How can we have every parish in the Diocese flourishing? Ultimately it is a work of God. He is the one who builds his church (Matt 16:18). But how do parishes cooperate with the work of God to build his church in both godliness and number?
One of the aspects of this is to plan for parish flourishing. One of the little know responsibilities of parish councils under the Governance of the Diocese Ordinance 2000 is to join with the rector or chaplain in strategic planning for the parish:
‘The council provides leadership for the ministry unit by setting, in conjunction with the rector or chaplain, objectives and strategies for the work of this Church in the ministry unit and by the efficient and effective management of the resources of the ministry unit.’ (Article 36.2).
And so, planning for parish flourishing is part of the core business of parish councils. The rector or chaplain, of course, leads this process as they have the special role of spiritual leadership (Article 26). In general, the priest/minister brings theological expertise, ministry expertise and outside knowledge to this process and the parish council brings important local knowledge (including local history). Together they plan and strategise and they then work together to further the mission and ministry of the parish (Article 36.1).
It’s a wonderful picture of teamwork, cooperation and, God willing, achievement in the cause of Christ. So why doesn’t it happen more often? Why is strategic planning something that is more missed than undertaken?
I suspect that there are a number of factors. Here are just a few:
- Unaware – Parish councils are sometimes unaware of this strategic planning responsibility in the ordinance and so it doesn’t happen simply because they are not aware it’s supposed to happen. I suspect this is the biggest reason … but now you know!
- Ungodly – Planning is sometimes seen as ungodly or worldly, or to look too much like the church is becoming a business. If the plan was to grow our kingdom for our glory or if we planned and attempted it without humble prayer to our God then it would be! And we should search our hearts to make sure that’s not the case. However, in humble dependence on God, planning for growth in godliness and in God’s kingdom is valid.
- No time – The work of parish council is a heavy load for volunteers even just to tick things over in a parish. And so parish councils can feel like there’s simply no time to do something ‘extra’. However, strategic planning actually frees up time for parish councils once implemented as it stops you from trying to do everything. Also, clear prioritisation leads to not trying to do everything at once.
- We’re too small – Sometimes strategic planning is seen as something for big city churches with multiple staff. This isn’t the case. Even the smallest church in the smallest town can plan to build on its strengths in its situation to be the best version of itself.
- Churchmanship – Sometimes strategic planning is seen as a Pentecostal/charismatic thing or an evangelical thing and therefore it doesn’t fit with other churches that have a different style. However, there’s nothing about strategic planning that is dependent on a particular churchmanship. Nor should it necessitate adopting a different churchmanship from the current one a parish has. Strategic planning is unrelated to churchmanship and therefore any parish can do it.
So, why should a parish do strategic planning? Here are a few good reasons:
- Direction – A strategic plan helps parishes to not ‘go through the motions’ but actually have a direction. You’re aiming at a vision of parish flourishing that resonates with your parish and gives it a sense of purpose. It’s like driving to a destination instead of driving aimlessly in circles. Even if you don’t quite get there (wherever that is for your parish!) you may get some of the way there … and that’s a lot better than nothing.
- Stewardship – Creating and then working on a strategic plan leads to spending finite resources in a meaningful and effective way. Instead of just doing the urgent maintenance you can work on making the buildings work for the ministry you wish to conduct. It also means you can exclude other capital work that is unnecessary to the plan. This may mean it saves a parish both time and money.
- Priorities – Having a strategic plan allows you to set priorities and an order of work. And that means when someone demands that something be done about this or that you can tell them it will be dealt with in order. This also helps prevent the burnout of the parish council members and other volunteers.
- Saying ‘No’ – We all know what it’s like when someone has a ‘barrow’ they love pushing. A strategic plan can help a parish say ‘No’ to someone pushing their favourite cause because you can say that it’s not in the strategic plan and the strategic plan is being worked on as a priority.
- Newcomers – When people visit your church your parish strategic vision document immediately gives them an idea of where your parish is going and what it’s about. A number of newcomers quite like this and it will be one of the reasons they may stay in your parish. It also means they will join your parish being clear about the values and directions of the parish (and will seek to change it less!).
- Hard Questions – Strategic planning gives your parish council permission to ask the hard questions about ‘sacred cow’ ministries. ‘Why are we doing this ministry?’ ‘Is it serving this purpose?’ ‘Is it adequately resourced?’ ‘Does it need to change?’ ‘Should we continue this ministry?’ These questions may result in ministries being better resourced, ministries being modified to become more effective or completely ineffective ministries ended.
So, there are just some of the many reasons to be engaging in strategic planning as a parish council. Let me encourage you to consider whether your parish council should set aside some time to do some strategic planning and develop your own parish strategic plan. Prayerfully consider giving strategic planning a go!
By Reverend Paul Davey
Next Issue: Tips for Parish Strategic Planning