Strategic Planning for Ministry: Six Basic Steps

Credit where credit is due: these six steps and their explanations are culled from documents and ‘oral tradition’ I came in contact with over a decade ago through Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru). No author attribution was given in the print material, but I’m almost certainly plagiarizing someone…

Effective strategic planning involves six steps:

  1. Set Direction
  2. Situational Analysis
  3. Identify Critical Mass
  4. Establish Critical Path Steps
  5. Determine Tactics (Resource Release)
  6. Evaluate & Refine

Set Direction. This is the easiest step, because it’s dictated by your mission statement. If you’ve done a good job articulating your mission (see previous post), then your mission IS your direction. That’s where you want to go. You’re planning because you want to move toward accomplishing the mission God has given you.

Situational Analysis. Think of this an accurate, up-to-date “snapshot” of your current reality. You can never align people to a vision of the future unless they agree with your perception of the present. In the corporate world, this step is often called a “SWOT Analysis” – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. Strengths and weaknesses focus on the internal environment of your organization; opportunities and threats focus on your external environment (your mission context). Gather all the data you can, sort through it, and compile a clear picture of current reality.

Identify Critical Mass. Think of your mission as the New World, and your critical mass as everything you need on the boat before you depart to go there. “How much of what” will it take to accomplish the mission? What resources and assets do you have at your disposal (leaders, money, people, property, etc.)? What resources do you NOT have that you need to go get? Who and what do you need to get on board in order to make it happen?

Establish Critical Path Steps. This is the really important step, because it determines what you’ll actually DO in the coming year. This is also the place where leaders get confused by thinking too broadly. The critical path is not everything you need to do – or could possibly do – in pursuit of your mission. Rather, it’s the two or three most critical things you need to do right now in order to make maximum progress toward accomplishing the mission. To go back to our “New World” analogy: in one season, the critical path might be, “Recruit Pioneers; Secure Funding; Hire a Boat.” In another season, the critical path might be, “Establish Settlement; Make Friends with Natives; Plant Initial Crops.” You get the point. Here are some questions to help identify your critical path steps:

  • What 2 or 3 things MUST we do this year to make progress toward achieving our mission?
  • What unique opportunities must we seize right away in order to move the mission forward?
  • What key problems do we need to address or solve in order to make better progress toward our mission?

Determine Tactics (Resource Release). Strategy is the big picture, viewed “from the air;” tactics are the smaller, more precise maneuvers “on the ground.” Your critical path steps outline your strategy objectives for the coming year; your tactics show how you’ll leverage your resources to accomplish those objectives. Think of tactics as the specific things you’re going to DO this year. For instance:

  • Shut down Peyton Manning (critical path step); blitz every 2nd and 3rd down (tactics) (sorry for switching analogies… but football resonated more than the New World)
  • Strengthen our church’s theological foundation (critical path step); preach 36-week series through Romans (tactic)
  • Increase our overall number of leaders (critical path step); implement a leadership training process and move 30 people through it this year (tactic)
  • Raise $50k in additional funding (critical path step); meet with 5 potential donors per week, plus follow-up from previous week (tactic)

Evaluate and Refine. Remember that strategic planning is ongoing – we regularly refine our plan in light of new information. We are continually adapting to our environment, solving problems and taking advantage of opportunities that help us fulfill the mission. A strategic plan is not carved in stone; it’s written on a chalkboard. Don’t spend money putting all of this on your website or designing a four-color print piece. Keep it malleable and agile.

In the next post, I’ll put all of this into a picture that makes it more visual and intuitive.

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