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Strategic Planning for Leadership

In Harvard Business Review, Michael Porter underlines the importance of strategic planning for leaders when he writes, “If you want to make a difference as a leader, you’ve got to make time for strategic planning.” I believe that strategic planning involves both strategic thinking and acting. The writer of 1 Chronicles 12:32 puts it this way: “Men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Today’s strategic planning involves understanding of our times and knowing what to do in our ministries. The days when leaders could “fly by the seat of their pants” are gone. With the fast pace of our world, leaders of ministry organizations must think and act strategically if they’re to lead their organizations in the twenty-first century.

However, the process involves more than thinking about our world and how to minister to it. It also includes acting strategically or in ways that make a profound spiritual difference in your church or ministry community. I believe that such strategic thinking and acting best takes place in three phases that consist of several vital steps. I summarize these under the three Ps: preparation, process, and practice.

The Preparation for Strategic Planning

First is the preparation phase. Preparation for strategic planning must precede the process of strategic planning or failure is likely. The preparation phase involves five steps.

Step 1:  Secure the support of your ministry’s empowered leadership.

Every church or parachurch ministry has empowered leaders (I’m using power here in a positive sense). The key is that they must support the strategic planning process. If they don’t see the need, go no further.

What people make up the empowered leaders in most churches?  They’re the Senior Pastor, the ministry’s governance board (if they have one), its staff, and a patriarch or matriarch if the church has one. The preparation question that you must ask is: Who among these people support the process? If the majority of these people—especially the pastor—aren’t behind the process, it won’t happen.

Step 2:  Recruit a strategic leadership team.

The strategic leadership team (SLT) functions to lead the church through the planning process. This involves recruiting the key leaders in your ministry—whom I refer to as your “E.F. Hutton people” (in a church, they’re the Senior Pastor, board, staff, and lay leaders with strong circles of influence—including women). You also need to select a team leader. This could be the pastor, a talented lay leader, a staff person, or a strategic planning consultant. The advantage of the latter is that not only will he or she save you lots of time, but the chances of success increases significantly. I advise that you communicate your expectations to this team, and that they make decisions by consensus, not compromise.

Step 3:  Communicate constantly with the congregation.

The reason is they must trust the strategic planning process. One of our clichés at the Malphurs Group is:  “If they don’t trust you, you can’t lead them!” Rick Warren says that people are down on what they’re not up on. Keep your people abreast of the process through sermons, bulletin announcements, newsletters, a website, email, town hall meetings, and so forth.

Step 4:  Embrace a biblical theology of change.

Its purpose is to guide the process. A biblical theology of change includes the three Fs: function, form, and freedom. The church’s functions are concepts such as fellowship, worship, biblical instruction, evangelism, and others. They must never change. The church’s forms are the ways in which it practices its functions. An example would be a traditional or contemporary worship style. They must change if a church is to relate to its culture. And the church must keep in mind that the Bible grants it much freedom in how it does church (there is no biblical model for how you do church).

Step 5:  Analyze your ministry.

It serves to inform the process. You will need to create a church ministry analysis that asks basically two questions. The first is, “Are we growing, plateaued, or declining in our attendance?” The second asks,”What are our strengths and weaknesses as a church?”

Step 6:  Lead your strategic leadership team through a spiritual formation process.

It addresses various spiritual issues in the ministry and will undergird the process. The goal is to help your team establish a spiritual foundation upon which the process will build. A major portion of this process will focus on prayer for the team as it goes through the planning process. While this is the sixth step in preparation for the process, your ministry will not leave it behind, as your team will draw heavily from it throughout the process.

The Process of Strategic Planning

Once you’ve completed the preparation phase, you’re ready to begin the actual strategic thinking and acting process. I use the term process intentionally. No one, including a consultant, should attempt to “sell” you on any one of the many fine church or ministry models that God is blessing, such as the Purpose Driven Church or the Willow Creek model. Instead, you must work through the process that we believe they and others followed as God blessed and led them to their unique ministry models in building His church (Matt. 16:18). Remember that this general process leads to a unique model. If you follow what we believe is Christ’s “church building” process (Matt. 16:18,1 Cor. 3:5-6) as outlined in this section, the result will be your own unique ministry model that’s endemic to your ministry community. The process consists of the following four key steps.

