December 26th, 2014

6 Reasons Why Most Church Strategic Planning Is a Waste of Time

Church Strategic Planning

Most church strategic planning is a waste of time no matter what you call it or why the church started the planning to begin with. Have you ever personally experienced a time-waster planning retreat?

The planning may be called lots of things like:

  • long range planning
  • vision planning
  • visioning weekend
  • goal-setting
  • strategic operations

In addition to the variety of names, the planning may be spawned for numerous reasons like facility planning, attendance decline, website design, or capital campaign initiatives to name a few. But whatever you call it and and whatever got the process started, Many pastors confess that the outcome of strategic planning  is left wanting. The usefulness of the deliverable itself—the plan, the report, the vision—is so limited, it will soon be stored in a church closet otherwise known as the strategic planning notebook graveyard.

Sound like a doomsday message? I hope not! Because a well designed vision process is one of the most exciting things to lead and experience. It’s why Auxano has eight full-time consultants (we call ourselves navigators) with dozens of Church Unique Certified and Network Navigators who practice our Vision Framing Process part-time. Literally hundreds of churches go through the process every year with amazing success!

So what are the reasons why most church strategic planning is a waste of time? 

Reason #1: Most planning deliverables have too much information.

Two weeks ago, I looked at a current strategic planning document for a church. In addition to a statement of mission and values, the plan contained 5 overarching objectives and 22 goals. It’s not unusual to see this much information. The problem with “too much: is that the only person who benefits is the executive pastor type or board member with a high need for control. It helps them feel good to have all of the objectives and goals listed in one place. The real problem is that no one else in the organization cares that much about the goals.

Does that sound harsh? It shouldn’t. It’s not a negative commentary on the people and their motives, its a negative commentary on the model of planning. In a nutshell, a plan with too much information misses the human element. It doesn’t connect on an emotional level and doesn’t help the average person, really know what to do.

How much information should your plan have? At the summary level it should have five things: mission, values, strategy, measures and “vision proper.” Vision proper means that everyone knows the one, most important goal at any time. For certain people in the organization, there are tools for more complexity, but not much more.

Reason #2: Most mission and values statements are too generic.

We have been so saturated with generic in church leadership we don’t even realize what it is any more. Here is the key principle to understand: Mission and values should be broad but not generic. They are broad because many types of activities are required to accomplish the mission and many different kinds of tasks can flow out of a deeply held value. Therefore your mission and values should be broad yet specific, rather than broad and generic. Consider these definitions to help you think about this idea:

Broad: to a great extent, ample, vast, extensive, large

Generic: applicable to all members of a group; a name not protected by trademark.

Specific: precise or particular; peculiar to somebody or something.

Applying these definitions we would say that your church’s mission should be extensive and vast, but peculiar to your church. 


Perhaps the best way to describe idea of broad yet specific is to think of oceans. There are five oceans in the world, Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Southern. These are broad bodies of water with complex ecosystems and each is a world of its own. But they are also specific and unique. To make the bridge to church, the better analogy might be a lake. There are over 112 millions lakes in the world larger than half an acre. Each one is peculiar, despite the fact that to a frog, each of the lakes provides for a “broad” environment.

A broad and generic mission is: love God, love people and serve our community. A broad and specific mission is: inviting people into the unexpected joy of desperate dependence on Jesus. To get to broad and specific read this post on why churches operate at less than 50% effectiveness. It will help you get past generic.

The last four reasons are below and will be unpacked in follow-up posts:

Reason #3: Most strategic plans don’t clarify how the mission is accomplished.

Reason #4: Most strategic plans for churches don’t clarify  when the mission is accomplished. 

Reason #5: Most planning processes involve too many people.

Reason #6: Most planning processes neglect training on vision competencies.  

So how many strategic planning experiences have you had that you considered a waste of time? I would love to hear the total!!!

Leave a Comment