Moving a Small Congregation into the Future
Frequently, long-term planning for a church is one month. Beyond that, folks may not have the foggiest idea what their plans are. They may be concerned with paying the bills for the utilities and covering the pastors paycheck, and they may be attentive to special occasions that are only a few weeks away; but otherwise, there may be very little foresight. It doesnt have to be that way. Indeed, it shouldnt be that way.
Unfortunately, although we may thrill to Biblical stories of faith, we often have trouble putting that faith into practice. The prophet Joel proclaims that "...your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions," but many parishioners find it difficult to pay a whole lot of attention to the need for dreams and visions. What follows is an approach to developing plans for a churchs future. There are ten components, with a number of questions to be addressed in each area.
1. IDENTIFICATION. What goals do we have for our congregation? What aspirations, dreams, visions do we have? What projects would we wish to undertake, what achievements would we wish to claim? These questions seem so obvious; but are they being asked? And how far out into the future are the visions of the congregation? Are they looking at least one year ahead? Any congregation can make seasonal plans; the real test of long-term planning begins when a congregation can set goals at least one year into the future.
2. COMMITMENT. Would we be prepared to put these goals in writing? In council minutes, in the bulletins, in the newsletters, posted on bulletin boards to remind us of what we wish to achieve? Anybody can dream, but too often the dreams immediately evaporate. The identification step requires that we begin to speak out about our dreams, and the commitment step requires that we spell them out in writing for all the world to see. Such commitment becomes a congregations contract with itself. Of course, there will be those who fear such commitment. "What if we cant follow through?" Well, then, change the commitment. Re-state the goals. At least the vision is in process.
3. DEADLINES. Are we prepared to identify those times in the future when we would wish to accomplish our goals? Do we know what we want to shoot for as the climax to the achievement of a project? This is the reality check. If a congregation puts a deadline too far out into the future, one must suspect they arent serious. If the deadline is too close, they may not be realistic enough. But even if a deadline is not met, the deadline can be changed. And working with deadlines, projects can be broken down into smaller parts with multiple deadlines. Large programs of necessity require numerous deadlines. But developing almost any kind of program usually requires more than one deadline.
4. OBSTACLES. Can we identify those things that stand in our way, those things which may cause us to put off, to procrastinate, those things which arouse a fear of failure in us? Can we clearly define them so that we might overcome them? This isnt so much a step in the process as it is a stumbling block of which to be continually mindful. Someone will always be finding some reason why a goal cannot be achieved; so, the rational response is to identify those obstacles and confront them. Indeed, each obstacle may necessitate a separate identification/ commitment/ deadlines approach. Each obstacle may require that a separate goal be established for the elimination of the obstacle.
5. TOOLS. Do we know what we need to have, to be, to do in order to reach our goals? Do we know what talents, what skills, what funding, what time commitments are necessary to get to where we want to go? It is as if a person is going on vacation. What does he or she need to pack? If we dont already have it, can we purchase it, create it, or borrow it? Congregations often underestimate their own resources and talents. Its a good idea for a congregation to have a periodically updated inventory of the talents and resources available among the parishioners and even the friends of parishioners.
6. PERSONNEL. Do we know what people we need to help us realize our goals? They may be people within the congregation, or people within the larger community, or resource persons within the denomination. Almost anything that a congregation would want to do has already been done by another congregation. And that congregation may be in the immediate community or only a few miles down the road.
Christians who have succeeded in developing a project are usually thrilled to be asked to share their experiences with others. Small congregations who feel that they lack expertise should seek out folks in larger congregations who have extensive experience. Of special value are "retired" folks. Retired pastors may not be looking for work, but they can be helpful in sharing their experiences. Former Sunday School teachers may not wish to go back into the classroom, but they may be willing to share what they did when they were there.
7. PLAN. Putting all of this together, can we put together a plan or plans to achieve our goal or goals, a blueprint that accounts for all the details, a plan so complete that we are prepared for the next step? If we have been thorough with the first six steps, this step merely pulls them all together. At this point, a sequence of goals needs to be developed with a sequence of deadlines. If anything does not readily fall into place, go back to step one and proceed through the questions again.
8. ACTION. Are we prepared to put our plan or plans to work? To begin immediately to pursue our goals? And do we understand what the priorities are in implementing the plan? The important key here is "immediately." If everything else has been put together, it is important that some action or actions be taken as soon as possible. Too often, folks make plans and then, at the last minute, for some reason get scared away from doing anything. Ideally, a set of priorities would be established that would dictate the action; but even if the priorities are not clear, some form of action is better than none.
9. VISUALIZATION. Do we have a clear understanding in our minds eye of what the culmination of our plan might look like? The clearer the visualization of our goal, the more likely we are to see it achieved. Actually, this activity should be involved at every step of the process; but it adds a finishing touch to the other steps. And, it is visualization that keeps our action focused. This step might be super-imposed on step one, when we are attempting to identify our goals. If we do not have an image of what we wish to achieve, it may be difficult for us to commit to it. On the other hand, if we do have an image of the goals we wish to achieve, that image can serve as motivation of their achievement.
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10. FAITH. Through all of this it is necessary to continue to believe that whatever it is that we want, if it be Gods will, it is attainable. We must never give up the faith and hope that we will achieve our goals. In fact, if we examine our lives closely we must conclude that what we have achieved has been a result of what we have dreamed of and wished for. Our lives are fulfillments of our faith. The question, however, is whether we can apply that same faith to the accomplishments of goals for our congregations.