5 Ways to Know if Your Church Needs A Strategic Plan


Chris Bennett, a Virginia pastor who helps other congregations develop strategic plans, outlines a set of questions that can help your church decide if a strategic planning process is what’s needed to gain clarity around your next steps and develop positive momentum.

You may have heard the saying, “Let go and let God.” While it’s not a direct biblical quote, it was inspired by scripture, such as, “Be anxious for nothing …” (Phil 4:6) and “But seek first the kingdom of God …” (Mt 6:33). The scriptures encourage us to keep our hearts open and walk by faith, not sit idle, relinquishing all planning and action. St. Paul writes in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 about the practical gifts each person is given for building up the kingdom. Building up is not passive. It’s work! As any good builder knows, it requires a blueprint — a vision of the end product and a plan to get there. Here I am reminded of the parable of the talents. Are you, as a church, burying your resources or investing them?

Here are five questions that will help your congregation decide.

1. Do you feel stuck?

Does ministry feel like riding an exercise bike? Are you working really hard, breaking a good sweat, but never seeming to make much progress? First, know you are not alone. So many times, as leaders in the church, we feel sort of stuck — stuck in the routine, Sunday to Sunday, budget to budget, just existing from one liturgical season to the next. The process of developing a strategic plan can help move a church forward by inspiring ideas and mapping out ways to achieve them. Planning a strategic way forward can focus church priorities, enabling it to be a good steward of gifts of time, talent, and money. In the end, the church will have clarity on who it is and how God is calling it to engage the community and world and positioning it to make a greater impact for the gospel.

2. Are you struggling to figure out the next steps for the church?

Sometimes there are so many great ministry opportunities in our community we start to feel overwhelmed. This generally plays out in one of two ways — either we do nothing while we wait for our committees to make decisions, or, more often, we try to do it all, spreading our resources too thin, making very little effective impact.

A strategic planning process helps clarify who we are and who God is calling us to be in our communities. This allows us to confidently focus our ministry and outreach in ways that make the most impact for the gospel in our community. Working together as a team to discern and invest in a long-term vision of the church fosters confidence and unity as the church moves forward.

3. Has your attendance or participation plateaued or is it declining?

“Facts are our friends.” This is a phrase a friend of mine uses over and over. Leaders in the church often avoid looking at the facts, the numbers, because we are afraid of what they might say about us. However, evaluating the key measurements of the church (worship attendance, giving, small group participation, etc.) provides an opportunity for change, growth, and survival. Like high cholesterol, if you just keep eating the same things, refuse to get tested, and never get medication, what is going to happen to you? Ignoring the signs and avoiding the results will not prevent the problems. But, if we monitor our current condition and treat the symptoms, we will be able to make shifts and changes as necessary and begin a new healthy growth phase in the life of the church.

4. Do you have positive momentum going?

Of course your church doesn’t need to wait for a plateau or decline to engage in a forward thinking strategic plan. When you are experiencing healthy momentum in ministry, it’s a great time to make sure that your team is prepared for what’s ahead and that your church has a unified vision for the future. Strategic preparation for future growth and long-term direction instills confidence and encourages a greater impact in the community.

5. Are you comfortable?

Ministry is hard, and, in many ways, it should be. When we, as the church, find ourselves in a comfortable routine, it can feel like sabbath time. Sabbath is a biblical value — for one day a week. As long as we are doing the work of the church here on earth, we are not to remain in a Sabbath mentality. Instead we are called to engage in both Sabbath and meaningful work. Comfort can lead to complacency. Brené Brown said it well: “We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both.” The gospel calls us to courageously live out our discipleship in the community of the church.

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it might be a good time to consider investing in a strategic plan.

This article originally appeared as a blog post on thesparkmill.com. Used by permission.

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About Author

Chris Bennett

Christopher Bennett is an associate consultant and facilitator with The Spark Mill, working with faith communities and non-profits on strategic planning and innovation. An ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, he has served in variety of congregational settings. He participated in the Lewis Center’s Lewis Fellows leadership development program outstanding young clergy in 2007-8.

Cover of Discovering God's Future for Your Church showing a blank wooden signpostLewis Center video tool kit resource
Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.