Step 1:  Values Discovery. 

Your core values drive your ministry. They explain why it does what it does. They are at the very core of your identity and make up your ministry DNA. Your core values are so mission critical, that it’s imperative that you discover and evaluate them in light of a biblically-functioning, spiritually healthy church. For example, in Acts 2:41-47, Luke identifies five critical core values of a biblically-based, spiritually healthy church. They are evangelism, worship, biblical instruction, fellowship or community, and service or ministry.

Step 2:  Mission Development.

A vital question is:  Where is your ministry going?  What’s it supposed to be doing according to the Scriptures?  The answer is your ministry mission  is the Great Commission as found in a passage such as Matthew 28:19-20. You need to develop a clear, biblical mission statement that your congregation will never forget. Following are two such statements developed by churches that we’ve consulted with: “Our mission is to know Christ and make Him known.” Another is “To present Christ as Savior and pursue Christ as Lord.”

Step 3:  Vision Development.

The term vision is a key buzzword in today’s ministry world. We believe that vision is vital to your people seeing what could be—what our great God can accomplish through them (Eph. 3:20). Your vision is a snapshot of what your ministry will look like as you realize your mission. Consequently, you need to develop a vision that provides a clear, compelling picture of your ministry’s future.

Step 4:  Strategy Development.

Your strategy helps you to accomplish your mission and vision. It consists of several matters:

[if !supportLists]1.      [endif]Discover who lives in your ministry community—those who live within a three to five mile radius of your church. This will involve you in demographic and psychographic studies (much of this information can be obtained online from the Census Bureau).  This work will serve to provide your people with a strong vision for outreach into the community.

[if !supportLists]2.      [endif]Design a process that will mold those you reach into Christ’s disciples. The Malphurs Group uses a tool referred to as the “Maturity Matrix.”  It consists of a horizontal axis along which we list the biblical characteristics of a mature disciple. It also consists of a vertical axis along which you list your primary ministries—those that are essential to your disciple-making process, such as your worship service, Sunday school, and/or small groups. The question is: are your primary ministries accomplishing the maturity characteristics in the lives of your people?

[if !supportLists]3.      [endif]Align and develop your staff to maximize disciple-making. Are your primary ministries, mentioned above, staffed with your best people, whether full-time professionals or lay persons? Are those staff involved in leadership development?

[if !supportLists]4.      [endif]Evaluate your location and facilities in terms of reaching out to the people in your community. Are you located in the best place to reach the unchurched in your area? Are you about to maximize your facilities? A good rule of thumb is you can minister to around 150 people per usable acre of land. For example, you can accommodate around 1,500 people on ten acres of usable land. This is most important to a church; when you maximize your property, you’ll plateau and go into a decline.

[if !supportLists]5.      [endif]Finally, raise the necessary finances to support this strategy. You’ll need to develop a biblical strategy of stewardship that will help you discover and realize new streams of income. Steve Stroope and Aubrey Malphurs have just written a book entitled Money Matters in Church (Baker Book House) that will help you to “cover all the bases” of church finances.

The Practice of Strategic Planning

Third is the practice phase. Using the above process, you can develop a wonderful biblical model for your church. However, you must implement it or it will die a quick death for lack of action. The preparation phase involves two steps:

Step 1:  Ministry Evaluation.

Ken Blanchard wisely calls evaluation the “breakfast of champions.” Evaluation is key to incremental change. It provides vital feedback that helps your ministry to change and improve as it serves the Savior. Every church is evaluated informally each Sunday. Why not make it formal and benefit from it? Design and set up a ministry evaluation process that helps you find both your strong and soft spots as you think and act strategically.

Step 2:  Strategy Implementation.

This is “where your church happens.” Implementation closes the gap between your ideas and their execution. It serves to translate your thoughts into action. Most important to the planning process, it links strategic thinking with doing. It will aid you as you address where you begin to accomplish the strategy, when, and with whom. It involves articulating your goals that came out of the strategic planning, prioritizing them, communicating them to the congregation, deciding on deadlines for them, assigning responsible persons to carry them out, and providing the resources necessary to accomplish them.

ASSUMPTION 1: You Can Make a Difference

Leadership begins when you believe you can make a difference. You have to believe in yourself.

ASSUMPTION 2: Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership

You have to believe in you, but others have to believe in you, too. What does it take for others to believe in you? Short answer: Credibility. If people don’t believe in you, they won’t willingly follow you. It turns out that the believability of the leader determines whether people will willingly give more of their time, talent, energy, experience, intelligence, creativity, and support. Only credible leaders earn commitment, and only commitment builds and regenerates great organizations and communities. Before anyone is going to willingly follow you—or any leader—he or she wants to know that you are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent. People must  believe that you know where you are headed and have a vision for the future. As a leader you are expected to have a point of view about the future. You are expected to articulate exciting possibilities about how today’s work will result in tomorrow’s world. Your ability to take strong stands, to challenge the status quo, and to point people in new directions depends on just how credible you are (honest, inspiring, competent). If you are highly credible, people are much more likely to enlist in your campaign for the future. But if others don’t believe in you, then the message you are delivering about an uplifting and ennobling future rests on a weak and precarious foundation. People may actually applaud your vision of the future but be unwilling to follow you in that direction. They may agree that what you are saying needs to be done, but they just won’t have the faith and confidence that you are the one to lead them. If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message. If you are going to lead, you must have a relationship with others that is responsive to their expectations that you are someone they can believe in.  If people are going to willingly follow you, it is because they believe you are credible. To be credible in action, you must do what you say you will do. That means that you must be so clear about your beliefs that you can put them in practice every day. The consistent living out of values is a behavioral way of demonstration honesty and trustworthiness. It proves that you believe in the path you have taken and are progressing forward with energy and determination.

ASSUMPITON 3:. Values Drive Commitment

People want to know what you stand for and believe in. They want to know what you value and why. And leaders need to know what others value if they are going to be able to forge alignments between personal values and organizational demands. You can only fully commit to organizations and other causes when there is a good fit between what you value and what the organization values. That means that to do your best as a leader you need to know who you are and what you care about. You need a set of values that guide your decisions and actions. To discover who you are and what you care about, you need to spend some time on the inner work of a leader—in reflection on finding your voice. And keep in mind that it’s not just your values that matter. What is true for you is true for others: they too must find a fit with who they are and what they value. Credible leaders listen, not just to their own aspirations, but also to the needs and desires of others. Leadership is a relationship, and relationships are built on mutual understanding.

ASSUMPTION 4. Leaders are forward-thinking

The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is a defining competence of leaders. Leaders are custodians of the future. They are concerned about tomorrow’s world and those who will inherit it. They ask, “What’s new? What’s next? What’s going to happen after the current project is completed?” They think beyond what’s directly in front of them, peer into the distance, imagine what’s over the horizon, and move forward toward a new and compelling future. Your constituents expect you to know where you’re going and to have a sense of direction. You have to be forward-­‐looking; it’s the quality that most differentiates leaders from individual contributors. Getting yourself and others focused on the exciting possibilities that the future holds is your special role on the team. Developing the capacity to envision the future requires you to spend more time in the future— meaning more time reflecting on the future, more time reading about the future, and more time talking to others about the future. It’s not an easy assignment, but it is an absolutely necessary one. It also requires you to reflect back on your past to discover the themes that really engage you and excite you. And it means thinking about the kind of legacy you want to leave and the contributions you want to make.

 

Truth Five. You Can’t Do It Alone

No leader ever got anything extraordinary done without the talent and support of others. Leadership is a team sport, and you need to encourage others in the cause. What strengthens and sustains the relationship between leader and constituent is that leaders are obsessed by what is best for others, not what is best for themselves. Leaders alone don’t make anything great. Leadership is a shared responsibility. You need others, and they need you. You’re all in this together. To build and sustain that sense of oneness, exemplary leaders are sensitive to the needs of others. They ask questions. They listen. They provide support. They develop skills. They ask for help. They align people in a common cause. They make people feel like anything is possible. They connect people to their need to be in charge of their own lives. They enable others to be even better than they already are.

ASSUMPTION 6. Trust Rules

If you can’t do it alone and have to rely on others, what’s needed to make that happen? Trust is the social glue that holds individuals and groups together. And the level of trust others have in you will determine the amount of influence you have. You have to earn your constituents’ trust before they’ll be willing to trust you. That means you have to give trust before you can get trust.  Trust rules your personal credibility. Trust rules your ability to get things done. Trust rules your team’s cohesiveness. Trust rules your organization’s innovativeness and performance. Trust rules just about everything you do. How can you facilitate trust? Research has shown that the following  behaviors contribute to whether or not others perceive you as trustworthy. Here are four actions to keep in mind:

  • They behave predictably and consistently.
  • They communicate clearly.
  • They deliver on their promises.
  • They are transparent and candid.

Getting people to work together begins with building mutual trust. Before asking for trust from others, you must demonstrate your own trust in them. That means taking the risk of disclosing what you stand for, value, want, hope for, and are willing and unwilling to do. You also have to be predictable and consistent in your actions: forthright, candid, and clear in your communication; and serious about your promises. And, as we’ve learned so many times, leaders are far better served when they’re forthcoming with information. There’s nothing more destructive to trust than deceit, and nothing more constructive than candor.

ASSUMPTION 7. Challenge Is the Crucible for Greatness

Exemplary leaders—the kind of leaders people want to follow—are always associated with changing the status quo. Great achievements don’t happen when you keep things the same. Change invariably involves challenge, and challenge tests you. It introduces you to yourself. It brings you face-­‐to-­‐face with your level of commitment, your grittiness, and your values. It reveals your mindset about change. The study of leadership is the study of how men and women guide people through uncertainty, hardship, disruption, transformation, transition, recovery, new beginnings, and other significant challenges. It’s also the study of how men and women, in times of constancy and complacency, actively seek to disturb the status quo, awaken new possibilities, and pursue opportunities. All significant and meaningful accomplishments involve adversity, difficulty, change, and challenge. No one ever got anything extraordinary done by keeping things the same. Risk, uncertainty, and hardships test us. Initiative and grit are imperatives in times of uncertainty. You have to embrace the challenge, control what you can, and take charge of change to be successful in these turbulent times. To deal with setbacks and to bounce back from mistakes, you need grit. You also need to find ways to learn from failure, knowing that’s one of the best teachers you can have.

ASSUMPTION 8: . You Either Lead by Example Or You Don’t Lead At All

Leaders have to keep their promises and become role models for the values and actions they espouse. You have to go first as a leader. You can’t ask others to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself. Moreover, you have to be willing to admit mistakes and be able to learn from them. We know that credibility is the foundation of leadership (Truth #2). What is credibility behaviorally? How do you know it when you see it? The most frequent answer we get in our research is: You have to Do What You Will Say You Will Do, or DWYSYWD for short. Seeing is believing, and our constituents have to see you living out the standards you’ve set and the values you profess. You need to go first in setting the example for others. That’s what it takes to get others to follow your lead. A big part of leading by example is keeping your promises. Your word is only as good as your actions. You have to realize that others look to you and your actions in order to determine for themselves how serious you are about what you say, as well as understand what it will mean for them to be “walking the talk.” Your statements and actions are visible reminders to others about what is or is not important. And when you make a mistake, admit it. Admitting your mistakes and shortcomings goes a long way toward building up people’s confidence in your integrity. It gives them one more important reason to put their trust in you.

