years ago, in omaha, i learned a process of strategic planning for churches called “master planning” (wow, say that fast a few times and it really sounds like you’re saying something else — which is frightfully close to being a synonym). i took to it, baby, like a fish in water. mmm — it seriously turned my crank: filling in all these little boxes with immediate (6 mo), short-range (1 yr), mid-range (3- 5 yr), and long range (5 – 10 yr) goals. the nine pastors used to meet once a week (for a couple months) in a room set up with tables to “work on our master-planning arrows”. with a background in drafting, i decided to make mine look extra-bitchin’ cool, and used chisel-point hand-lettering to fill in my final set-in-stone (hint: foreshadowing) strategic plan. ooh — did i ever get atta-boys. the senior pastor asked me to make copies of it for the whole elder board, as a good example. i smiled like a 5 year-old being licked by a puppy, folded my beautiful strategic plan, and filed it in my desk: pretty much never to look at it again.
sidebar: this is the church that fired me. guess my stunningly-lettered strategic plan wasn’t quite enough!
at my next church, after the senior pastor hit the fan (hanky-panky with another pastor’s wife), and the wheels started to come off, the elder board asked 5 of us to be a “strategic planning team”. our task was to meet for hours and hours and hours, argue about lots of stuff we couldn’t do anything about, and come up with a ridiculously detailed “prescription” for the future of the church. well, at least that’s how i remember our charge — the elders probably didn’t quite say it that way. it’s certainly what we did. we presented our blisteringly-thought-through plan to the elder board and were told: that’s all good, but, we think we’ll just wait for a new senior pastor to tell us what to do.
sidebar: the two guys who lead the “strategic planning team” both went on to be senior pastors in other churches in the next 6 months — both were hired because of their obvious skill in strategic planning. both split their churches down the middle within a year.
ok, just one more story: a former veep of ys was constantly — and i mean constantly — asking us to develop a new “strategic 5-year plan.” by this point, something had changed in my willingness to develop what i’d previously loved, and i — to my shame — passive-agressively pushed back, avoided and mocked the requests.
churches in america (anyone from the uk, aus, nz, malaysia, anywhere else, want to chime in ?) have been enamoured of business practices for years. not all of this is bad; but much of it is. and while many in the business world are realizing that strategic planning — in it’s traditional mind-set of a goal-setting practice of defining THE path to the future — is a waste of time in this day-and-age. SO, EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH CHURCHES MODELING THEMSELVES AFTER BUSINESSES, YOU SHOULD REALIZE THAT THE BEST BUSINESSES NO LONGER USE STRATEGIC PLANNING AS THEY DID IN THE PAST. but most churches still do. well, to be fair, that’s probably an exageration. many do.
in the business world: planning is still good! but strategic planning has given way to the ancient-future story-telling-based approach of scenario-planning. good strategic planning and good scenario planning start at the same place(s): an awareness of a need for change (or a desire for growth), and a clarification of current and future values (of course, bad strategic planning and bad scenario planning can be done without clarifying values!). but, here’s the difference: strategic planning assumes the future can be known and quantified, and that static goals can be set now that will hold true for the years to come. strategic planning assumes not much is going to change that we don’t make change. scenario planning, on the other hand, assumes change is constant in this world; and — for the most part — the future (even the reasonably immediate future) is unknowable enough that setting 5 year goals becomes an exercise in futility and lunacy. the 5 year goals won’t be taking into account any number of variables you don’t currently see. scenario-planning develops possible stories for the future, taking into account the variables we are currently aware of (positive and negative), and prepares the org to be responsive, rather than reactive.
at the risk of picking a fight with the a-team: scenario planning is more about asking the right questions than it is about predicting the right answers.
ok, now let me take it a step further: we should, inherently, understand this in churches (in christianity). we should understand (should believe) that anything is possible. we should believe that the holy spirit is unpredictable. we should understand that growth in numbers isn’t always good, and isn’t always a sign of health. but, modernism convinced us that the future is knowable, or at least, almost-predictable. add calvinism to modernism (sorry, a few of you were with me until this sentence!), and many church leaders have settled into a mindset that resolve is in our grasp, theologically at least – which can easily spill over into dismissing the unknowable-ness of god and the mysterious ways of the holy spirit.
all this to say, stragetic planning is stupid.
read: The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, Syncronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, and all the Seth Godin books (especially Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside).