Why Strategic Planning is Not a Waste of Time for Churches

Some people in the church world think that strategic planning is a waste of time. Maybe you fall into this category. In the paragraphs that follow, I’m going to try and convince you otherwise. I understand the complaints:

  • The plans are too long
  • There is often no accountability associated with them
  • There is too much detail and they are often all over the proverbial map

No justification to stop

While these observations speak to serious process problems, it does not provide justification simply to stop planning. In fact, that kind of thinking represents a sharp contrast with the thinking of one of the great leaders I interviewed for my book, Leadership is a Covenant. I’m talking about the late John Wooden who said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Lessons from Coach Wooden

Of course, Benjamin Franklin first made the comment, but Coach Wooden’s teams clearly approached planning perfection. The Coach told me that he and his assistants planned everything, from offensive and defensive execution to living accommodations and uniform fittings for each player. He explained that he didn’t want his players to have any excuse not to play well.

The coaches also executed and sometimes adapted those plans at daily practice, so that when they got to the games they were clearly well prepared. Based on the results – with 10 national championships in eleven years – it’s pretty clear that their planning proved to be fruitful.

Giving account through effective planning

The point that churches really need to understand is that the success of church ministry, church growth, stewardship and much more are all related to effective planning. Among other responsibilities, the church is compelled to be a good steward. Romans, chapter 14 tells us, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” As church leaders, we cannot afford to neglect our stewardship responsibility for the resources (financial, material and human) in our care. That is best achieved through an effective planning process.

Use the right process and be serious about it

Now, I’m biased, but I believe our fundraising consulting organization has built a process that actually yields results. It is relatively short and we have dozens of thankful clients who have a reliable, useful, and action oriented strategic plan. But they were serious about both the planning process and the implementation of the plan.

I do agree with one thing: many strategic plans are not well built and fewer still are well implemented. However, that does not mean the plan itself was a bad idea. Often, we just need to commit ourselves to actually doing what we say we will do.

So, my suggestion: have a plan! But, if and when you have one, be sure you’re committed to working it. Don’t allow your planning to be wasted. Instead, be an effectual doer, not a hearer only.