Readiness – Key To Effective Visioning Or Strategic Ministry Planning

Where we begin dramatically influences where we end

After leading congregations and denominations through visioning and strategic ministry planning over the last 12 years, one insight is crystal clear: readiness dramatically shapes the outcome.

Congregations and denominational bodies look to visioning and strategic ministry planning as a way to resolve their problems, raise their mood and morale (spiritual vitality), and identify their major initiatives. The success of this approach largely depends on the state of the church before they ever engage visioning work. In other words, preparing themselves before the visioning process determines the success of their visioning. When they are not ready, yet move ahead anyway, the resulting vision is typically dull, flat, and largely uninspiring. When they are ready, visioning work captures their hopes and dreams, connects with God’s movement among them, and clarifies their next steps toward living out their calling as a congregation. Savvy church consultants learn to include readying activities into their visioning processes, yet cultivating readiness exceeds the scope of most strategic ministry planning.
So, how does readying work happen? Who initiates this? Pastors, church staff, and lay leaders are uniquely positioned to become cultivation farmers, intentionally readying the congregation for visioning and strategic ministry planning. The following five key actions can help ready the congregation.

Raising awareness about alternatives ways of being/doing/expressing church
Congregations want to dream new dreams and see new visions, but most of us need some prompting. Even the most creative among us needs some stories, examples, new concepts, larger ideas in order to resist the urge to simply do what we’ve always done. Before we will bust out of our methodological ruts, we need to see that other congregations are breaking out. Firing the imagination about what could be is necessary before visioning, else resulting vision is flat and uninspiring. Leaders can identify learning experiences, books, articles, presenters, etc., which can serve to jump-start our holy imaginations, cultivating our readiness.

Accurately understand our cultural context
North America’s relationship to organized religion is radically different now than pre 2000CE. More and more churches are waking up to this fact. An accurate understanding of our cultural context directly influences the level of change we expect from our visioning or strategic ministry planning process. When we believe culture is slightly different, then we look for a plan which slightly tweaks our church paradigm, leading to incremental change and progress. When we recognize we are into the Postmodern Era, we engage in deep visioning and strategic planning, positioning ourselves for 21st century mission and ministry.

Resolve immediate concerns, crises, and conflicts
Plenty of congregations look to visioning or strategic ministry planning as a way to resolve their issues. I don’t mean the long term goal of fulfilling our callings as churches. I do mean crises or conflicts which consume the congregation’s energy, turning the focus inward. If these are actively present, they we interrupt, undermine, and otherwise derail visioning work. Leaders help their congregations when they tackle the issues right before them before looking toward the horizon for God’s calling.

Discount the status quo
I’m remembering change expert John Kotter of Harvard Business School who observed that 3/4 of our leadership cadre must believe that business-as-usual is no longer acceptable before our change process is ready to be launched. Before people (including Christian disciples) will let go of the familiar known, they must believe their familiar known is no longer acceptable. They must believe there is a better way to be church, or express ourselves as church, before living into that potentially better way. There comes a time for leaders to identify the status quo (what we have and are doing) as insufficient. When the results we hope for no longer flow from our methodology, it’s time for those methods to go the way of all things.

Raise urgency around calling

How much does our world need communities which gather around love? How hungry is our world for people who practice love as their bottom-line, bedrock, foundational organizing principle? This is the perfect time in history, from my very limited point of view, for the Church to be the Church. Cultivate holy restlessness in the congregation. Listen to the outliers, entertain crazy ideas, challenge the speed at which the church moves, identify what’s at stake. Can we wait any longer for embracing authentic, genuine, robust Christ following?

So do you consider yourself a farmer? You are invited to become a cultivation farmer, preparing your congregation for discerning its particular calling for being, doing, and expressing church.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA