By David Hellerbols
Before you can begin to communicate effectively, you need a framework on which to base your actions. Without such a framework, your communications will appear disconnected, tangential, and amateurish. The best way to produce the needed framework is through a process called strategic planning.
What is Strategic Planning?
Strategic planning has an aura of elitism about it. Its mere mention evokes anxiety in the mind of the typical church worker. This process needn’t be so scary. Strategic planning is the process of creating a framework for action. Traditionally, a complete plan involves the identification of organizational mission, vision, values, and goals. Regardless of the form your finished plan takes, its strength lies in its ability to focus the organization’s efforts on a few key activities, to align priorities, to establish clear goals, to clarify values, and to get everyone moving in unison toward the fulfillment of a common dream.
Your mission is your reason for being. What do you want to accomplish and how you intend to accomplish it? An example of a good mission statement is “Our mission is to lead people to God and grow them in faith by creating an outreach-focused church with strong education programming.” A good mission statement is simple, compelling, and memorable. It must excite staff and members and it must be realistic.
Mission and vision statements are constantly confused by organizations. The reality is a vision statement is an inspirational, long-term statement of what could be. That’s it. A vision statement for the mission statement above might be “Our vision is to lead all 15,000 people in our community to a relationship with Jesus.” Unlikely? Yes. Possible? Sure. That’s the point. A vision statement is a statement of what the perfect world looks like through your eyes.
Note: If the difference between mission and vision statements is confusing to some members of your church, just combine them into 1 statement. Don’t feel obligated to have 2 separate statements, when 1 statement works best for some churches. (Hint: Call the statement something like “The Main Thing” or “Why We Exist.”)
Even secular organizations are learning that the creation of shared values is critical to success. Values are the glue that holds everything together. Everything changes over time–culture, methods, strategies–except for values. If you can get everyone to agree on the same 3-5 values, decisions concerning where to spend money, what goals to pursue, and what type of staff person to hire will be easier to make. For instance, if your first value as a church is to reach seekers, then the decision concerning whether to increase outreach spending from 2% of the overall church budget to a more reasonable 20% becomes almost automatic. To not do so, would be hypocritical.
This is where many strategic plans fall apart. Goals are either too subjective (e.g. “do a better job reaching seekers”) or too ambitious (e.g. “invite everyone in our city of 250,000 to our church”). Goals should be specific so that you know whether they have been met but they should also be reasonable.
Another common mistake, especially among churches new to strategic planning, is to develop an overly sophisticated plan without having the internal capacity to execute the plan well. These churches may set up 10 objectives under one goal all requiring complex measurement and lots of money. This is a recipe for disaster. Better to have a simple plan you can execute than a complex plan that will sit on the shelf collecting dust.
Here’s a simple tool to ensure you’ve created solid goals. Make sure they are “SMART”.
Specific: Provide numbers not just subjective words. (Do say: “We will impact our community by doing X, Y, and Z.” Do not say: “We will impact our community by doing lots of good things for people.”)
Measurable: Ensure that quantitative measures are attached to each goal. (Do say: “We will increase attendance by 100.” Do not say: “We will increase attendance.”)
Attainable: The goal must achievable or it will drain financial and human resources without having the desired impact. (Do say: “We will get 80% of our members to join a small group.” Don’t say: “We will get every person in our 1,000 member church to join a small group.”)
Realistic: It is possible that a goal is achievable but it is still not realistic given other considerations. For instance, you could set an achievable goal of ensuring that anyone watching the Super Bowl in your community sees a commercial for your church. But if that one commercial eats up your entire budget for the year, this would not be realistic. Make sure the benefit is proportional to the financial and human (time) investment.
Timed: All goals should have pre-determined milestone and end dates. For instance, say you want to increase attendance by 100 over one year and you will begin working on this goal January 1st. Your first milestone might be March 30th. By this date, 3 months into the year, you might have expected to see attendance increase by 25. By the end of June you would expect to see an increase of 50; by the end of September 75, and by the end of the year your entire goal of 100 should have been met. By timing goal progress in pre-established increments, you will know whether you are on course or if corrective action is required.
That’s strategic planning in a nutshell. Once this high-level planning is complete, an organization typically develops operational level plans to support the strategic plan. For instance, if one of the goals laid out in the strategic plan is double weekly attendance in 3 years, an entire marketing/outreach plan will be developed based on that one goal. Similarly, if another goal identified in your strategic plan is to create an environment where all staff are valued, an HR consultant or your on staff HR person will develop a separate work plan that lays out concrete steps to follow–with measurable goals–in order to create this environment.
All work done at the individual level should support the strategic plan in a very direct way. If someone is doing something unrelated to fulfilling one or more of the goals of the plan, you need to either change that person’s activities or change the plan. If you don’t make this change, your alignment will become chaotic. When this happens, you will be wasting a lot of resources on unproductive activities.
In addition to aligning people around the strategic plan, you should also align expenditures around priorities. If one of the 3-5 major initiatives identified in your strategic plan is to double attendance, your marketing/outreach budget should reflect that priority. You have to question how you will achieve this goal if you aren’t spending at least 10-20% of your budget on marketing/outreach. Jesus could turn water into wine; I have yet to see a church turn a small outreach budget into explosive growth. Likewise, with other initiatives, put your money where your mouth is or change the plan to reflect your actual commitment level–not the commitment level you wish you had.
This article “Strategic Planning for Churches” by David Hellerbols was excerpted from: www.churchgrowthcentral.com website.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study and research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”