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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

The Simplest Process for Strategic Planning for Churches

Updated: Feb 1

Some fancy terms that get thrown around in the world seem complicated — but really are more simple than you might think at first.  One is “strategic planning.”  It can sound scary.  It leads to lots of questions:

  1. What if I don’t have any strategy?

  2. How do I get started?

  3. What if our plan doesn’t work?

  4. How do we know what is best to do?

  5. What if we don’t have a mission?

  6. How detailed are we supposed to go?

Entire books have been written on the subject of Strategic Planning for Churches.  And they’re great.  But I’m guessing most pastors on this list don’t feel that they have time to read an entire book on strategic planning… and don’t feel like you have the time to do a “deep dive” into a process even if you did.  One strategic planning resource says “… a good rule of thumb is to plan on spending 3-4 months developing a complete strategic plan.”

That might be nice in their world, but mine is too full of pre-marital counseling, building our discipleship ministry, and preaching 2X per week. (Yeah, we still have Sunday night services.)

But what if it doesn’t have to be scary for your first experience?  What if your first try could be rather simple, be accomplished in a few hours, and then you could learn and build on it the next time?

That’s what this post is about.

Strategic Planning for Churches is basically 3 things:

  1. Recognizing and recommitting to your mission, vision and values.

  2. Creating a set of goals & actions you believe will help you fulfill the mission & vision.

  3. Creating measurements that will help you figure out whether you accomplished it.

So here’s the simplest process I’ve ever seen, just to get you started for 2024 and beyond.

Step 1: Gather a few influencers, and lay out an agenda for strategic church planning. (15 minutes)

Get the right people in the room.  You want

  1. people with influence

  2. people with ideas

  3. people whose influence you want to grow.

  4. people who are “yes, and…” people, not “yes, but…” people.

Step 2: Review your mission & vision. (15 minutes)

For the purpose of this post, I’ll assume you have a mission and vision.

Mission is why you exist.

Vision is what you will become, or the impact you will make.

Our mission: To help people Love God, Love Others, & Serve the World.

Our vision: By the year 2030, we will:

  1. Grow to a total attendance of 1,000 at all sites.

  2. See 500 people filled with the Spirit.

  3. See 500 people in community groups.

  4. Plant 5 churches in US cities.

  5. Help plant 5 churches in other countries.

  6. Help equip and support 10 international pastors.

Write your versions of mission and vision on a piece of posterboard, and post them visibly in the room where you’re meeting.  Ask them to rate their commitment to it, or if they think it should be changed.  Then pray over it and continue.

Step 3: Do a SWOT analysis. (1 hour)

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats.

Strengths & Weaknesses are internal (in your control)

  1. – What do we do well?

  2. – What do we not do well?

Opportunities & Threats are external (not in your control).

  1. – What could really boost us if we took advantage of it? What’s going on in our location we should be involved in? What needs exist around us that we could meet?

  2. – What could really hit us if we don’t watch out? What has the potential to limit our growth? What’s going on in our location that’s not good for us?

Don’t try to solve problems yet!  Just identify them and move on.  Just recognizing them will help you be clear as you go through the next few steps.

Step 4: Split up your mission.  (5 minutes)

In our example, it would be:

  1. – Love God (worship & discipleship)

  2. – Love Others (fellowship)

  3. – Serve the World (ministry & outreach)

Step 5: Brainstorm lists of ideas for each area. (1 hour)

As fast as you can, list as many ideas as you can.  This is not the time to evaluate or judge, just write ideas.  Go until you have anywhere from 10-30 ideas for each area.

In the previous example, if it’s “Serve the World,” you might have 20 ideas:

  1. * start a food pantry

  2. * advertise on Facebook or with Google

  3. * do street preaching

  4. * prayer station ministry

  5. * do an evangelism class

  6. * teach people to invite others

  7. * create better church invitation materials

  8. * events like Trunk or Treat outreach

  9. * invite a high-powered evangelist

  10. * plan more outreach-oriented sermons

  11. * go door-to-door calling

  12. * do a prayer walk in the neighborhood

  13. * Improve the church sign

  14. * kindness outreach at the local skate park

Step 6: Organize ideas into groups. (1 hour)

Some of the ideas you brainstormed will naturally group together.  List them together in boxes on your whiteboard.  Usually, you will see 3-4 groups begin to emerge.  For instance, in the above list you might group them into:

  1. Marketing (church sign, materials, Facebook, door-to-door)

  2. Training (evangelism class, inviting training)

  3. Good Works (We Care, kindness outreach, food pantry)

  4. Events (Trunk or Treat, outreach sermons, invite evangelist)

You’ll want to phrase them as sentences, such as “Execute a church Marketing Plan” or “Provide quality training to our congregation.”  Any ideas that are by themselves and don’t fit into these groups, you can set aside for now.

Step 7: Trim your ideas into a list of GOALS. (1 hour)

Decide which ideas under each group are achievable & worth your time and money.

These ideas you commit to will become your GOALS.

Step 8: Under each GOAL, write out 5-10 ACTIONS you can take. (1 hour)

These ACTION STEPS should be phrased as completely as possible, in SMART Language.  That stands for:

  1. * Specific

  2. * Measureable

  3. * Action-oriented

  4. * Realistic

  5. * Time-based (deadline)

“Improve church materials ASAP” will not cut it.  “Dan will submit design for a new church invitation materials by April 9th” is far better.

Step 9: Ask influencers to team up and adopt one of the GOALS to champion.

Teaming up builds in accountability & assures more gets done.  Adopting a goal builds in ownership and increases buy-in.

Step 10: Print copies for everyone, ask them to highlight ACTIONS they’re responsible for.

This is why step 8 is so important.  Action steps are necessary to make sure people know EXACTLY what needs to be done, and when it will be expected.

Step 11: Schedule your next follow-up meeting in 30 days to measure where you stand, and see what’s next.

For a bonus, text people at the 15 day mark and tell them you’re praying for them, and ask how it’s going.  

There you go. 

Now, share this article with 3-4 people in your church and tell them, “I want to tackle this process for Strategic Planning for Churches, and I’d like you to be in the room when this happens!”

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