Saturday, June 18, 2016

Seminary PL 11: Setting Goals

This is the eighth post on strategic planning in the Pastoral Leadership part of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom of the page for the entire leadership series thus far.

1. Thus far in strategic planning we have identified a mission and vision for our church/organization. We have uncovered our core values. We have done a SWOT analysis of our church in its context, including a look at our context from a missional perspective. Now we get to the most impactful step yet--we need to set some goals for our church.

Taking the factors above into consideration, your church should be able to identify some objectives that you want to shoot for and reach in the future. In common speech, an objective and a goal mean more or less the same thing. But for strategic planning, we might think of an objective as more general and your goals as more specific and measurable. Your objectives should have an obvious connection to your values, strengths, and opportunities. Your goals will be more specific paths to reach those objectives.

[I might throw another word into the mix here, outcomes. In educational circles, we speak less and less of goals and objectives. An "outcome" is the measurable product in knowledge, skills, and dispositions that we want a student to have by the end of our course or degree.]

In strategic planning, however, an objective might be to increase the number of people from your community who attend your church. In relation to this objective, you might have short, middle, and long term goals toward its achievement.

Your goals can be arranged in a certain kind of hierarchy. What I mean is that there may be a broad objective that has several dimensions to it. So you can have layers of goals and objectives. If your vision is to become a thriving church engaged with your community, what are the objectives that might go along with that? Is community contact an objective?

Lets say you want to create three regular points of contact with your community over the next five years. You want to start a Celebrate Recovery group. You want to start a "pastor swap" event once a year. You want to start a monthly bazaar downtown hosted by your church. Your bigger objective of "to better engage your community" gave birth to three long term goals. But these long term goals will require many sub-goals in the interim.

2. So how do you decide what kinds of objectives you should have? This is especially where discernment and the Holy Spirit are essential. Your leadership team should definitely spend some time in prayer at this step because this is the juncture that really makes a difference. All the planning so far is helpful, but it will only have an impact if it translates into objectives and goals.

Some attempts have been made to quantify this step, to spell out what the most logical goals might be given your SWOT analysis. Bob Whitesel, in a chapter titled, "Strategic Planning: More Than a Process," sets out a mathematical process to clarify what the most likely direction of your church would be.[2]

For example, one tool helps generate possible strategies by looking at the cross-section between strengths and opportunities, strengths and threats, as well as weaknesses and opportunities and weaknesses and threats. He has a church create a nine box chart (called a TOWS matrix) where strengths and weakness are in the top row and opportunities and threats are in the first column. In the boxes where they intersect, you brainstorm possible strategies at the intersection between each factor.

Now to decide which strategy to pursue, he has the church "weight" the importance of each strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat. Then as the church looks at each possible strategy, he has the church rate the strategy in relation to each strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat. Part of the rating should be how much that strategy seems to inspire internally in relation to each SWOT and part should be how well evidence from other churches suggests that strategy might address each SWOT.

Finally, you multiply the weight of each SWOT by the "attractiveness" rating of each SWOT. The strategy with the highest total is a logical strategy to pursue.

This approach may seem a little too mechanical for some, but it captures what we do intuitively. As we have said, a church should probably focus more on its strengths than its weaknesses--utilizing strengths almost always accomplishes more than addressing weaknesses. Looking at what is or is not working elsewhere is always important, although there is a time to set the trend and break the curve, to be a leader and not a follower. Internal inspiration is a key factor, as is the missional importance of your goals. And it all should be bathed in prayer.

In the end, the goals and objectives of a church are a spiritual art. Wisely, there should be an evidentiary, logical element most of the time too. But good leadership will always, in the end, require discernment for a specific context.

3. The bulk of your goals--especially the ones you are most likely to achieve, will be "SMART" goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. By "specific and measurable," we mean you will be able to tell when you have achieved them because they are specific and demonstrable enough that you can clearly say, "Yep, we reached that one."

A goal like, "to become a better person" is vague. How will you decide whether you have achieved it? On the other hand, a goal like, "I will perform one act of random kindness each week" is a specific goal that you can know whether you did it or not. "I will run three times a week for 45 weeks this year" is specific and measurable.

The goals above are also achievable and realistic for many people. It might be unrealistic to do a random act of kindness every day or to run every day this year (also not a good idea). We all have different capacities and hopefully we know something about what is realistic for us. The same goes for our churches and organizations. What are realistic and achievable goals for us? You do not want too many goals, for example.

4. The "time-bound" element means that you have set an expiration date for the goal. In general, you should have short, middle, and long range goals. The purpose of short range goals, say six months or a year out, is to generate what John Kotter calls, "short term wins." We humans often have trouble seeing the far off. So many of us get discouraged or lose motivation when our goal is years away from achievement.

Establishing some achievable and realistic goals for the near future is always a good idea to keep your church or organization (or yourself) motivated to keep going.

The long term goals will usually represent bigger, more audacious, and perhaps more complex objectives. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras suggested that organizations should have at least one "BHAG," a "big, hairy, audacious goal" that will take 10 to 30 years to reach. [1]

We should also be realistic. Most pastors are not going to be at the same church in 10 years that they are now. The average tenure of a college president is something like seven years. The five year goals are probably most realistic as long term goals for any church or organization. You can have your eye on where those five year goals might lead, but to focus further out is probably not going to be as helpful.

So if you have six month goals and five year goals as your bookends, set some intermediate goals in the middle--one year goals, three year goals. The nature of your objectives will help determine what time frame makes sense in the middle.

5. There is more than one way to get from Marion, Indiana where I live to Indianapolis or Chicago. There is a shortest route when there is no traffic or construction. There are circuitous routes. But often times, to get from a to c, you have to pass through b.

For some people it is common sense but others will need to consciously think through the steps necessary to get to a goal. So you might logically start with the five year goals and work backward to the short term wins. A certain personality insists that it must be done this way, but as long as the final chart of short term, mid-range, and long term goals ends up making sense--and doesn't take an inordinate amount of time--they can just spend a little more time with their therapist that week. You could argue that it is just as valid to have a free-flowing brainstorming session where boxes are filled and ideas captured as they flow. Then you can tidy up the chart at the end.

If you have your five year goals in place, what mid-range goals are necessary or appropriate to reach them? And if you have your mid-range goals in place, what shorter term goals will be necessary to reach them? And what are the "short-term wins" you are incorporating to keep enthusiasm and momentum going? In a later post, we will talk about project management, which is a more specific version of this sort of goal setting, one aimed at very specific projects that might be part of a goal.

You will want to capture these goals. When you publicize the strategic plan, you will probably want to do so in words and paragraphs. But behind the scene, you might create a chart something like this:

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 12: Leading Change

[1] James Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (San Francisco: HarperBusiness, 1994), 113.

[2] Bob Whitesel, "Strategic Planning: More Than a Process," The Church Leader's MBA: What Business School Instructors Wish Church Leaders Knew About Management, ed. by Mark Smith and David Wright (Circleville: OCU, 2011), 73-112, esp. 96-97.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning

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