How to Do Strategic Planning for Ministry

This is the time of year when wise leaders spend time praying and planning for the year ahead. Strategic planning can be an idol – especially in our business-obsessed culture – but the answer to that is not to shun planning. Rather, the solution is prayerful and Spirit-dependent strategizing. In this series of blog posts I want to share some best practices for strategic planning, with specific application to the context of gospel ministry.

First, here are five preliminary considerations.

Forget about having a five-year vision. In a truly missional church, both the internal and external environments change too fast. Your five-year vision will end up in the recycle bin. A good strategic plan thinks 12 months out at the most.

Plan in pencil, not in pen. Strategic planning is a dynamic process. No matter how accurate your instincts about the future, you’re going to end up modifying your plan as things change. So don’t worry too much about “getting it right.” Just get it close.

The numbers never lie. Before you start planning, gather as much “hard data” as you can about your current reality. How many people are in your missional communities or small groups right now? What’s your giving like? What’s your actual attendance (not your highest Sunday ever)? How many baptisms, new converts, new members, kids, leaders, volunteers, etc? When my team does this, we make it fun by tracking down odd stats like “ounces of communion bread consumed” or “volunteer hours invested in setup.” I want them to learn to geek out about the numbers – because the numbers give us a snapshot of reality. Sometimes it’s encouraging, and sometimes it’s discouraging, but either way, it’s the truth.

Pay attention to soft data. Start with the hard data… but also listen to what the “man on the street” is saying. What are you hearing out there? What are the consistent themes of pastoral conversations or missional community gatherings? This often gives you insight into perceptions, feelings, and even objections that you’re going to have to overcome in order to lead people into a desired future.

Plan in community. This is much harder to do, because the more people you involve, the more complicated things get. But wise leaders broaden the circle of involvement to 1) train and develop the leaders around them and 2) get the broadest and most accurate feedback possible.

In the next post, I’ll explain why good strategy starts with a clear and well-articulated mission statement.


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