September 12, 2016

Dots, Eventually

Ever since I took up facilitating strategic planning, I’ve carried dots in my supply box. Small, brightly-colored, adhesive-backed dots come in handy when a group needs to determine priorities for the months ahead. Participants use a small number of dots to “vote” on what’s most important. Sometimes it’s amazing how quickly consensus is reached. Unless it’s not.

Here is a methodology for leading a group, such as a vestry, to think strategically about priorities in the months ahead. This can be applied when setting the annual budget, determining whether to continue a struggling ministry, reconfiguring building space, or setting overall goals for the year ahead.

First – and this is easy to state but takes longer to accomplish: Know your vision. Vision is the desired impact of your mission. It answers the question: If we do our mission/ministry really well, what will our impact be in the neighborhood, in our city, or for the Kingdom of God?

If your congregation already has a vision statement that resonates with most members, great! If not, take some time (weeks, months) to engage people in conversation about your congregation’s gifts, what you value as a faith community, what needs exist around you. You don’t have to come up with one perfectly-worded “statement.” You could create a short list of statements about ways the congregation desires to make a positive impact.

Vision unites around a common goal. It is a key strategic tool for decision-making. You can throw all kinds of dots on “problems,” but if you don’t know what you’re really trying to accomplish, you risk creating a bunch of busy work that offers little meaning or inspiration. It’s worth investing time to identify a vision that reflects your parish’s best hopes for impact.

With a shared understanding of the desired future, the next step is a leadership planning session to identify priorities for working toward the vision. Choose some key ministries to examine in this session rather than the often used “SWOT analysis,” where overall Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are identified. SWOTs can consume much time on non-strategic issues, draining energy and enthusiasm.

A church with which I worked recently identified 4 ministry areas to examine in its planning session: Christian formation; caregiving, service/witness; leadership structure/stewardship of time and talents; buildings and grounds/stewardship of money and land.

Small groups of 4-5 people were each assigned a ministry area to answer, “What are the current strengths of our congregation in this area that will help us achieve our vision? What are the current challenges that might hinder us from achieving our vision?” Each group had to pick its “top 6” in each set of answers and write these on the pieces of flip chart paper.

At this point, it’s almost time for dots. However, in my “methodology,” silent reflection and prayer are next on the agenda. I heartily recommend a clear invocation of the power of the Holy Spirit, such as, “Good and gracious God, we know you’ve been with us today. Holy Spirit, move now to call us to follow your lead for how you want to use the gifts and talents of this congregation to build your Kingdom. Amen.”

THEN the dots came out. With thoughts aligned toward accomplishing a shared vision, priorities stated in terms of ministry areas, and the Holy Spirit dancing about, consensus is an organic product of the work. It is a joy to experience.

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