December 26, 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!!!

December 6, 2014

The Top 10 Reasons to Advance Church Goals One Big Goal at a Time

Church Goals by Will Mancini

Most church leaders never experience what it feels like to have one big goal for their entire church. (Unless of course they are raising funds in a traditional capital campaign.) Yet, to be a part of a church culture that sets and achieves big goals time and time again is as God honoring as much as it is exhilarating!

What do most churches do instead of having one big goal? Its pretty simple. They either have no clear and stated aspirations at all or they have too many goals in an overwhelming strategic plan or cumbersome dashboard. The sweet spot is a rare yet priceless in-between: one highly visible, broadly supported goal. At Auxano we call this a “missional milestone” and it usually is based on a time horizon of 6 to 12 months out.

One key to understanding the value of having one goal, is that you have one goal at a time. That is, you keep resetting the next big goal to advance the longer-term vision of your congregation. (Learn more about the different horizons of planning.)

 So what are the top ten reasons to set church goals one at a time?

#1  One goal at a time focuses the attention of staff and leaders.

No goal = little focus. Too many goals = playing for different teams.

#2  One goal at a time creates greater energy among the congregation.

No goal = unactivated potential. Too many goals = depleted energy.

#3  One goal at a time directs everyone’s prayers as a concert of dependence on God.

No goal = random prayers. Too many goals = low likelihood of any goal-directed prayers at all.

#4  One goal at a time helps leaders think bigger about what God might be doing.

No goal = smaller thinking. Too many goals = fragmented thinking.

#5  One goal at time means we will set goals for disciple-making outcomes not just for raising money.

No goal = you only set goals when raising funds. Too many goals = people never see the importance of  disciple-making goals.

#6  One goal at a time generates a sense of momentum.

No goal = people define success any way they want. Too many goals = splintered momentum.

#7  One goal at a time helps us build toward bigger and bigger goals.

No goals = no “ramp” to bigger goals. Too many goals = each goal stays smaller.

#8  One goal at a time fosters healthy risk-taking.

No goal = no reason to risk. Too many goals = much lower risk threshold.

#9  One goal at a time connects people to the larger story of God’s redemptive history.

No goal = live in a smaller story.  Too many goals = disconnect people.

 #10  One goal at a time demonstrates God-honoring unity.

No goal = missed opportunity to show people our “togetherness.” Too many goals = shows people our different agendas.

October 10, 2014

10 Compelling Church Mission Statements (from the Last 10 that I Facilitated)

church mission as compassIt’s exciting to lead a growing team of navigators at Auxano these days. Thirteen years ago I dreamed about the idea that I could actually spend a 40-hour work week just helping church leaders work on things like mission, vision and values. Now we have 8 staff navigators, and a dozen part-time guys who have served over 150 churches in 2014.

As a player-coach, I still lead a few processes myself for training purposes or to work with churches specifically that I feel called to. Here are 10 that I have recently worked with in facilitating the mission articulation.

1.  Making much of Jesus, because Jesus changes everything (in process)

Austin Stone, Austin, TX (Kevin Peck, lead pastor)

2.  Connecting people with God, through authentic relationships to serve communities (in process)

- Newbreak Church, San Diego, CA (Mike Quinn, lead pastor)

3.  Passionately engaging believers on their journey of faith 

LifeWay Christian Stores, Nashville, TN (Tim Vineyard, president)

4.  Inviting the striving to something really real (in process)

- The Bridge Bible Church, Bakersfield, CS (Jeff Gowling, senior pastor)

5.  Rescuing one another from cultural Christianity to follow Jesus every day

- Park Cities Baptist Church, Dallas, TX. (Jeff Warren, senior pastor)

6. Promoting the discovery of Jesus through sports

Upward Sports, Spartanburg, SC (Caz McCaslin, president)

7. Helping one another trade a checklist faith for real life with Jesus

First Baptist Concord, Knoxville, TN (John Avant, lead pastor)

8. Equipping multiplying leaders with reproducible systems to plant more healthy churches

Launch Group, Atlanta, GA (Mac Lake, lead architect)

9. Imperfect people, risking it all to make Jesus real one life at a time

- Salem Lutheran, Tomball, TX (Tim Niekerk, senior pastor)

10. Inviting the distracted and disinterested to realize their role in God’s story

- Mountain Park Community Church, Phoenix, AZ (Allan Fuller, lead pastor)

April 6, 2014

Why Your Church is Probably Operating at Less than 50% Effectiveness

Church Mission StatementMost of you will disagree with what I am about to suggest. Nevertheless, I will try my best to share with you what I’ve learned over the last 13 years. Keep in mind that this post title is not a theory; it comes from a front row seat watching real transformation of senior pastors, their staff, their lay leaders, and eventually their entire congregation.

First, I’ll share the problem and give some quick illustrations of churches in the transformation process. Secondly, I will give two analogies to reinforce my point.

THE PROBLEM

The problem is that most churches have a general sense of their mission rather than clearly defined and contextually crafted mission.  What does it mean to be working with a general sense of mission? Let’s illustrate. I just surveyed the top 10 staff at a large church (and by most standards a successful church) running over 1,000 in weekend attendance. When asked to state their mission, the answers included:

  • Extending the joy of following Christ to all people
  • To make disciples and serve the community
  • Reach people and growing disciples
  • Being God’s agent in world to make a difference in the world, everywhere we go.
  • To provide worship, small group and service opportunities

These statements of mission illustrate “leading from a general sense” for two reasons. First, they are not articulating the same words. Second, they are general re-articulations of the great commission. Any nuance among them is due to the bias and experience of the individual. One sounds operational while another sounds missional. One is a follower of John Piper, and one just read, “The Externally Focused Church.” You get the idea.

