Strategic Planning | Why it is Important

I was never trained on how to do effective strategic planning during all of the almost seven years of theological training. I received hundreds of hours on how to parse Greek and Hebrew, how to prepare sermons and how to write theological papers. How to plan strategically? Only in passing.

I’ve never met a church board that didn’t initially struggle with spending quality time planning. Too often board time is spent on solving problems as fast as possible so that everyone can go home. Board meetings themselves are often seen as a necessary evil. When I start the process of strategic planning, I inevitably get some member of the board that says something like, “Pastor, we’ve done this kind of thing in the past and nothing ever came of it. Do we really need to spend more time on this?”

As a Pastor, a spiritual leader, if I’m not clear on the why of strategic planning, the stronger personalities on the board will eventually shut down the process before it even gets off the ground.

Why is Strategic Planning Important?

You’ve no doubt heard the saying that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Without a strategic plan, you have no effective means of evaluating whether the organization is heading in a positive or negative direction. In the absence of a clear path forward, your church board will be pulled and pushed by whatever random forces seek to influence the church. A clear, actionable plan guides your organization by helping it separate the good from the great. It helps you say no to those things that would sap strength and energy from the church and prevent it from accomplishing its goals.

Planning is Built on a Foundation of Trust in God

Some might think that planning is a failure to trust in God. I would say that trust in God is the bedrock of planning. We can’t have effective plans without hearing from God. We can’t hear from God if we don’t have any trust in Him. We can push ahead with whatever big plans we have for God and yet find ourselves outside of God’s will. There are many examples of this in the Bible. The first one that comes to mind is the story of Moses.

God miraculously saved his life when he was only three months old. He finds himself adopted by the Pharoah’s daughter. He gets trained in the finest schools Egypt has to offer but never forgets where he really comes from. When he is older and gets an opportunity to help his people he doesn’t hesitate. He kills the Egyptian taskmaster who was abusing Hebrew slaves. It’s a good thing right? Not exactly. Just because an action, plan or idea will do some good doesn’t mean it is God’s will. Since we are not omnipotent like God, we can often find ourselves getting in the way of God’s plan for a person’s life.

How do we get to trust God and know His will for our church and our life? By pursuing a relationship with Him. By taking time every day to spend quality time in His Word and in prayer. Godly planning is birthed out of a solid relationship with God.

A whole book could be written of all the examples of planning found in the Bible. For our purposes here we’ll highlight only a few.

When Noah was told to build the ark, God supplied him with plans that he then had to put in motion and execute in order to successfully save himself and his family. Moses was given detailed plans for building the sanctuary by God on Mount Sinai. Moses then had to organize and supervise the execution of the plan. David made plans for the building of a permanent Temple dedicated to the Almighty God. He even gathered all of the materials necessary for its construction.

In the New Testament we read the words of Jesus in Luke 14:28-32. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.”

Jesus sent the disciples out two by two and gave them instructions on how they were to conduct themselves. After the resurrection, the apostles sought to organize the new church under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the final book in the Bible, Revelation, outlines God’s plan for the universe and ends in chapters 21 and 22 with a description of how it is all going to end.

Ok, I’ll admit planning is in the Bible but what about Strategic Planning?

The term ‘strategic planning’ is borrowed from the business world and yet, if you look up the meaning of the word ‘strategic’, you’ll find definitions like:

  1. relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them.
  2. carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage.

Does God want us to set long-term goals? Doesn’t Jesus give us a strategic goal when he gave us the Gospel Commission in Matthew 28? While it is true that God has at times in history given humans detailed plans of exactly what they were to do, it is also true that He has at times left the how to our discretion while clearly communicating the what.

Take your time!

I don’t know about you but I never received proper training in how to bring a church through the process of strategic planning. I had to learn through trial and error and I am always learning. Don’t let your lack of training or experience stop you from engaging your church in the process of strategic planning. It is too easy to coast and just keep doing what you’ve always been doing. Chances are, what you’ve always been doing isn’t working as well as it used to.

Don’t be too hard on yourself when you first begin. Take your time as you go through the process. Don’t present yourself as an expert on strategic planning but do take the time to impress on your leaders the importance of doing it. Help them to see that this is an ongoing process. It isn’t a destination per se. We don’t plan once and then have it done. Plans change. Circumstances change. We must also change with them.