A healthy, vital and vibrant Episcopal faith community requires prayer, a clear vision, responsive leaders and the support and involvement of its members. The Episcopal Church Foundation’s (ECF) Strategic Solutions is a guided process for mission-focused congregational planning that helps leaders in the discernment of God’s call. The classic six- to eight-year strategic plan does not work for the dynamic and ever-changing work of the church. Often, the traditional strategic planning process is highly focused on the product – a map with goals, strategies and objectives to be addressed over the next five or ten years. Members move, vestries turn over every year and clergy come and go, so how do you stay on track?
ECF has learned from decades of experience that the best laid plans, however well-intentioned and thought out, are an enormous challenge to implement over time and often result in frustration and defeat. ECF’s methodology focuses on the process – specifically, how to engage your parish leadership in active, strategic thinking that will continue annually. Strategic Solutions empowers leadership to respond quickly, meaningfully and effectively to changing realities, using a framework for ongoing decision-making that is rooted in a shared sense of identity, purpose and direction. Leading a community to follow God’s call with renewed energy and vision takes time and repetition.
Walking together in real time with a faith community strengthens a congregation’s capacity to make strategic decisions on an ongoing basis and in a spiritually-grounded, yet practical way. There are advantages to real-time strategic thinking:
- It is iterative and ongoing
- It identifies congregational goals that are aligned with long-term vision
- It identifies strategies for reaching those goals
- It evaluates long-term and short-term strategies in light of mission, financial capacity, an organization’s uniqueness and more.
Four steps to build a framework for ongoing decision-making
Strategic Solutions follows four basic steps:
1. Fitting the Process
There is no standard blueprint or document to follow. Leaders (vestry, board, steering committee, staff, etc.) and consultant must work together to develop the right timeline and overall plan to fit the community’s culture and situation. The plan and ultimate goals need to be understood and committted to by all leaders through clear communications, building relationships and trust.
Once the process is defined, additional leaders are identified, coached and trained in facilitating the listening process with the broader community.
3. Congregational Work and Data Analysis
Leadership and volunteers oversee the listening process, taking detailed notes for analysis. With this information, we identify common priorities, energy and values, to inform a plan to reach future goals.
4. Strategic Priorities, Benchmarks, Strategy Screen
Work continues to fine-tune a few specific goals and the steps that will move the community closer to reaching those goals over time. These steps, or benchmarks, are put into a detailed plan with real action items to be accomplished in one year’s time. This is where most plans falter and where we continue to walk with the community to ensure it does not get distracted or off track. When the initial benchmarks are achieved, a new annual plan is created and a strategy screen for future decisions becomes part of the culture.
In this way, ECF provides congregations with the tools they need to continue this work long after our consulting services conclude.
Louise Baietto is Managing Program Director for Strategic Resources and Client Services with responsibility for providing flexible, customized, innovative and holistic approaches to capital campaigns, special appeals, annual giving and stewardship, as well as visioning and planning tools.
Leslie Pendleton is Associate Program Director for Strategic Resources and Client Services and a Capital Campaign Consultant for ECF. She has worked with a diversity of congregations, enthusiastically guiding them through the communal process of a capital campaign.
- Why Strategic Planning? By Linda Buskirk, Vestry Papers, July 2015
- 5 Resources for Vision & Planning, by Brendon Hunter, ECF Vital Practices blog, June 22, 2017
- Strategic Vision & Planning by Donald Romanik, webinar, October 8, 2015
- Five Pitfalls of Strategic Thinking by Susan Erdey, Vestry Papers, November 2017