better initially to set a limited number of short-term objectives and leave the longer-term ones for later. The rationale is simply that the likelihood of accomplishing a few short-term objectives is much greater. Once the church organization or several committees have met some practical short-term objectives, their enthusiasm for the utility of defined objectives rises significantly. They are then more willing to commit themselves to longer term and perhaps more challenging objectives.

A little later in this article, reference will be made to the task of measuring performance against objectives. Suffice it to say here that there must be some periodic measurement of
performance; otherwise the objectives lose their motivational strength rather quickly.

Strategies

In the field of planning, the concept of strategies seems to be the most difficult one for the lay person to grasp.

One of the problems is that of making a clear distinction between objectives and strategies. Theoretically this is quite simple-an objective is where you want to get to; a strategy is a broad course of action that will get you there. But what is an objective to you may be a strategy to me. For example , you may say that it is our strategy to reach our growth objective by adding more community services. I might say that it is our objective to add more community services, which is one of several ways by which we intend to grow. These controversies do arise-but they are not particularly important. Some organizations resolve the problem very simply by grouping objectives and strategies together under a common heading.

Let’s look at some guidelines for identifying strategies. A definition goes something like this: “A strategy is a broad course of action selected among alternative courses of action for reaching long-term objectives and involves the allocation of resources in order to implement the strategy.”

What does this say? “Broad course of action” means something that can encompass a variety of tactics. “Alternative courses of action” means that there are various ways to attain a long-term objective. For example, take an objective of growth. The strategic choices are by merger with another church, by promotion, or by adding services. Take an objective of improving
financial resources. The strategic choices are increasing income, reducing costs, or both.

A key phrase is “allocation of resources.” A strategy involves allocating a resource, such as money or people, to a basic course of action which will improve the condition of the church over time. If $10,000 is a major sum of money to your church, then spending it on one course of action would be a strategy. For another church $100,000 may be the “strategic” sum.

Selection of a desired strategy must be geared to the available or anticipated resources of the church, specifically people, funds, or facilities. Essentially the committee appraises which strategy will do the best job of ensuring attainment of the long-term objectives in the light of available resources.

Let’s look at more examples of strategies illustrating ways in which a church can attain objectives. For example, let’s assume that the objective is for growth expressed in some specific terms (i.e., double in five years). The strategy options might include these:

1. Grow by extension of more services needed by the community. Implementing this strategy may involve setting up program committees to plan and initiate specific services aimed at specific community segments requiring such services.

2. Adding capacity in order to respond to demand that has already been identified. This can be viewed as strategy since it involves the allocation of resources, namely, the major capital
requirements of building facilities.

3. Training of the congregation in evangelistic methods. By so doing, the opportunities for adding membership are significantly increased. Of course, this strategy could also be employed to meet another objective, that of achieving greater parishioner involvement in the church.

Revising the Stategic Plan

In the preceding sections of this article we have outlined the basic concepts of strategic planning as they can be applied to a church. Strategic planning establishes the framework and direction of the church over the long pull. Once this framework has been established, it is normally necessary to make major revisions only when there is some really significant change in the external environment. An economic downtrend , for example, may change the timing of a building program. The movement of a new industry, with additional people, into a community may accelerate the rate of growth of the church membership.

These events, probably unforeseen at the time of the writing of the strategic plan, do not render the plan obsolete as some critics of planning are wont to charge. Rather, the existence of the strategic plan in writing greatly facilitates the church’s ability to adjust to the new contingency or opportunity. The new development is appraised for its impact in specific terms on the church’s strategic plan. Revisions are made in that documented plan to take account of the new developments. This is a much more systematic and logical way of dealing with the unforeseen than saying helplessly, “What do we do now?”

Short-Term or “Action” Planning

The action plan spells out the specifics of what we will do, who will do it, and when it will be done. An action plan normally is a one-year plan. It is much easier to develop than the long-term plan because it involves much less uncertainty.

Most of us are not all that uncomfortable about looking a year ahead. After all, we are used to working out the budget for a year ahead. The action plan essentially is the logic that underlies the budget. Putting it another way, the budget is simply the financial expression of what it takes in dollars to carry out the one-year plan.

The action plan, the church’s one-year plan, is normally a summation of the several program plans.

Measuring Performance Against Objectives

Defined objectives represent commitments by the congregation and its leadership to certain accomplishments. Therefore, a key step in effective management-by-planning is periodic appraisal of progress toward long-term goals and achievement of short-term objectives.

In this appraisal step the value of clear, specific, measurable objectives becomes evident. When the “built-in yardsticks” are a part of the objectives statement, then measurement of accomplishment is greatly facilitated-i.e. , percentage growth, reduction or containment of costs , numbers of participants in the program , etc.

The appraisal process should be done by the church leadership normally at the beginning of the annual planning cycle. Other appropriate times might be at the beginning of the stewardship campaign or as the first step in the budget revision process. Findings should, of course, be communicated to the congregation, taking this opportunity to stress the significance of the planning process to church management decisions.

Conclusions reached as a result of this appraisal against objectives become an input to the plan for the next year. They clarify the need for shifts in program targets, reallocation of resources, timing of efforts, even changes in organization.

How to Begin Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is not an easy process. For one thing, even business people on the lay board are not necessarily familiar with this process in their own businesses. Don’t Let that lack of knowledge stop you from pushing for strategic planning in your church. It simply isn’t that difficult.

Strategic planning involves common sense first and foremost.

However, it is important that the church leadership engaging in strategic planning talk through the concepts expressed in this article. They need to get themselves oriented to the idea that deciding “what we want to be like at some point down the road” is a useful activity. They must also come to accept the principle that managing the church in the context of a long-range plan, however simple, is preferable to managing it without any plan at all.

Second, don’t try to “do it perfectly” the first time around. That’s not possible and you shouldn’t expect it. For the first time through the planning process your goal should be a limited one. A realistic goal for the first year of planning might be “Let’s learn how to do this planning and find out where the rough spots are.” Specifically you may decide to do something like this:

1. Go through all the steps in long- and short-range planning in a nine-month period from January to September (if September is when you start to finalize next year’s budget).

2. In the process seek to learn what information is really important to your planning, what are the gaps in needed information, and what questions you really have to ask to decide
where you’re going to go and how you’re going to get there.

3. Spend the next few months gathering the needed data.

4. In Year 2 concentrate just on refining objectives and strategies.

5. In Year 3 you should be in good shape to develop good sound basic planning. By this time your lay leadership will be pretty comfortable with the concepts and will be “over the hump”
as far as developing basic information.

From that point forward, updating planning on a regular basis is not difficult. In fact, you will have saved so much time by avoiding the time-consuming efforts inherent in “management by crisis” that planning will seem pretty simple.

Looking back at the strategic planning process, you will perceive these values:

1. Strategic planning provides a framework within which short-term and program planning can be done in an organized, systematic manner.

2. Short-term objectives are made consistent with long-term objectives. This avoids a lot of the “backing up and  starting over again” so typical of organizations that plan for the short term only.

3. Managing finances becomes a much more sensible, logical process. Money is now going to be spent on things that will enable you to reach defined, clear-cut goals. Money will be spent in a more “efficient” manner.

4. Commitment by both lay leadership and parishioners to the goals and philosophy of the church is greatly enhanced.

5. The effectiveness of your interaction with other organizations with whom you must coordinate efforts, including your own denomination, is greatly facilitated. When you are able to spell out for others your objectives and plans for achieving those objectives and the specific actions you’ll be taking in the short-term with the Logic behind them, your ability to communicate with other organizations is increased.

Furthermore, your ability to decide on your participation in their activities, in terms of whether this will further the progress of your church toward its objectives, is likewise increased.

Churches which are growing or declining in a period of change-and all churches fit into that category today-face perplexing choices among needs to fulfill and use of limited resources. Planning makes it easier to resolve these perplexing choices. “Knowing where you are going helps greatly in selecting the routes for getting there.”

Used by permission
Keyed in by John Buckley Jr.

Christian Computer Network –
02/14/87

Please Login to Comment.