By Tim Massengale
Pastor Thomas was quite aware that he had a problem. His church desperately needed a new shot of excitement and enthusiasm. He felt the need to inspire a burden into his people to reach the lost. Somehow they had lost their vision for growth, winning souls, and reaching their city.
His outreach had dropped off dramatically. Only a handful now participated in Saturday visitation. His two buses ran practically empty. His Sunday School attendance had dropped by almost forty in average attendance. The revival last month, their first one in almost a year, had been a struggle. Home Bible study involvement was dead. The cause of the problem?
“An intensive building program” he replied matter-of-factly. “We had to stop almost everything to build our new facility. It took two full years and required all of our spare time and energy. My people only have so much free time. When you use it all to build a building, you don’t have any left over to win souls. My people were tired. Even after the building was finished, they needed something to get them going again. Something to get them excited. They were out of the “habit” of soul winning.”
But notice I said he “had” a problem. Thankfully he solved it. How? Well, he went to Big Bear Lake, rented a big cabin, and went fishing – yet not fishing for bass (although he did have a little time to do that too), but fishing for ideas!
That was five years ago. Today his church has almost doubled in average attendance. The excitement is tangible in the faces of his people as they testify of their involvement in winning souls. His altars are seldom empty.
What did Pastor Thomas do? He rented the cabin on Big Bear Lake for a church growth planning retreat. He gathered all his department leaders together and went up on Friday evening. They spent the night and were still there late Saturday evening. What did they do? They prayed, planned, and brainstormed. Over twelve hours was spent allowing the Holy Ghost to direct their discussion as to how revival could come to Hometown, Indiana. And as the Lord directed their thoughts, a plan was developed. Every department was discussed. Every ministry was examined. As a group, a team, a body, they worked together, helping one another to make each ministry or department better, more evangelistic, and more effective.
You talk about excited — they got excited! It was their plan, to meet their needs, for their church, to help their department.
The excitement spread to the church. Because the new programs and outreach ministries had been well planned, they were more successful. Because more seed was being sown, a greater harvest began to be gathered. The old fire began to burn brightly. Once again they were on the road to revival. For Pastor Thomas, the ‘Church Growth Planning Retreat’ is now an annual event.
Although the above story is true (names have been changed), it is by no means a solitary occurrence. All over our fellowship, churches are learning the value of group planning and development to spark a fire into the hearts of church leaders. You see, Pastor Thomas knew that there were two key elements in motivating directors and maintaining their excitement. If you want your leader’s zeal to be fresh and new, your entire program must remain fresh and new. Just as our prayer life will become stagnant if it’s only dry, vain repetition – the same words, the same needs, the same everything – so, too, will our outreach program become stagnant if it remains the same year after year.
The keys to excited department leaders are (1) Innovative and creative plans each year for all departments, and (2) allowing your directors to have a major part of developing those creative plans.
What A Church Growth Planning Retreat Will Do
- Excitement and Enthusiasm. When a pastor begins to share his vision and dream for the future, and how each ministry fits into that dream, people get excited. New plans, fresh ideas, worthwhile goals, always spark the thrill of being part of a program that carries eternal purpose. When you get excited, your people get excited with you. Let your fire spread!
- Commitment to Involvement. People are more committed to a plan when they have a hand in its development. The planning retreat allows them to voice their ideas and solutions to various situations. It makes the plans “ours” instead of “yours.” When you develop something you have a much stronger commitment to seeing it succeed.
- New Ideas and Solutions to Problems. The greatest benefit of the retreat is the new ideas which are developed. This is the very essence of “brainstorming.” When many minds focus upon a problem or a need, the Spirit can direct the group to the solution. Pastors are continually amazed at the quality and quantity of ideas that such a retreat produces.
- A Team Spirit. The retreat will help bind the directors together as a team. They will work together to find solutions to difficult problems, set goals and make improvements. There is a tremendous unity that grows out of such a group activity.
- Coordination of Activities. The retreat is a time to look at the entire year and what each department wishes to achieve. The activities of each department are then placed upon the master calendar so that no department conflicts with another.
But remember, even though each director will have a calendar, and you will be placing dates for each department upon this calendar, it is extremely important that the retreat doesn’t become only a “calendarizing” session. It is easy for the retreat discussion to get “bogged down” in trying to find an exact date for every activity. For most activities, instead of setting an exact date, simply choose the month that would be best. The exact date is best worked out at a later time.
- A Reward for a Job well done. The retreat is very much a “reward” whether the church pays for the expenses or not. It tells that director “you’re important, your department is important, your advice is desired, and your ideas are needed.” This is a powerful motivator because everyone needs to feel needed.
When, Where, Who, and How
When: The planning retreat should be an annual event. It is best scheduled in the fall – September, October or November. But if this is your first retreat, don’t worry about when is the “best” time. Just have one! The retreat is the first step to the entire management process. If it happens to land in July, August, or December, don’t worry — it will not hurt it’s effectiveness. You can put your second retreat back on schedule.
Where: The retreat, to be effective, is best held as an out of town and overnight event. This is important. If the planning time is at the church, it becomes work – interest and participation quickly fade. If overnight and out of town, it’s fun and exciting. But don’t go too far away – an hour or two’s drive at most. Many churches have found it extremely beneficial to spend the night Saturday night and drive back early Sunday morning in time for church. This allows a much less hurried pace and more free time. Keep the atmosphere relaxed and informal. Sit everyone in one circle or around one long table. Provide soft drinks and light snacks. Eat meals as a group.
Who: The retreat should be attended by all department heads and their spouses. Experience has shown that the spouses will sometimes provide even better ideas than the directors. Your directors attendance will also be better if the spouse comes.
How: Type up an agenda giving each department between 30 – 50 minutes of group discussion time. The amount of time for each department depends upon the number of topics to be discussed. But limit the number of discussion topics within a department. It is impossible to discuss twenty subjects as a group in an hour. Help the director to choose topics of greatest priority.
Discussion topics should be the type that encourages group discussion. They should address needs (How can we best raise money for next years youth missions trip?), problems (How can we get more visitors to return?) and improvements (How can we make our home Bible study training seminar more successful?).
Encourage everyone to get involved in the discussion. Those who do not contribute have little dedication to seeing the plans succeed. When you only observe, it’s your plan. When you’re involved, it’s our plan. A director who is pulling the oars has little time to rock the boat.
Effective planning takes time. The “tyranny of the urgent” is the enemy of planning. Just about the time you sit down to figure out where to go next, someone announces a newly discovered ‘brush fire’ which demands immediate attention. So you abandon what was most important for what was most urgent. Good planning requires extended periods of quality time, the right people, a comfortable environment, and adequate preparation. Good planning is the result of good planning.
You will find that your Church Growth Planning Retreat provides just that sort of environment. It is an excellent time to encourage the kind of innovation and creativity that keeps people and their plans from becoming stagnant. It is a time to build the team spirit among your directors, so that, like an army, they can move forward on a unified front. The retreat brings everyone together, all working for a common goal. The result is more souls being added into the Kingdom of God.
If you would like a more detailed description of a church growth planning retreat, along with a sample agenda, email me at: email@example.com. Until then:
Good, better, best
Never let it rest
Until the good, it be better
and the better, it be best!
– Author Unknown
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