Introductory Quotes: Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
“Vision is worthless without strategy.” Attributed to Aubrey Malphurs
“…anyone who fails to define their strategy is not only foolish but also demonstrating poor management of the time, talents and treasure of their church or other organization.” Brad Bridges “channeling” Aubrey Malphurs
“Out of complexity, find simplicity.” Albert Einstein
“I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity, but I’d give my right arm for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
“Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.” William Carey
“It is in the very going forward that God will meet you.” JC Ryle
“Not having a plan is the same as having a plan to do nothing.” Tony Morgan
“The word ‘planning’ implies that someone is going to do something. Most strategic planning should be called “non-strategic talking.” Internationally known consultant
“When a leader copies another ministry model, the emotional connection to the problem it solved doesn’t automatically come with it. That’s what I call second generation passion. When pastors are stuck in program lock, they are operating with second generation passion.” Will Mancini
“A healthy church has plans; an unhealthy church solves problems.”
“…structures exist to implement and extend the dream…”
“Planning is the health skill. Dreams without plans are fantasies. Plans without dreams are adrift. A dream and a plan are essential for congregational health. Plans translate our kingdom dream into concrete ministry.”
“We need to turn dreams into deeds.”
RD Dale in To Dream Again
Consider the three themes of Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger:
- The value of a SIMPLE ministry strategy. The simple church has few, if any, options for church attenders. There is only one way to learn the basics of the faith, one discipleship pathway, etc. The bulletin is simple; the program is simple. This is “Chipotle” as opposed to the restaurant with the huge menu. The senior pastor’s role is, at least comparatively speaking, simple.
- What might be the advantages of having a simple strategy?
- What might be the negatives of having a simple strategy?
- The value of meaningful strategic planning. The book illustrates strategic planning that actually results in an actual strategy that is actually followed. Simple church strategists design a church from the ground up. Jesus told us to make something and the simple church is designed to succeed at this task. In the case of an established church, simple church planners seek to start with a clean slate. No ministry is sacred. Everything is “on the chopping block.” When this kind of strategic planning is completed, the day-to-day ministry of the church is forever changed.
- The value of creating a systematic plan for disciple-making as opposed to merely hoping that it happens. The Evangelical Free Church has traditionally called this “intentional disciple-making.”
- This is the opposite of what might be called, “accidental disciple-making,” the “throw the spaghetti against the wall and see if anything sticks” method.
- This is also the antithesis of sticking with the traditional programs which a church has had for decades, hoping that by attending everything, believers will get what they need to grow up in Christ.
- Church leaders will always be tempted to merely “rebrand” traditional church programs to avoid the pain of discontinuing them. In truth, while some programs can be repurposed, many cannot.
- A ministry strategy is an intentionally devised plan or process for how a church will make disciples in its part of the mission field.
- Most churches never give serious thought to coming up with a ministry strategy. They do what they do because of tradition. Not so long ago the standard was: “Our church has Sunday School classes, a Sunday morning worship service, a Sunday night service and a Wednesday evening prayer meeting. This is what we do. Period.” While our traditions have changed, our traditionalism is actually about the same. What does the standard program look like today?
- If your church is already simple – probably because it is new and small – thank God, and don’t mess it up with unnecessary activity. Make its program as intentional as possible as quickly as possible, before it becomes confused and complicated. You will be tempted to start new programs to gain or to keep new members moving from other churches and other parts of the country.
- Some current ministries need to be allowed to die a natural death.
- Some current ministries need to be decisively euthanized by the church board. The pastor who tries this on his own authority is looking for a one-way ticket out of town.
- As above, some churches are capable of repurposing and/or rebranding an existing ministry. More often than not however, church attendees are unable to handle “new wine in old wineskins.” They will not adapt to a new purpose (or a new name) for “old” Sunday school classes, small groups, etc.
- Church leadership teams do not need everyone’s enthusiasm to try a new strategy. It works much better to seek PERMISSION and ask for TRIAL periods of time to try a new strategy.
- Church leaders should expect skepticism or even cynicism from longtime attendees when new strategies and plans are announced. It will take some success over time to convince folks who’ve seen their leaders “roll out” too many ill-fated programs in the past. Leaders need to unveil new plans with lockstep unity, calm perseverance and great patience. The reasoning behind programming changes should be carefully and painstakingly taught.
- It’s very hard to a devise strategy as a large group. A smaller group made up of “serious stake holders” (those less inclined to devise plans that they have no intention of helping to bring to fruition) will work better than a larger group. While your pastor shouldn’t do this entirely alone, this is a place where boards need to allow their pastor to dream about the future, to design a ministry strategy and to direct the work. His voice should probably be the prominent voice in the room during this process.
- No pastor should try to lead a task of re-designing the church’s strategy until he is loved, trusted and respected. Trying this too early in a pastorate can be deadly.
- A ministry strategy should be designed with much prayer, study, understanding of the context and realism. There are multiple reasons why this is the last step of the strategic planning process.
Adapting some thoughts from Aubrey Malphurs, let me suggest that:
- Studying your church’s purpose motivates your strategy
- Discovering your church’s mission compels your strategy
- Discovering your church’s values colors your strategy
- Identifying a focus group concentrates the strategy
- Describing a designer-disciple sharpens your strategy
- Creating a vision statement energizes your strategy
- This is an area where copying other churches CAN be okay…or disastrous. One church’s “best practices” might be your church’s “worst practices.” By all means consider the strategies of other churches but understand that differing demographics call for differing strategies. The ministry strategy of the large church in the big town might not work at all in the small church in the little town.
