Planning is essential for churches to function properly and successfully. Pastors and board members need to take note of the importance of sketching out a plan for initiatives and situations before they happen. Whether it's planning for the fiscal year and breaking down expenses, outreach program planning, or building expansion planning creating a strategy is important.
Many churches fail to plan, which can lead to ministry failure, a tragedy. Equipping a ministry with the tools and skills for proper planning can strengthen a ministry tenfold. In my personal experience helping in church plants and business situations I've noticed five stand-out styles of planning.
- Ostrich Style Planning: The head in the sand style is present when there is little or no formal effort to plan. This can be caused by the non-planner's desire to not be tied to future outcomes or built upon their blind faith perspective. This can leave a ministry high and dry when situations arise they are not prepared for and have no strategy in place.
- Emergency Planning: "We'll deal with it when the situation arises," is a common phrase among emergency planners. Creating a strategy when tensions are high, unexpected problems occur and resources are strained can lead to a quick fix without lasting results. Organizations should avoid this planning style at all costs and have plans in place ahead of time.
- Fact Overload Planning: Think of this as paralysis by analysis where the information-gathering stage never ceases to end. While this part of planning is important, eventually you must move on and make decisions. Sometimes too many facts can obscure the plan itself. Learning when to stop will help an organization make the right decision without overanalyzing.
- Biased Planning: In some organizations, planning and decision-making can become political, a practice that should never belong inside of the church. Manipulated planning involves individual bias presenting the facts a very specific way, steering the group in a single direction and not consciously looking at all the options. Typically, this is done in benefit to themselves or another and is very one sided in accomplishing
- Balanced Planning: This balance of information, people and objectives provides for the clearest and most desirable type of planning. By avoiding the previous four planning pitfalls, this solution allows for the best possible outcome by taking things into account but also being realistic and working together.
Breaking Down Balanced Planning
Everyone has their own planning system and process, but the basics remain the same regardless of the desired result. By following a sort of systematic process, you're sure to increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. From my experience, the best planning process looks something like the following.
Establish Goals: By setting forth clear, measurable objectives for the planning process you'll be able to stay on track. How can you accomplish something if you don't decide what it is? Be realistic about what you're hoping to achieve and perhaps set check points for the process. Give it an end goal date, but be flexible, as it may move while hashing out the details. Providing yourself with a timeline will help you stick to your goals as well as knowing when to switch from creation to implementation.
Develop Planning Principles: Knowing how you're going to measure your plan, what principles you'll be keeping track of things and knowing contingencies is important when starting to plan. These could be knowing the estimates you'll be making or how you'll measure giving forecasts for your organization. Crafting the principles, you'll be using can help you determine just what is important for your end game.
Identify Problems: Knowing limitations and problems that may arise before they happen is an invaluable part of planning. Perhaps you'll need to work in rising costs, bad weather or lack of volunteers into your strategy. Thinking through issues and creating contingency plans will allow you to ultimately create a stronger strategy.
Create Plan: This is the goal of everything, coming up with just exactly you're going to do, how you're going to do it and when it's happening. Include the strategies and actions you need to complete each goal, possible problems and metrics you'll be using. Start small when it comes to details and add more as you go on. Take a pause at points to incorporate feedback to create something your entire team can get on board with.
Learning to create a systematic planning process throughout your organization is incredibly useful to achieve your ministries' goals and dreams. Developing respect and understanding for planning throughout your team will strengthen your ministry.
Dr. Tom McElheny serves as the director of Christian education for several Sarasota, Florida churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education and is CEO of his company ChurchPlaza.
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