July 2019
Strategic Visioning

Five Questions At The Heart Of Strategic Planning

Like Dorothy and her friends, locked arm-in-arm in the forest, congregational leaders may well quake at the dense terminology used in the strategic planning process.

“Mission and Vision and Outcomes – Oh my!”

Even the term “process” can be daunting. After all, a perfectly happy pig is “processed” into sausage. The word implies that some kind of transformation will occur, and we don’t know what that looks like, we’re quite comfortable where we are, thank you, would be a perfectly reasonable response.

So let’s set aside the business-like terminology of strategic planning for now. Here are five questions at the heart of it:

  1. What do we really love to do?
  2. How has God gifted us to do those things?
  3. If we focused more on doing what we love, so that we do it really well and share it with others, what are the best things that could happen?
  4. What might boost our ability to achieve each of those things?
  5. Where do we start?

What do we really love to do?
This question invites everyone into the conversation. People share stories about being blessed by ministries, friendships, worship, etc. Multiple aspects of the church are highlighted and celebrated. Certain themes, unique to your faith community, are bound to surface.

How has God gifted us to do those things?
Answers to this question include stories about what people love, laced with appreciation for who or what made those things possible. An inspiring choir, the church building’s location, a spirit of generosity, people who love to teach. The conversations generated by this question can transform a framework of scarcity into an attitude of abundance and gratitude.

If we focused more on doing what we love, so that we do it really well and share it with others, what are the best things that could happen?
This question is perhaps the most inspiring part of the conversation. It is energizing for the community to consider the possibilities and the positive impact their church could experience in the future.

What might boost our ability to achieve each of those things?
By this point, people have: identified what they love, affirmed the gifts that make those things possible and described an ideal future. Now it’s time to consider any gaps between current realities and your congregation’s desired future. Nothing is too small or too big to be listed: Stronger Christian formation for adults, a more accessible building, partnering with a neighborhood youth-serving agency, installing signs so people know where to park.

Where do we start?
That list grows long very quickly! Recognizing that tackling everything at once is not possible, this question identifies the most important first steps. Perhaps some projects could be achieved in phases. Another important consideration is how to ensure that future vestries will follow through. The “Where do we start?” question allows for the planning to end and implementation to begin, with a commitment to continue on into the future.

Now let’s link these five questions to the terms (shown in bold) used in a typical strategic planning process:

What do we really love to do? Answering this helps identify and define Mission.

How has God gifted us to do those things? Answering this also helps identify Mission, with the addition of Ministry Strengths. These strengths can be further defined in terms of Capacity Factors, describing your congregation’s level of capability in categories like programs/ministries, leadership, resources and organizational structure.

If we focused more on doing what we love, so that we do it really well and share it with others, what are the best things that could happen? Ta-da! By answering this, you have described your Vision. (Vision = the desired impact of your Mission)

What might boost our ability to achieve each of those things? Answers to this question form your Strategic Priorities for future action. These priorities are especially helpful to the vestry as it creates future budgets. Mission, vision and strategic priorities enable leadership to make strategic decisions at any time on everything, from budgets and programs to building maintenance and endowment management.

Where do we start? With the strategic priorities in place and widely communicated, all groups/ministries of the church are invited to create Action Goals to support the strategic priorities, so the church can achieve its vision.

These five questions are at the heart of strategic planning. The Episcopal Church Foundation offers Strategic Solutions, an opportunity for a congregation to be guided by a skilled facilitator to maximize process efficiency and success. ECF’s approach is customized to meet the unique culture of each congregation/diocese/camp client. And, as in all ECF programs, there is a strong component of spirituality, welcoming the Holy Spirit as a full participant.

So don’t let those strategic planning terms scare you. A discerning, inspiring journey awaits!

At the heart of the matter is God’s call for your faith community.

Linda Buskirk is an ECF consultant based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In addition to the many successful Episcopal Church capital campaigns she has led for ECF, she brings extensive experience from her own consulting practice specializing in strategic planning, fundraising and board governance for not-for-profit organizations. Linda is also a contributing author for ECF’s Vital Practices/Vital Posts blog. She enjoys journeying with clients to help identify where they are being called to serve as a faith community and implementing a plan to ensure their capacity to achieve their goals. Linda is active in her home parish and diocese serving on committees responsible for clergy formation, endowment, stewardship and many other ministries. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs from Indiana University and is a graduate of the Congregational Development Institute of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana.

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This article is part of the July 2019 Vestry Papers issue on Strategic Visioning