- God wants to bless a good strategy. God will sometimes graciously bless a ministry in spite of a poor strategy, which is no excuse for not trying to design a good one. Your best strategy should fail miserably without God’s help. While the blessing of God should be sought with passion, church leaders should simultaneously seek to design the best disciple-making strategy they can, with the help of God’s Spirit. It’s not “either/or” it’s “both/and.” Note Paul’s zeal and wisdom in I Corinthians 3:10 and 9:23-27.
The healthiest churches dare to trust their leadership team’s initial attempt at a ministry strategy and make minor and/or major adjustments going forward as necessary.
See our Quick Guide on Disciplemaking Pathways for a more complete treatment of the subject of strategies for bringing new believers to maturity in Christ.
A Suggested Strategy Development Process:
- Enlist everyone you can in praying for this process. Not all can be “hands on” involved, but all can be involved in prayer for the process. If many people are praying then many people will believe that the results are an answer to prayer.
- Think of this process (as in #11 above) as the culmination of all the work you’ve done thus far. You can think of this in terms of:
- Because our church’s purpose is to…
- And because our church’s mission is to…
- And because our church’s values are…
- And because our church’s focus group is…
- And because our church’s designer disciple is…
- And because our church’s vision is…
- THIS IS WHAT WE WILL DO:
- Review your mission (what your church exists to DO). Talk and pray about the steps required by the process. If, for example, your mission is to make disciples (I hope this is your conviction) and you’ve concluded that the steps required are winning the lost, building up the believer and equipping the worker (the Dann Spader understanding of Matthew 28:18-20), pray and discuss this until you’ve designed a plan for how your churchwill do each of these. (Simple Church has some great examples.) The following are questions you’ll want to tackle:
- How will we win people to Christ?
- How will we build new believers up in the faith?
- How will we equip them to serve?
- Do we have any existing ministries (programs) through which we can do these things?
- Do we have existing ministries which we will need to kill by way of benign neglect?
- Can we realistically rebrand and/or repurpose this (these) ministry (ministries) or do we need to start some new ministries?
- Are there ministries which devour important resources (space, time or money) which will we need to discontinue in order to perform our mission effectively?
- What price will need to be paid to accomplish the above? Are we willing to pay this price?
- Aubrey Malphurs suggests an alternative approach to the process described in #3, above (though using both processes would be excellent). Review the characteristics of your “designer-disciple” and compare them to your existing or future ministry strategy. Ask yourselves which existing or future ministries can realistically be expected to develop these characteristics. Examples follow:
- If one of your characteristics is “She knows how to read, study and interpret the Bible for herself,” identify which church ministry will be used to develop this characteristic.
- If one of your characteristics is “He knows how to share his testimony and the gospel message with non-Christians,” identify which church ministry will be used to develop this characteristic.
If you haven’t yet looked at that Quick Guide on Disciplemaking pathways, find and study it now.
Follow Up And Follow Through
1. Have you discovered your purpose, mission, values, focus group, designer-disciple and arrived at a ministry strategy? Wonderful!
What you do next is as important as anything you’ve done so far.
2. Now is the time to use the Mr. Roger’s Method: “Take your time and do it right.” Don’t “roll this out” until you’ve talked and prayed about it extensively. Leadership groups will need to take this material to ever-widening concentric circles of stake holders: Pastor to elders to dream team to all church leaders to the congregation at large. Bring in the help of outside experts as well. Pray like crazy. Listen to some nay-sayers, skeptics and Debbie Downers. Listen to that old guy who has been rolling his eyes every time the subject of strategic planning is mentioned. Ask him why he’s so skeptical, and listen carefully to what he says.
3. If you can come up with one very short mission statement (good) or vision statement (better) – a keychain-sized version of a longer statement – by all means do so. Can it fit on a T-shirt? Can it be learned by your fifth graders? Remember: mission is good but vision is even better. If you want to go the Simple Church route of featuring a very short compilation of a ministry strategy instead of a mission or vision statement, that’s okay too.
4. Make sure this is real. To quote Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady, don’t fall into the trap of leaving this at the level of words, words, words. Most strategic planning is actually “non-strategic talking.”
5. In your desire to come up with a short summary statement of your mission, dream or strategy, don’t resort to the common practice of substituting your whole (!) process you’ve been through with some pre-existing pithy church slogan. Such slogans are great if they truly reflect the ministry of the church, but more often than not they are adopted by churches in which they have no connection to the weekly program of the congregation. They are window dressing on bulletins and web sites and have no effect on anything. Many churches multiply them as each successive pastor adds another to the collection. You need to get to the simplicity that is at the far side of complexity, not the simplicity which is at the near side of complexity (by merely adapting somebody else’s slogan).
6. If you can depict your mission, vision or strategy statement with a diagram, logo or a graphic, by all means do so. Identify your creative types and give them a challenge.
7. If you can summarize your strategic planning process with a sandbox or a soccer field (with your strategic planning elements on the four sides and the middle) by all means do so. This is a great teaching tool if you keep it simple, keep it real and actually use it.
8. When you are done and you are sure, implement your plan with holy boldness and godly humility. Communicate it until your “common people” know it and are tired of hearing about it. In truth, if you live it most of your people will love it. If it’s just words, words, words, people will tire of it very quickly.