Long-range planning has been a mainstay of organizational leadership. Conventional wisdom advised leaders to set three-to-five-year goals. To reach these goals, leaders established action items and metrics to determine whether they were making adequate progress toward the desired outcome. Traditional planning strategies, like a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, tried to account for potential barriers that could impede future success. But today’s political, social, religious and economic environment diminishes our ability to rely on predictions of the future based on continuity with the past. Instead, we need to intentionally embrace the value of short-term planning.
Many pastors hear multiple versions of the same question each week. The interrogatives all begin with the same word: “When.” Members want to know when the church is going to do whatever it is they long for it to do, like in pre-COVID times. This is understandable. Nearly three years into one of the most disruptive periods in the modern era, nostalgia and the desire for emotional and psychological equilibrium may drive some to feel like the church cannot get back to “normal” soon enough.
This week’s resources challenge us to see that the right quest for many leaders is to be courageous enough to determine what the right thing is to do right now. Especially in congregations, our long-range plans are not sophisticated enough to account for macroeconomic trends: the continued escalation in median home prices that might shape where people live, lingering inflation that could influence giving patterns, how the work-from-home culture and general pandemic anxiety will impact in-person church attendance.
The good news is that God is faithful. We might not be able to predict the future, but we can prayerfully discern what God is calling us to do right now. If we live into that call, we can be confident that God will continue to reveal each next step as it comes.
By Victoria Atkinson White
By Susan Beaumont
Before you go…
Several years ago, I wrote an article for Faith and Leadership about the value of strategic planning. At the time, I was thinking long-term, but the moment in which we live teaches us to constantly discern the planning process that is needed for a given time.
Now is not the time to unveil five-year plans that are built on assumptions of a stable social and economic environment to achieve success. Now is the time to experiment with new approaches and make changes iteratively. Now is the time to think about what’s next. What is essential to the mission of the church right now?
You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next week, keep leading!
Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity