Over the years of working with pastors and churches, we (Church Revision) have developed several strategies that have proven effective in helping churches pursue their mission more effectively. One of the solutions that has proven to be the best help to many churches is developing a strategic plan.
While it is easier to do ministry in a chaotic, unorganized, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mindset, it can hinder or even cripple your church. It is also important to note that simply being more organized and structured does not necessarily mean that all aspects of the ministry are pulling in the same direction. Something must tie staffing, finances, ministry, facilities, missions, outreach, discipleship, and future planning into one unified strategy. This is why a strategic plan is essential.
Here is the primary benefit of a strategic plan.
It Demands Intentionality.
We have talked to many pastors who exist in a perpetual state of reactionary ministry. Every decision is simply a reaction to a current situation. There’s a need? The response is to hire someone to meet it. There’s a perceived issue? The reaction is to make an immediate knee-jerk decision to fix it. There’s extra money? The reaction is to spend it on the first thing that comes to mind. There’s someone in the church with a unique talent? The reaction is to add them to the staff. There’s an immediate facility challenge? The reaction is to build or remodel. Does someone have a ministry idea? The reaction is to let them start it. Does someone want to use the facilities? The reaction is to check the calendar and if the date is open, let them.
The problem with reactionary ministry is that you never actually make progress. There may be many good things accomplished, but not in the pursuit of reaching a stated goal. Reactionary ministry is like running on a treadmill. You expend a lot of energy, you’re always busy and frantic, you sweat a lot, and you feel like you are doing something significant, but you never actually get anywhere. There’s no map guiding you. There’s no plan informing your decisions. There’s no target destination. There’s just activity – and activity does not necessarily equal progress.
If the goal is busyness and activity, you’re accomplishing it. If the goal is ministry effectiveness, church health, or Kingdom impact, well, there’s no real way of knowing if you’re accomplishing it.
Too often, ministry decisions are made in 2022 because it’s how churches did things in 1990. For instance, in the ’90s, the goal was for churches to have a paid youth pastor. This was driven by the philosophy that if you had a fun and active youth program, you would attract more families. In reality, churches under 500 people rarely need a paid youth pastor unless they have a seeker-sensitive or attractional philosophy. Why do churches still pursue that model? Because they lack intentionality.
In our experience, when churches lack intentionality, several things end up happening. (1) Eventually, people get frustrated and discouraged. (2) Communication is poor because everything is thrown together or changed at the last minute, which also negatively affects participation. (3) An attendance cycle will develop. At best, church attendance will increase, hit a ceiling, and then decrease. (4) Budgeting lacks intentionality and is rooted only in what has been done in previous years. (5) Ministries are started and stopped…and started and stopped. (6) The church struggles to consistently get volunteers. (7) Decisions are made to please people rather than pursue a mission.
The development of a strategic plan forces church leaders to operate with intentionality, gives a framework for decision-making, and ties every decision to a vision for the future.
While becoming intentional is the primary benefit of a strategic plan, several additional side benefits exist.
It Clarifies Vision and Philosophy.
A proper strategic plan will be rooted in the church’s philosophy and vision. Most pastors have a general idea of what they want to accomplish. They have a general idea of their philosophy and vision but struggle to articulate it succinctly. A strategic plan clarifies the vision and philosophy, ties both to a strategy, and then that strategy drives decision-making.
It Unifies Staff.
It allows staff to understand how their ministry fits into the future vision of the church. When staff members know what they are pursuing, not just in their specific area of responsibility, but in relation to the entire ministry vision, there is more excitement, energy, passion, and unity about the pursuit.
It Clarifies Metrics.
It is impossible to measure church health when there is no developed strategy. How do you measure health and progress when there is no stated goal? What ends up happening is that churches tie most every metric to attendance and finances- which is faulty and misleading. When we measure the wrong things, we will pursue the wrong things. A strategic plan shows the church how to truly gauge and measure health.
It Ties all Aspects of the Ministry Together into One Strategy.
One of the most significant issues with ministry activity outside of a strategy is that it creates ministry silos. Every aspect of ministry becomes its own island on which decisions are made with no significant thought given to how it may impact or influence another area or, more importantly, how it fits into the overall efforts of the church.
For instance, it’s easy to hire someone for an area of ministry with no thought to the unspoken philosophy that drove the hiring decision or without thinking through how that might limit the hiring of staff in a more needed area in the future.
Developing a strategic plan is difficult, time-consuming, and may require an outside perspective or help from someone with specialized training. However, it is worth the investment of time and resources.
You will never get to where you are going, especially if you don’t know where that is.