When Consulting for Vital Congregations: Foundational Practices & Perspectives was held earlier this year, Alban senior consultant Alice Mann shared with participants the following model for a board planning weekend. Not all congregational planning requires a lengthy period of time. Sometimes a well-designed planning weekend provides a congregation’s board with the necessary time and space to plan effectively. This model lays out a step-by-step process designed to aid board members in prayerfully discerning God’s call to their congregation. Congregational leaders, as well as consultants, can use the model when thinking about designing such a planning weekend.

The planning event begins on Friday evening with an hour of community building. She recommends Growing Together: Spiritual Exercises for Church Committees by Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1998) as a resource for the opening activity. The board then spends the next hour celebrating the accomplishments of the past year. Mann suggests that participants be allowed to share whatever comes to their minds in a way that will be energizing, fun, and creative. The evening closes with a devotional time.

Saturday morning begins with prayer. It is then devoted to three one-hour segments:

  • Revisiting previous goals. Board members should be encouraged to be descriptive and curious. Questions for this segment include: What actually happened? What are we learning?
  • Crystallizing a shared view of the present moment. The group focuses on where the congregation is now. Mann suggests using a picturing exercise or the “finding our biblical story” exercise that is described in Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations. She notes that discerning the present moment should precede discerning the future.
  • Asking where we are called to go next. During this segment, board members identify broad hopes and images. They then name particular learning and action goals and identify the resources that will be needed. Mann recommends the Congregational Resource Guide as a starting place for finding resources.

After a break for lunch, Saturday afternoon is spent working on two one-hour segments:

Identifying specific next steps. Participants choose the top three goals for the upcoming year (or other period of time). Subgroups are then formed which work to develop specific steps related to those goals. The subgroups share the steps with the larger group and test for commitment.

Board practices for the coming year. Participants identify the board’s strengths in working as a team, as well as practices that might enhance those strengths. Some boards, Mann notes, develop a behavioral covenant such as described in Behavioral Covenants in Congregations: A Handbook for Honoring Differences.

Before departing, participants assess the weekend and close with prayer.

Click here to see Alice Mann’s model in table format.

Additional Resources

The following books provide useful processes, activities, and questions for boards, sessions, and other meetings of congregational members.

AL276_SMHoly Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann

Popular Alban consultants and authors Gil Rendle and Alice Mann cast planning as a “holy conversation,” a congregational discernment process about three critical questions: Who are we? What has God called us to do or be? Who is our neighbor? Rendle and Mann equip congregational leaders with a broad and creative range of ideas, pathways, processes, and tools for planning.

AL158_SM Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders by Charles M. Olsen

Olsen presents a bold vision of leadership— one that offers church board work as an integral part of congregational leaders’ faith experience and development. Board or council members’ faith is engaged and informs the way they conduct the church’s business. Discover inspiring, practical ways your board can make its meetings become opportunities for deepening faith, developing leadership, and ultimately renewing your church.

AL302_SM Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power by N. Graham Standish

What is a blessed church? It is a church uniquely grounded in a relationship with God that allows blessings to flow through it. It is a church with a vibrant sense of faith, hope, and love. It is a church that embraces the sacred and that is not afraid to serve God in its own way. Pastor and author N. Graham Standish describes how a church that is open to God’s purpose, presence, and power can claim God’s blessing.

AL304_SM Practicing Right Relationship: Skills for Deepening Purpose, Finding Fulfillment, and Increasing Effectiveness in Your Congregation by Mary K. Sellon and Daniel P. Smith

In a book that is both profound and practical, Mary Sellon and Daniel Smith make the case that the health of churches and synagogues depends on congregations learning how to live out love in “right relationships.” Practicing Right Relationship offers theories, stories, and tools that will help congregations and their leaders learn how to build and maintain the loving relationships that provide the medium for God’s transforming work.

AL236_SM Listening to God: Spiritual Formation in the Congregation by John Ackerman

In this insightful book, Ackerman outlines ways congregations can promote members’ spiritual growth toward a greater intimacy with God. This book is about the whole system—individuals and small groups, lay leaders and clergy, worship and education—everything we do in a congregation to form us more fully into the body of Christ and to become aware of Christ in us.