A Strategic Planning Process That Works

“OK, The planning process is done; let’s put it on the shelf and get back to work.” I’ve heard such comments many times. Worse yet, I’ve also heard staff talk about spending an inordinate amount of time on the program of the month. While it might be gratifying to the CEO, it signifies a lack of solid planning. Essentially when you finish a planning process, that plan should be able to lead you into the future. If you are lacking such a plan, then all you have left is a bunch of activities that you do continuously without much thought.

So how can you avoid this, move forward and engage people rather than bore or offend them? There are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your planning makes sense, your people are engaged and you’re positioned for nonprofit or church growth.

Find a facilitator

Pure and simple, a facilitator helps ensure that you stay on track and that your planning process is solid. You have to do your due diligence to find one, but if the facilitator knows what he or she is doing, you’re already on your way to success.

Be teachable; get out of the way

Competent facilitators have been doing this for a while. Rely on their experience and knowledge. Our company provides consultation for fundraising and particularly capital campaigns. We’ve never had a church campaign fail to achieve its goal. That’s a pretty good track record. Yet, despite our experience and success, it amazes me when a pastor pays us a fee to help them and then disregards our counsel.

Engage a broader audience

The worst way to build a plan is to have a few people in a small room putting the plan together. The plans need to be informed by the congregation. We usually start by sending out an e-mail or letter from the pastor outlining some possible directions for the church. Then the pastor asks people to share their opinions on the church, its various ministries, and the directions the pastor has outlined. The e-mail also contains a link to an online survey. We use the data we collect to help us identify the critical planning issues. True, when you invite opinions, feedback and involvement, you give up some control. However, when you are willing to give up some control, you will likely motivate church members to engage in the process!

Have a solid process

There are lots of planning processes on the market. Your challenge will be to find one that works effectively and expediently. When I worked in higher education we had a planning process that lasted over a year. That just doesn’t work. If the church is focused, it can take a lot less time. Our process takes from 2-3 months maximum and that is about the right amount of time.

Involve the right people

You’ll need a core planning team of both key staff and key volunteers. It might include elders, deacons, parish council, ministry leaders and then some key members. Usually that amounts to about 25-30 people who will be invited to participate in a retreat. A competent facilitator will be able to handle that sized group. If you follow these points, your planning will be successful.