Most consultants know the scenario all too well. A phone call comes in — “We need help in our ___________ area.” A conversation ensues during which the consultant lays out how our strategic visioning process works, including how it maximizes effort and focus into an efficient whole. After a few moments of silence, the caller gets to the point:“We are dropping faster than a lead weight. If something doesn’t change in the next 3 months, then I believe drastic changes will take place…” Often these drastic changes include firing of some or all staff, mass exoduses from an already depleted congregation, and/or budget cuts — and possibly even closing the doors. What the leader is saying is quite simple: “We cannot engage in long range planning — we need a quick fix now!”
Clearly this is not a situation in which the normal, long range planning process will work. In these cases the problem with long range planning is two-fold:
- There are immediate, intensive needs on which the church must focus now, not six months from now.
- Long range plans tend to take so long to produce that they get put on the shelf soon after they emerge. The congregation and often staff attention has moved on to something else that is newer, better and improved.
However, short-term, quick fixes can be the “cotton candy” of church ministry.
- Short-term fixes can be too limited in their focus, looking only at the immediacy of the moment rather than the genuine needs of the congregation.
- Short-term fixes often are copied from the successes of other congregations, without understanding the situational dynamics from which the success ensued. (The one-size-fits-all really doesn’t look good on anyone but the model.)
- Short-term fixes tend to put the church into a mode wherein they rarely look at themselves, who they are, and what they believe God is calling them to be and do. They are reactive rather than proactive in their makeup. No two churches are alike in their culture, makeup, calling and focus; nor should they be. Not only do churches differ from denomination to denomination, they also differ within denominations. If we do not understand our congregation then we will find ourselves continually chasing our proverbial tail as we pursue “success.”
One of the main reasons I chose to partner with Ministry Architects is that we bring a valuable mix to the strategic vision process. If there are immediate needs that are crying out for attention, then we enable our consultants to focus on these in their work. To use a medical metaphor, when a patient comes into the ER with a severe hemorrhage, the medical personnel do not take the time to get a full medical history. They stop the bleeding, after which they address the issues of health, accidents, etc. Like these medical personnel, Ministry Architects brings a wealth of expertise in not only how to stop the bleeding, but in how to set in motion plans for future health.
One of the great dynamics that empowers any church is hope — a deep belief that the future will be better than the present. When a church loses hope, they quickly descend into despair. I have found that when genuine hope in Christ Jesus and in our calling to be the church, is alive and well, the church will then develop the spirit and characteristics necessary for survival. When hope is absent or diminished, then the church finds it very difficult to pull out of even a modest downturn. Rather, dominated by fear, they often assume the worst and project these fears and assumptions onto each other. These projections are usually picked up on by visitors who make their ways to the exits.
Are you in a desperate situation? Short-term planning can provide congregational perspective, a process to follow — and hope for a future in Christ.