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

Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills, OH
Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills, OH

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

 

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the CERG regional website.
  • Mark Bernstein

    Very well articulated, Renee. Its all about mission and values. I often counsel congregations that feel they are declining or even dying to go back to what got them started: an honest discussion about who they are and what they want their congregation to be.

  • Pam Kappelhof

    Thanks Renee. I have been reviewing this Blog, and you provide some great insight.

    • vitalleaders

      Thanks, Pam!