Ministry Planning 101: 7 Steps For Your First Strategic Plan

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We all do all sorts of things everyday.  The list of events and activities seems dizzying at times.  Wise people and effective organizations stop from time to time and consider, “of everything we are doing right now, what has helped us the most?”  Ask anyone who has been at Faith for an extended period of time and here’s one of the answers you’ll consistently hear, “consistently developing five-year strategic ministry plans.”  It might not be the most exciting thing we do and it is certainly not the easiest, but it is clearly one of the most important.

For everyone

Part of the beauty of this topic is that strategic planning principles can be applied to all sorts of relationships, activities, and organizations.  For example, you may be at a great point in your life to make a strategic plan…for you.  There won’t be endless committee meetings and focus groups, but the time you invest in the process personally may really help you focus on what God has for you in the days ahead. Think about it from the perspective of your friendships.  Where is that particular relationship headed?  Do you have a goal and a plan?  Are you investing time and resources to deepen certain relationships this year?  Have you made a goal to establish new friendships?  How do you plan to make that happen? Consider strategic planning and the family.  When is the last time you and your spouse sat down and talked about the status of your marriage?  What direction is it heading? How are each of your children doing? What are their strengths and weaknesses?  What specific steps should you take this year to grow your marriage and build into the lives of your children?  How likely is it that these goals are going to be reached this year or any year without a plan? All of this is equally true for whatever ministry you lead or participate in.  A small group should have a strategic plan.  So should an Adult Bible Fellowship.  The youth ministry should have their own strategic plan.  And the community baseball league…and on and one.  Are you a ministry leader?  What’s the plan for this year? When you bring this around to an entire church, the importance of strategic planning becomes especially crucial.   If we really believe that God is mediating His plan in and through the establishment and development of local churches around the world, then we must have a clear and specific idea of what we believe God wants us to accomplish together.

Here are 7 steps I recommend for creating your ministry plan:

1. Start with clearly identifying your mission or purpose

Why do you exist?  What is the purpose of your friendships?  Why are you part of a family?  Why is your particular ministry important and what does God want you to accomplish?  Sit down and write a clear, concise, biblical, measurable mission statement. At Faith, we believe the mission of Faith Church is to glorify God by winning people to Jesus Christ and equipping them to be more faithful disciples.  What do you think of our mission?  How can you adapt these core ideas to the specific area in which you are seeking to plan?

2. Prayerfully analyze where you are currently

Ask God to give you a humble, teachable, learner’s spirit.  Write out what you believe are your strengths and weaknesses.  What are the greatest threats to the accomplishment of your mission?  What are the most significant opportunities that lie ahead? Invite others to give you honest input and evaluation.  What do they think you are doing right?  How do they believe you need to improve?  Effective planners invite brutal honesty.

3. Brainstorm initiatives

Now the fun starts.  Begin writing down all the things you could do in the coming year to best accomplish your mission.  At this step, ask God to give you unusual creativity and vision.  Don’t be afraid to dream.  Remember, because we are the children of God, we have significant resources at our disposal if our goal is to truly glorify Him. Invite as many people in your life as possible to brainstorm with you.  What are all the steps your family could take this year to develop greater unity, love, and Christ-likeness?  The goal at this stage of the process is not to only discuss things that are doable–that comes later.  Right now you are simply asking, “if time and resources were unlimited, what are all the things we could do this year, next year, the next five years, whatever–to best accomplish our mission?” Don’t leave the children and young people out of this step.  Our kids need to see us and hear us wrestling with the best ways to please God.  They should see a sense of commitment to a mission-driven lifestyle that seeks to leave no resources on the table coupled with an amazement that God allows us to use our creativity and intellect to decide the best ways to serve Him. It would not be unusual to have dozens and maybe even hundreds of ideas at this phase.  Don’t be intimidated by that.  It does not cost a dime to dream.

4. Begin making a reasonable, achievable plan

Once you have brainstormed every conceivable initiative, now it is time to bring in the voice of reason and reality.  Yes, it would be fun to fly to the moon together as a family, and the trip would probably draw us together; but it might be hard on the budget. This is the point of the process that is especially crucial because you marry your initiatives to your mission by asking, “what could we do this year that will advance our mission the furthest with the smallest expenditure of resources?”  So no, we can’t fly to the moon, but we can plan two overnight camping trips so dad can have concentrated time with his sons.  Or no, our church can’t hire every unemployed person in our county, but we can offer a job-loss support group one night a week for those in our community without work.

5. Keep it short at first

If this is your first attempt at strategic planning, keep the plan short in terms of amount of time and number of initiatives.  A simple plan that is achieved is far better than a complex one that simply discourages and frustrates everyone involved.  If a simple plan helps you be more effective the first time around, it is highly likely that everyone involved will joyfully participate in the process in the next cycle.  The goal is that planning becomes a part of the very DNA of that relationship or organization.

6. Welcome accountability

Create a way to regularly check up on your progress.  That might be a simple reminder on your computer.  It may be a monthly soup/salad date with your spouse to check up on your progress.  Perhaps you should ask a friend to hold you accountable.  Most of us are much more likely to follow through if we know someone is going to check on us.

7. Enjoy the blessing

Plans that have a godly mission and focus will be blessed by the Lord Himself.  Proverbs 16:3 – Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.  That is a promise, from God Himself.

Steve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.