Now, some may object and suggest that these generic restatements aren’t a problem at all. Isn’t having a general orientation toward a disciple-making mission enough? I don’t think so.

REAL MISSION

In the last 4 years, I have worked with three churches all within a 10 minutes drive from one another in Dallas, Texas. All of these churches run over 1,000 in weekend attendance. Below is the new articulated mission of each church. Keep in mind that when I started working with them, the key leaders only had a general sense of mission.

Church #1: Inviting people into the unexpected joy of desperate dependence on Jesus.

Church #2: Rescuing one another from cultural Christianity to follow Jesus every day.

Church #3: Calling the Christian-ish to become passionate servants of Christ.

Each one of these churches has a mission that reflects:

  • Aspects of denominational heritage (Bible, Baptist & Methodist, respectively)
  • Clues to their corporate strengths and passion as a congregation
  • Nuances guided by their location and facility assets within Dallas
  • An outward posture based on engaging the Dallas culture

Last week I had a follow-up visit with two of the churches. Here are exact quotes from their staff:

  • “We are not the same church we used to be.”
  • “Everyone in our church ‘gets it.’  They know who we are and what we are about, and this creates powerful synergy.
  • “As a result of our focus with leaders in the body, we gave $550,000 more than we ever have to a one-time missions offering (50% increase in giving).”
  • “Our greatest challenge is a willing readiness of our people to do more!”

More energy. Greater resources. Better synergy.  Would you like to have that right now at your church? Sure you would. Would you have guessed that the first step toward this “more” is defining for the first time what your specific mission is as a church? Probably not. And that’s my point. As a result of your generic mission you are most likely operating at less than 50% of what you could be. If you don’t know your mission, you certainly don’t have a culture of mission. And if you don’t have a culture of mission, than what are people in your church really doing? Why are they there?

TWO ANALOGIES

The first analogy is a restaurant start-up. Imagine that we were excited to start a new restaurant and believed it had the potential to be a successful franchise. To get off the ground we want to attract investors and a few talented people to join our ambitious dream. How successful do you think we would be if our mission were to “make food and serve the community?” You guessed it— not very. Why? The language of mission does nothing to differentiate us from the thousands of restaurants that already exist. Nor does it guide our thinking, synergy, planning and communication for practical next steps. We really need to decide whether we are a fast-casual Italian or fine-dining seafood? Right!?

Consider another very different example. My wife Romy is a very talented artist. Sometimes she paints a random scene or an image that inspired her. Sometime she paints with a purpose, selecting a pre-determined location for a painting with a specific objective that guides the content, color and emotion of the work. What might look like the same act to an unknowing observer—Romy painting two similar paintings—is actually very different. One painting requires no pre-thought or preparation. The other work of art is very calculated; she paints with a completely intensity and focus. Purpose changes everything!

So now it’s up to you. If this post means anything to you, conduct a litmus test: do your people know your mission? Is it meaningfully articulated based on your understanding of what your church can do better than 10,000 others? If not, then I think you are operating at a capacity less than 50% of what you should be. And that’s not an exaggeration. And, if you want to talk about it just let me know in the comments below.

If you already do run with a clear, concise, compelling and contextual mission, I would love to know about it and share it with the world. Let me know your mission in the comments section below.

Life if short and ministry is hard. So let’s lead with stunning clarity!

February 9, 2014

What’s More Important: A Culture of Mission, A Culture of Discipleship or a Culture of Leadership?

Culture of Mission

It’s amazing how “a culture of” lingo has been trending over the last couple of years. And for good reasons. The understanding of culture, especially with regard to congregational leadership, is very helpful. In fact when I pitched Church Unique in 2007, there were no popular leadership books with the title “church and culture” in the title. My working title for the book’s contract was:

OOZE VISION: How to Shape Church Culture to Guide Church Growth.

Since Church Unique, there have been at least five significant book titles (there are several others)  that have tried to leverage the idea of “culture” in the title:

So, the natural question seems to be, what kind of culture is most important? Does a culture of leadership trump a culture of discipleship? If I am working on a culture of mission, do I need to work separately on a culture of generosity? How many “cultures” am I supposed to be working on anyway?

Let’s start by eliminating the easy ones. As much as I believe in a culture of leadership and a culture of generosity, these are clearly subordinate to the biggest ideas of the church’s identity. Simply put God does not command us to go into the world and make leaders or centers of generosity. (More on Jesus use of leadership terminology.)

That leaves us with a culture of discipleship or a culture of mission. What is more important?

I don’t think there is an objectively correct answer to this question as much as there is a practically useful answer depending on your context. In the current context of North America in 2014, I believe the more useful answer is a culture of mission.

Why? There are four primary reasons:

  1. Most churches can easily mistake a programmatic culture for a culture of discipleship. Therefore the terminology doesn’t wake them up to their problem. A culture of mission has more teeth.
  2. The term discipleship tends to connote contextually, although not biblically, an inward or internal church focus. A culture of mission forces you to grapple with the people far from God whom you are poised to reach.
  3. A culture of mission subsumes a culture of discipleship so directly and clearly, but gives broader application to the nuances of each church’s application of mission. Mission is a bigger idea than discipleship in this regard.
  4. A culture of mission more clearly integrates all of the functions of the church better than a culture of discipleship. Again, this is not necessarily true at all times and places, but I believe there is a slight advantage to seeing it this way today.

Clearly a culture of mission and a culture of discipleship should take us to the same place. But I think it is more possible for a church to think of themselves as good at making disciples and be unclear on mission, than for church to be crystal clear on mission and not be focused on making disciples.

Another way I would support this point, is to ask the question, “What was in Jesus’ mind when he selected his first disciples. Mission or discipleship?” I did a fun post on this looking at three disciple-making catalysts in the life of Jesus. 

I am dying to hear your thoughts. What do you think?