Saturday, May 28, 2016

Seminary PL9: Evaluating Strengths

This is the ninth post in the Pastoral Leadership part of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. The first eight were:
1. The last five posts have been about strategic planning. We have talked in general about the kinds of considerations and processes that might go into shaping the mission and vision of a church. Today we want to consider another important component to a strategic planning process, namely, taking stock of one's strengths and weaknesses in relation to your environment.

Again, many have an ongoing, intuitive sense of such things, especially gifted leaders. However, sometimes we can fail to see some of our greatest strengths and opportunities even though they are right in front of us. It is thus worthwhile at some point in a strategic planning process to look at ourselves in a self-conscious way.

2. One of the easiest and most helpful tools to do so is a "SWOT analysis." [1] The SWOT consists of two parts. The first looks at your church or organization internally. "What are our strengths and weaknesses?" The second part looks at your church's environment: "What are the opportunities and threats in our context?"

In a previous post in this overall series, we talked about individual strengths and weaknesses. We can extend that discussion now to a church as a whole. We have a human tendency to obsess on our weaknesses more than our strengths. We often have a tendency to see our weaknesses more than our strengths.

There is a insidious human tendency to sabotage our strengths by obsessing on our weaknesses. This is a form of the "grass is greener" syndrome. We might do some things well but feel inferior because of our weaknesses.  We might do some things well but spread ourselves too thin by trying to expand beyond our capacity.

As we have seen in relation to us as individuals, we have the greatest capacity for growth in our areas of strength. Certainly it is a little different on the level of a church because we can bring in new people whose strengths address our current weaknesses (which of course may cost money and may require a trade off in staff or resources). But, as with individuals, a church should focus on its strengths in the short term, while possibly addressing less significant weaknesses over the long term. [2]

3. So what are your church's strengths and weaknesses? You might start with a complete brainstorm. Have your leadership team write down as many strengths and weaknesses they can on individual 3 x 5 cards (one strength or weakness per card) and then tape/stick them to the wall of a room. Limit your talking, have mostly individual brainstorming. Have one part of the wall set aside for strengths and another for weaknesses.

Perhaps you might have everyone go around the room and see what everyone else has written. You might have a short discussion in terms of obvious patterns. Then you might have a second round of writing. Someone will need then to group all these cards into categories. Have someone do it that is good with the big picture who can see the similarities between the various items and collect them into groups that will help move the discussion forward.

At some point, you might go through the entire spectrum of domains relating to the church, just to make sure you haven't missed anything:
  • worship
  • mission
  • proclamation
  • discipleship and spiritual formation
  • relationships and individual health
  • leadership
4. Now do a second round of brainstorming in relation to opportunities and threats. If strengths and weaknesses have to do with the internal capacities of your church, these have to do with our church context. What are the opportunities for ministry within the reach of your church? What are the threats in your environment that might harm your church?

As before, have everyone write these down on 3 x 5 cards. Have a designated place on the wall for opportunities and another place for threats. As before, have everyone look at what is on the wall, perhaps have a short discussion, then have a second round. After the meeting, have someone put the individual brainstorms into related groups that will help move the process forward.

This activity might also be done electronically with the whole church. Make it possible for the individuals in the church to send their sense of the church's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You don't want to create negative energy by promoting weaknesses, so it might be best to do this electronically rather than in a public meeting. Wisdom is always called for.

Before a second leadership meeting, you might publicize the congealed SWOT list for your team to reflect on. Then when you come back together, you should have a discussion of the findings. What does the list seem to suggest? Very tentatively, how might that affect the goals you set going forward? Do your current leanings with regard to mission and vision fit well with your analysis?

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 10: Identifying Core Values

[1] First developed by a man named Albert Humphrey in the 1960s.

[2] Self-defeating weaknesses of course need to be addressed in the short term.

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