Planning and Goals

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Pastors and other vocational church leadership staff are educated in many things. If they have an M.div they typically have studied the Bible very deeply. They typically have studied church history, and probably have some counseling or other shepherding in their education.

In talking with pastors and other staff that I know, neither their undergrad or seminary experience prepared them for the “normal challenges of organizational leadership”. Some of them are great leaders, but it really is innate skill or talent, undeveloped until it needed to be exercized in the heat of battle.

Today’s post is about two simple activities in organizational leadership: Planning and Goals.


Planning is an activity that takes goals as an input, and creates action steps as an output. Goals are expressed as a what by when; some desired outcome on some desired schedule. Goals can be very simple, such as, “Preach a sermon series on marriage in May”, or they can be grandiose and complex, such as, “Convert our sunday school communities to small group communities by the end of the year.”

If a goal is the what and the when, the plan is the “how”. In my experience, inexperienced leaders tend to focus on the how, letting the how drive the what and the when, often with variable results. The thing is, how is just a means to an end. What is the end. One thing that I have seen leaders fail at is understanding the what. If I don’t know what the “what” looks like, how will I know I have acheived it. Sometimes in elaborating the what, we realize that our inital goal was not right. Perhaps our goal was not to convert our sunday school communities to small group communities – but to create a self-sustaining small group ministry. Maybe if I see this as a one time event, I will fail to create small group communities that “stick”, and I will destroy my sunday school communities at the same time. The way to start a plan is to ensure that you have a good definition for what goal acheivement means. Goal acheivement criteria are important, but where do they come from?

Goal acheivement criteria derive from a greater purpose behind the goal. Every goal has a reason for being a goal. This reason or purpose is the answer to the following question, “Why are we establishing this goal?”. When you establish the answer to the “why”, you can begin to establish acheivement criteria based on the why.

In order to acheive the goal, the what and the how have to deliver against the why. Without worrying about the when, you have a what, as a clear picture through the acheivement critieria. You plan is simply a set of steps that are essential to get from wherever you are, “the current state”, to where your goal is taking you, “the end state”. Your acheivement criteria paint a picture of the end state. Some goals acheivement criteria are executable – meaning that an action plan can be inferred directly from the goal acheivement criterion. Others are more abstract – meaning that discrete actions or plans cannot easily be inferred directly from the goal acheivement criterion.

In my experience, many leaders fail to acheive goals because they don’t paint a detailed picture of the end state. Building a plan without this picture in mind is like getting in your car without a destination in mind. You drive for miles and miles and miles, and when you get tired you stop. Is where you are when you stopped, where you intended to go? How can you tell?

A church consultant friend of mine worked with a pastor who shared a vision for moving his church towards being “multi-generational”. Pastor had shared this vision with the congregation some time before, and really had not been able to put a plan together to move the vision forward. My friend was part of a committee of 5 or 6 leaders asked to work on a plan to implement this vision. As they started to understand the implications of the vision, they asked a question about the destination, “What will be different when we have successfully implemented this vision?” The question was met with a blank stare, and the elder board chairman said, “We don’t think we are that far off, we just want to make a few tweaks.” What the pastor wanted to do, I believe, was to become more attractive to younger families, without alienating the aging community within the congregation. Given the answer of the elder board chairman, and the blank stare from the pastor, the committee was disbanded.

Let’s take this example, and elaborate how this could have gone better. Possible answers the pastor could have provided:

1) There will be community outreach programs targeting single adults under 35 and young families.
2) There are defined onramps for single adults under 35, and for young families.
3) The percentage of board members and volunteer leaders under 40 will increase from 20% to 50%.
4) The average age of new members or attenders will come down from 45 to 35.
5) The average age of the congregation will drop from 52 to 43.

Of these five answers, or acheivement criteria, the first two are executable and the last three are rather abstract. This is key, the exectutable items are ready to plan. You can define the onramps and the outreach programs and come up with concrete steps to meet these criteria. For the more abstract goals, you need to create a strategy – to make it exectutable. What is our strategy for attracting new members that are between 20 and 35? – that is what will bring the average age down. What is our strategy for increasing the percentage of leadership that is under 40? What is our strategy for reducing the average age of the congregation?

Lets suggest some strategies to achieve these abstract goals as a way of illustration:

Goal: Increase the percentage of board members and volunteer leaders by 150%.

Strategy: remove obstacles to their participation in these roles. Sometimes the leadership roles themselves are structured around the current leaders preference. Sometimes church policy or bylaws makes it more difficult by imposing restrictions. Sometimes it is just pragmatic or practical changes – like changing the time of the meetings, or recognizing the need for child care for leaders. It could be providing training or mentoring to make these people more comfortable with leadership roles.

Timeline: The thing is, this goal has a 2-4 year implementation timeline. Depending on your organization, boards may not be re-constituted annually, it may require several years. Mentoring programs take time, and even a policy or bylaw change can take significant time and energy to implement.

Here is another example:

Goal: Reduce the average age of new members or new attenders from 45 to 35.

Strategy: You may need to be more visible in the community. You may need to adjust programming (especially kids programming) to be more outreach oriented. It may just be using different media to reach a younger audience. It may be prioritizing community involvement especially in activities that involve younger families.

Timeline: This goal is one that can be measured every year. The time to implement is probably only 1 year (to get a decent measurement period) but there are always opportunities to try new things, and to adjust your action steps.

Notice that within the strategy, there are ideas that point to possible actions. These ideas need to be elaborated and analyzed, but they provide insight into means for acheiving the goal. Also notice that before we talk about specific actions, we see what the timeline is. Some actions have immediate effect, others require the passage of time.

How do we decide which actions to pursue? Cost, Timeline, concern over Internal strife or division. Sometimes you just have to pick one, and go with it. The fact is, do something, if it fails, do something else. This is something to pray over.

If you do something and it isn’t effective and you abandon the goal, what are you saying about the goal? Must not be very important for you to give us so fast. Or maybe – it just seemed like a good idea at the time, as soon as you meet some resistance, or friction. As soon as someone starts to challenge – you fade. If you don’t really believe in the goal, if you aren’t passionate – why pursue it?

If you believe in the vision, and you think the goals are important, then go run do. Make a plan and put it into motion. If the plan doesn’t produce the results you hoped for, adjust the plan. Keep moving forward.

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