STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT FOR CHURCHES

Church leaders face two kinds of futures: the future we "take" and the future we "make." The future we "take" consists of those events and conditions over which we have little or no control, such as a downturn in the local economy and its eventual impact on church stewardship patterns or demographic change in the church’s neighborhood. In this "take" situation, all we can do is try to anticipate and hedge against what is happening.

But there is also the future we "make." That is, the results we will experience in the future directly will reflect the quality of the choices and commitments we make. These might relate to the ministries we develop, the staff we call, or to our budget priorities.

Different churches face different proportions in the make/take future "ratio," partly because different geographic regions face greater or lesser uncertainties. For instance, churches in rural areas face a different future than churches in urban areas.

The real difference among churches in terms of this make/take ratio is related to differences in the degree of strategic management being exercised by those churches. In any given region there are growing churches and stagnant ones. Vital, growing churches are characterized by a commitment to the process of strategic management.

The ultimate result of effective strategic management is that the future the church faces is more and more a future of its own making in concert with Godís will.

THE PROCESS OF STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT

Achieving a position of strategic advantage involves engaging in a process of strategic management. We can capture the essence of that process in the acrostic of the word VITAL.

V ision

I nvestment

T rust

A ffirmation

L earning

Briefly highlighting these factors we can say that dynamic churches--those that make their own future--tend to possess a common set of characteristics.

Dynamic churches develop and continually refine a clear and compelling reason for their existence. They have identified their local uniqueness and communicate that through their people. This clear sense of vision orders and motivates where the church spends its money and how the church approaches its community. That vision is stated in terms of some unique set of abilities to provide a distinctive profile of ministry service. Such churches are not just another Sunday School, not just another worship service, not just another revival. They are different in a way that is a source of special joy for members, a source of special ministry for volunteers, and a source of growth for the church.

Dynamic churches see their staff as a key area of investment. Such churches invest time, money, and love in staff members because they understand that these are the leaders who will make the future through helping equip volunteers and molding visions for ministry. They view salary as an investment rather than as a cost. They understand that to have quality staff members, staff training and development is a necessary, ongoing process.

Dynamic churches are founded on mutual trust between staff and membersStaffs are delegated a great deal of authority because they are trusted. Congregation members give the staff latitude in making changes because of this trust. Trust is the key "lubricant" in all organizations, but especially churches. It allows members to follow the staff even when they fail to understand or even disagree with where the staff team is going. Trust lubricates the day-to-day conflicts in a church by allowing us to rest firmly on a foundation of mutual respect for one another’s integrity and motives.

Dynamic churches know the value of praise.  They seek out opportunities to "champion" their members. They know that one never can praise people too much because all of us have an endless thirst to be told that we matter, that we make a difference, that we count for something. Many church leaders spend their time trying to stamp out errors, rather than trying to build up effort.

Dynamic churches constantly are learning through doing.  Their underlying themes is, "Ready? Fire! Aim." They continuously focus on experimenting (led by the pastor’s own efforts to change and grow spiritually), on trying new ways, and seeking new ends. Failures are seen as stepping stones to higher service through greater learning. Failures are analyzed and then built on, rather than dwelt on.

VITAL SIGNS

Future-oriented church administrators need to take the pulse of their churches and determine their spiritual health with regard to these "VITAL" signs:

We live in an environment increasingly characterized by transience, novelty, diversity, and complexity in relationships between people, ideas, things, and places. Through strategic church management, the future truly is now. Let us start today to prepare our churches for a vital spiritual tomorrow!