There is a quote that guides me in my work: “We create the path by walking.”
How many of us knew exactly who or what we wanted to be when we “grew up?” Instead, many of us made choices that led us in a certain
direction. As we started down a particular path, our choices helped us to discern where our path might lead us next, and so on. We may have encountered an unexpected obstacle….or a surprising opportunity that sent us in a different direction. The economy might have changed to eliminate a career choice or technology may have shifted to create a new one.
For decades churches (following the example of the business world) used a “long range planning” method of planning for the future. This method involved used current trends, extrapolating them to forecast future growth. This method would enable congregations to plan for building expansions and additional staff. This was a great model for the 1950’s and 1960’s when growth was relatively stable. But times have changed. And most folks in congregational leadership know that the religious landscape has really changed. In response, many organizations started thinking about planning for the future using an ongoing strategy and using that strategy to make decisions. One major result was that — in a “strategic plan” — adding staff or improving/enlarging the church campus became means (instead of ends) of following the visionary goals set forth in a strategy:
“We want to transform our members through deep faith development. Let’s hire a full time professional religious educator.”
“We want to be able to provide emergency shelter for our community’s homeless population. Let’s be sure to include showers and a commercial kitchen as part of our new fellowship space.”
When your congregation’s leadership decides to be intentional about strategic growth, they can’t possibly predict what the congregation will look like in 5 or 10 years. However, your leaders can set the direction and help to foster a system of discernment that will guide decision-making and the allocation of resources. (Of course, in order to do this, the membership as a whole must first develop a shared understanding of your core values and a shared vision of what you aspire the congregation to become.)
You can’t predict all of the possibilities that you’ll have in your future. But you can articulate and create clarity around your shared values so that you will be ready when you encounter those opportunities which resonate with the heartstrings of your congregation.
-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Consultant for Leadership Development