In the first part of this two-part series on parish strategic planning we saw that strategic planning was part of the core business of parish councils. Parish councils in conjunction with their rector/chaplain are called by the Governance of the Diocese Ordinance 2000 to set objectives and strategies for the work of the parish/ministry unit. This may be alarming news to some parish councils but it need not be so! Strategic planning is simply about setting objectives and deciding on strategies to meet those objectives. The following are some tips to help your parish council to plan strategically:
- Plan to plan – It’s important to set aside special time for parish council to engage in strategic planning. If time is not set aside it usually doesn’t happen. My recommendation is to set aside separate time for a parish council strategic planning day(s).
- Plan to pray – It’s God’s church, so humbly seeking his guidance and blessing is not just godliness but good manners! Without humble prayer and the recognition of God’s sovereignty strategic planning can become an exercise in hubris (James 4:13-17). With humble prayer it is another act of faith in God’s goodness and the words of the Scriptures that tell us he wants to bless his church (Matthew 16:18). So set aside special time for praying in small groups in your planning sessions and pray before each session and at other times.
- Look at your own strengths and characteristics first – One of the temptations of strategic planning is to simply import a model of doing church from somewhere else. This doesn’t take into account your parishes real strengths (every parish is good at something otherwise it wouldn’t exist!). It also misses the unique characteristics and situation of your parish that make it special. The danger is that you end up planning to be a pale imitation of somewhere else. Instead, plan to be the best version of your parish, complete with its unique setting, style and people! So, brainstorm what you’re doing well (strengths) and what makes your church special (uniqueness) and build around that.
- Look at weaknesses too – There may be some things your parish is not doing well at the moment. Looking at these honestly can help you decide how to either fix it or stop doing something you can’t realistically do.
- Do some research – Look at how other churches in similar settings to you have done things. Be very careful of churches that are in radically different situations either due to different culture, size or settings.
- Set measurable objectives – The only way to know you have achieved your objectives is to set measurable objectives in the first place. ‘A thriving children’s ministry’ sounds like a great objective but actually isn’t. What does it look like? Can you quantify it somehow?
- Plan in evaluation – This is the twin to the previous tip. You should set an end point by which you want to have reached all objectives. It’s also helpful to set way points or intermediate objectives as you work towards big objectives. I find it helpful for parish council to evaluate progress each year in October/ November as a minimum. Of course, as your parish completes objectives parish council can tick them off and everyone will feel the progress that you are making.
- Determine strategies – Once you have set objectives then your strategies are the things you will do to reach those objectives and preferably when you will attempt them. They are the ideas and actions that will ‘get you there’. Sometimes an objective will just require one strategy. At other times it will involve multiple strategies.
- Dream realistically – Shooting for the stars sounds wonderful but if a dream is too ‘out there’ it will actually discourage the parish. A good strategic plan should involve manageable incremental action and change.
- Multiple Drafts – Parish strategic planning is ideally something that you do over several sessions. After each session write it up and distribute it so that councillors can pray and think about it some more. Then at the start of the next session allow time to edit the draft objectives and strategies. Only when there is a consensus should you move to final printing and publication.
So, there are some tips for your parish council’s strategic planning. It’s not an exhaustive list but I hope it’s helpful. Under the direction of your rector/chaplain enjoy praying and planning for your parish’s flourishing.