“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” –Every Leadership Expert Ever
“The will to win is worthless if you do not have the will to prepare.” –Thane Yost
In my own ministry work, I am very intentional about creating plans for the future. My team and I set goals and measureable objectives 2 to 3 years out that allow us to achieve our mission. My team and I are not always successful in achieving all of our goals, but the path is in place.
We know what the next few steps often are.
In my role as a member of the board of directors for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, I have spent a considerable amount of time creating a process for developing a strategic plan for the organization. The board knows that, without a plan, the organization will meander around without ever quite achieving the results it is hoping for.
Yet, for all the planning I do for my local ministry and the national organization I help lead, I rarely talk to ministry leaders at churches who plan strategically for the future.
What do you hope to accomplish in your church in the next 3 years? What do you want to achieve? What does it mean to have a successful ministry?
Many can’t answer those questions. I believe it is partly because they have not been taught to strategically plan.
For any church or ministry to thrive, you need to have plans. Not just plans for next week or next month, but plans for next year and 3 years from now.
The book, Execution, outlines 9 questions that should be asked when strategically planning for the future. Although it speaks through the lens of a for-profit corporation, I believe the questions are still relevant for you and I to ask as we lead our ministries.
- What is the assessment of the external environment?
I recently wrote about some shocking statistics that would cause any ministry leader to recognize that they have some work to do as church. They reality is that my ministry is not effectively reaching as many people as it should be. Why is that? What is going on in the external world that has caused these shifts? Before a strategic plan can be put in place, this question must be explored. The answer to this question helps determine the strategy.
- How well do you understand the existing customers and markets?
The fact is that many churches serve well those that come to church each week. But what about those that don’t come? Who are they? What are their needs? Why don’t they come to church or your ministry events? To truly get an accurate glimpse of the “customers,” I need to do something I rarely do: go off the church property and talk to the people that aren’t connected. That’s the only way I’m going to understand what is truly going on. Once I have accurate information, I can better plan for my ministry.
- What is the best way to grow the business profitably, and what are the obstacles to growth?
The fact is that every church is struggling trying to find the needed money and resources to serve the wider audience. That is one reason why churches sometimes don’t even try to get new people in the doors of the church. They don’t have the time, money, personnel, etc. How do we grow the church and what are the obstacles? Name all the obstacles. Write them out. This, too, will inform your strategy.
- Who is the competition?
Our competition is rarely the church next door. Actually, the church next door is on the same team. Our competition is often all the other aspects of life that distract people from connecting with God and the church community. Naming those distractions is helpful in seeing who the “competition” really is.
- Can the business execute the strategy?
Do we have the resources we need to execute? This is not just about money. This is also about having the right team. Does the staff or volunteer team need to be shaken up to live out the strategy? Do you need to provide new training and skills for your team that will allow them to think differently about ministry? Sometimes, all you need is to help your team and your entire church look differently at the way it does church.
- Are the short-term and long-term balanced?
If you only have long-term strategies, you will never make it. You need both for one simple reason: Short-term successes motivate you and the team to keep going after the long-term. Think short-term wins and long-term success.
- What are the important milestones for executing the plan?
How do you know you are succeeding? Measurable objectives are key to track your success. Winston Churchill once said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” The strategy does not exist just because it is a good idea to have a strategy. The strategy exists to achieve results.
- What are the critical issues facing the business?
It is important to name the major challenges that your church or ministry faces. Those challenges need to be addressed in any strategic plan.
- How will the business make money on a sustainable basis?
An excellent and thriving ministry based on a plan brings in finances. When a member of your church sees that the ministry you are providing is bringing value to their lives, they will give money. If you have a good strategic plan that puts people first and brings them closer to God, I truly believe the money will come. People are willing to pay for things that make a difference. Your church needs to be one of those things.
“Commit your work to the Lord, and then your plans will succeed.” –Proverbs 16:3
However, there is a caveat:
“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” –Proverbs 19:21
Question: How do you strategically plan for the future of your church?