ASSUMPTION 9: Leaders Are Lifelong Learners

You have to believe that you (and others) can learn to lead, and that you can become a better leader tomorrow than you are today. Leaders are constant improvement fanatics, and learning is the master skill of leadership. Learning, however, takes time and attention, practice and feedback, along with good coaching. It also takes a willingness on your part to ask for support. Leadership is not preordained. It is not a gene, and it is not a trait. There is no hard evidence to support the assertion that leadership is imprinted in the DNA of only some individuals and that the rest of us missed out and are doomed to be clueless. Leadership can be learned. It is an observable pattern of practices and behaviors, and a definable set of skills and abilities. Skills can be learned, and when we track the progress of people who participate in leadership development programs, we observe that they improve over time. They learn to be better leaders as long as they engage in activities that help them learn now. But here’s the rub. While leadership can be learned, not everyone learns it, and not all those who learn leadership master it. Why? Because to master leadership you have to have a strong desire to excel, you have to believe strongly that you can learn new skills and abilities, and you have to be willing to devote yourself to continuous learning, and deliberate practice. No matter how good you are, you can always get better. You can develop yourself as a leader, but it takes a continuous personal investment. It takes time, it takes deliberate practice, it requires setting improvement goals, staying open to feedback, working on your strengths and weaknesses, and having the support of others. Moreover, the very best leaders also believe that it’s possible for everyone to learn to lead. By assuming that leadership is learnable, you stay open to opportunities to turn the workplace into a practice field and every experience into a chance to grow. By believing in yourself and your capacity to learn to lead, you make sure you’re prepared to take advantage of the many opportunities that are open to you.

ASSUMPTION 10: Leadership requires a servant-mindset

It could also be the first truth. Leaders are in love with their constituents, their customers and clients, and the mission that they are serving. Leaders make others feel important and are gracious in showing their appreciation. Love is the motivation that energizes leaders to give so much for others. You just won’t work hard enough to become great if you aren’t doing what you love. There’s no integrity and honor with heart. There’s no commitment and conviction without heart. There’s no hope and faith without heart. There’s no trust and support without heart. There’s no learning and risk taking without heart. Nothing important ever gets done without heart. Purely and simply, exemplary leaders excel at improving performance because they pay great attention to the human heart. Leaders put their hearts in their organizations and their organizations in their hearts. They love what they’re doing and they stay in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with those who honor them by using their products and services. They show they care by paying attention to people, sharing success stories, and making people feel important and special. Exemplary leaders are positive and upbeat, generating the emotional energy that enables others to flourish.

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Radical Hospitality shapes the work of every volunteer and staff member. All pray, plan, and work so that their specific ministries with children, missions, sions, the facility, worship, music, and study are done with excellence and with special attention to inviting others in and helping them feel welcome. The word radical intensifies expectations and magnifies the central importance tance of this invitational element of our life together in Christ. Radical Hospitality pitality goes to the extremes, and we do it joyfully, not superficially, because we know our invitation is the invitation of Christ. Churches marked by this quality work hard to figure out how best to anticipate others’ needs and to make them feel at home in their ministries. All churches offer some form of hospitality, but Radical Hospitality describes churches that strive without ceasing to exceed expectations to accommodate and include others. A congregation marked by such hospitality adopts an invitational posture that changes everything it does. Members work with a heightened ened awareness of the person who is not present, the neighbors, friends, and co-workers who have no church home. With every ministry, they consider how to reach those who are not yet present.
Radical Hospitality shapes the work of every volunteer and staff member. All pray, plan, and work so that their specific ministries with children, missions, sions, the facility, worship, music, and study are done with excellence and with special attention to inviting others in and helping them feel welcome. The word radical intensifies expectations and magnifies the central importance tance of this invitational element of our life together in Christ. Radical Hospitality pitality goes to the extremes, and we do it joyfully, not superficially, because we know our invitation is the invitation of Christ. Churches marked by this quality work hard to figure out how best to anticipate others’ needs and to make them feel at home in their ministries. All churches offer some form of hospitality, but Radical Hospitality describes churches that strive without ceasing to exceed expectations to accommodate and include others. A congregation marked by such hospitality adopts an invitational posture that changes everything it does. Members work with a heightened ened awareness of the person who is not present, the neighbors, friends, and co-workers who have no church home. With every ministry, they consider how to reach those who are not yet present.