Planning to Plant a Church? Read This First

“Not all planning practices are equal. Planning is most effective when the correct planning style is applied.”

Whether you are working on a budget, a new facility or hiring staff, your church can significantly improve the likelihood of success by using proven planning techniques and by understanding the barriers that might inhibit your efforts.

ALL organizations, church or secular, are more effective in accomplishing their objectives when good planning is in place. But many churches have the added complication of pastoral leadership who have organizational skills built upon biblical models—but little secular experience interacting with members who don’t fully understand the unique calling and purposes of ministry.

Not All Planning Practices Are Equal

Planning is any action that allows you and your team to look into the future to most effectively accomplish the church’s goals while minimizing negative results. While there is almost always some kind of planning activity involved in any organizational action, not all planning styles are equally effective. Planning is most effective when the CORRECT planning style is applied.

5 Common Planning Styles

1. Head-in-the-sand planning takes place when there is little or no formal effort to plan for possible outcomes. It will mostly likely result in the church being vulnerable to and unprepared for catastrophic and undesirable outcomes.

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2. Emergency planning happens when unexpected problems occur, resources are strained and tensions run high. This is an undesirable position for any organization and should be avoided.

3. Paralysis by analysis planning involves the tedious and continuous gathering of information before planning actually occurs. While it’s important to gather information, too many “facts” can lead to distracting from the core purpose and desired outcome of the plan.

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4. Manipulated planning is when information is manipulated at the bias of a particular leader or leaders. While individual bias is not always completely unavoidable, it should be avoided as much as possible so the church’s goals can be met.

5. Concentric planning recognizes that while planning is essential, there must be a balance between information, people and objectives. This is the most desirable planning process.

Utilize a Proven Planning Process

While planning is indeed an art, utilizing a systematic and proven planning process will greatly increase your chances of success. That process should look something like this:

1. Establish clear, measurable and achievable goals and objectives. Simply put, you can’t effectively plan unless you know the outcome you are aiming for. Or, as Yogi Berra put it, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll get there.”

2. Develop your planning premises. Clearly define the assumptions and conditions that guide your objectives. These can be internal to the church or external to the community, and they can be changed or adapted as newer information becomes available. These premises are the vital foundation to the entire planning process and should be refined/updated whenever possible. Also, alternate plans accounting for changes in the premises should be built into the plan.

3. Identify potential limitations or likely problems that might occur. These can be financial, people, weather, etc. Develop contingency plans wherever possible.

4. Once the goals and objectives are decided upon, establish the length of the planning period and stick to it. At some point the activities of planning must give way to implementation. One can’t forever go on saying “ready, aim, aim, aim” and so on. Clearly define the time frame where you’ll begin implementing your plans. This will help your team manage the planning process.

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5. Create your implementation plan. This will include the strategies and actions needed to accomplish the goals you are aiming for. Start with fewer details and add more details as the team begins to really understand and “buy into” the plan.

Some years ago four of us wanted to plant a new community church; one a medical doctor, another a financial planner, the third a lawyer and myself an organizational consultant with a military background. The pastor we eventually called was young with just a seminary degree, a year of formal church employment and no secular organizational experience to lean on.

To an outsider, it looked like Daniel about to be thrown to the lions. But the results were extraordinary because the young pastor focused on educating those in the church about the spiritual aspects of their walk while honoring and facilitating the practical planning and organizational skills of his much more experienced “board.” It truly was a Proverbs 15:22 environment.

Dr. Tom McElheny serves as the director of Christian education for several Sarasota, Florida churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education, and is CEO of his company ChurchPlaza.