May 25, 2015

Why Strategic Planning?

I receive some pretty interesting responses when I tell people that I facilitate strategic planning for congregations. By far the most frequent response is a blank stare followed by a polite, “Oh, that must be interesting.” Sometimes an enthusiastic affirmation about the value of strategic planning is offered. Less frequently, fortunately, are those who stare as if they suddenly imagine horns growing out of my head as they question applying corporate gobbledygook to a community of faith.

A simple definition of strategic planning is: Setting priorities to enable a desired outcome to be achieved. It’s about setting a goal and making decisions and taking actions to achieve it. The goal is our VISION, and the actions are our STRATEGIES. 

Vision provides direction. This is valuable for congregations because members are each traveling their own diverse faith journeys. Out of our individuality, God calls us into community to seek Him and to bring others to His Kingdom. The church community to which we are called is special because God has uniquely assembled its members and many other gifts to use to seek and evangelize. 

In congregations, members can run off in scattered directions, or remain complacent in our pews just having our own needs satisfied. Vision calls us to follow a particular path, together. Without vision, “the people are unrestrained.” (I love that translation of Proverbs 29:18 in the New American Standard Bible). Unrestrained might sound fun, but the point is to be obedient in following God’s direction so that His will is accomplished.

Discerning God’s call as a community means engaging as many members as possible in intentional, prayerful reflection on the gifts God has uniquely provided your congregation and the needs that exist in the world around you.

Such an intentional journey can be led and organized internally. Sometimes church leaders prefer an outside facilitator skilled in listening and guiding. The Episcopal Church Foundation provides this through its Strategic Solutions program. ECF customizes the process to fit the unique culture and conditions of each congregation, diocese, school, camp, etc. 

Whether you use an outside facilitator or coordinate your congregation’s journey internally, the important thing is to be INTENTIONAL about understanding your congregation’s ministry potential. Lay and clergy leadership should be committed to participate in the process. Later, they must also commit to use the vision as a tool for strategic decision-making. 

Congregational strategic planning heightens a sense of shared identity and purpose. May your vision be focused and your strategies be blessed! 

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