How To Know If Your Church Needs A Strategic Plan

This is a guest post from The Spark Mill Consultant, Chris Bennett. Chris is a pastor who has a deep passion for the transformative power of strategy and planning. 

You may have heard the saying “let go, let God”.  While it’s not a direct biblical quote, it was inspired by scripture such as "be anxious for nothing" (Phil 4:6) and "seek first the kingdom of God" (Mt 6:33). The scriptures encourage us to keep our hearts open and walk by faith, not sit idle, relinquishing all planning and action. St. Paul writes in Eph 4 and 1 Cor 12 about the practical gifts each person is given for building up the kingdom. Building up is not passive – it’s work!  As any good builder knows, it requires a blueprint- a vision of the end product and a plan to get there. Here I am reminded of the “Parable of the Talents”.  As a church are you burying your resources or investing them?  Here are five questions that will help your congregation decide.

5 Key Questions to Ask 

 1.   Do you feel stuck?

Does ministry feel like riding an exercise bike?  Are you working really hard, breaking a good sweat, but never seeming to make much progress?   

First, know you are not alone.  So many times, as leaders in the church, we feel sort of…stuck.  Stuck in the routine… Sunday to Sunday, budget to budget, just existing from one liturgical season to the next.  The process of developing a strategic plan can help move a church forward by inspiring new ideas, and mapping out ways to achieve them.   Planning a strategic way forward can focus church priorities, enabling it to be good stewards of gifts of time, talent and money.  In the end the church will have clarity on who it is and how God is calling it to engage the community and world – positioning it to make a greater impact for the gospel.  

2.   Are you struggling to figure out the next steps for the church?

Sometimes there are so many great ministry opportunities in our community we start to feel overwhelmed.  This generally plays out in one of two ways – either we do nothing while we wait for our committees to make decisions, or, more often, we try to do it all, spreading our resources too thin, making very little effective impact.  

A strategic planning process helps clarify who we are and who God is calling us to be in our communities.  This allows us to confidently focus our ministry and outreach in ways that make the most impact for the gospel in our community.  Working together as a team to discern and invest in a long term vision of the church fosters confidence and unity as the church moves forward. 

3.  Is your attendance or participation plateaued or declining?

"Facts are our friends.”  This is a phrase a friend of mine uses over and over.  Leaders in the church often avoid looking at the facts, the numbers, because we are afraid of what they might say about us.  However, evaluating the key measurements of the church (worship attendance, giving, small group participation, etc.) provides an opportunity for change, growth, and survival.  Like high cholesterol, if you just keep eating the same things, refuse to get tested, and never get medication, what is going to happen to you?  Ignoring the signs and avoiding the results will not prevent the problems. But, if we monitor our current condition and treat the symptoms, we are able to make shifts and changes as necessary - beginning a new, healthy growth phase in the life of the church.  

4.  Do you have positive momentum going?

Of course, your church doesn’t need to wait for a plateau or decline to engage in a forward thinking strategic plan. When you are experiencing healthy momentum in ministry, it’s a great time to make sure your team is prepared for what’s ahead and your church has a unified vision for the future.  Strategic preparation for future growth and long term direction instills confidence and encourages a greater impact in the community.  

5.  Are you comfortable?

Ministry is hard and in many ways it should be.  When we find ourselves in a comfortable routine as the church, it can feel like sabbath time.  Sabbath is a biblical value…for one day a week.  As long as we are doing the work of the church here on Earth, we are not to remain in a sabbath mentality.  Instead we are called to engage in both sabbath AND meaningful work.  Comfort can lead to complacency.  Brene´ Brown said it well, "You can either be comfortable or courageous, but you cannot be both.”  The gospel calls us to courageously live out our discipleship in the community of the church.  

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions it might be a good time to consider investing in a strategic plan.

The Spark Mill would love to sit down with you and chat about where you are, what concerns you may have, and see how we may be able to help.  We offer handcrafted strategic planning – which means we understand that every organization is unique, with its own personalities, dilemmas, caveats, and solutions.  What this means for you is that we will take time to get to know your church, evaluate your specific needs, and help you to take the next step.  If you think you are a good candidate for strategic planning, you really aren’t sure, or you KNOW you aren’t but have a couple of questions - we would love to sit down with you for coffee or lunch.