Many of the people who participate in Alban’s national seminar on strategic planning would like to do planning in their congregation but somehow feel stuck, explains Dan Hotchkiss, Alban senior consultant and leader of the upcoming Shaping Holy Conversations: Pathways & Processes for Planning.
“In some cases, a congregation has attempted to do planning in the past and may even have come up with an excellent plan, but then nothing happened because of a lack of implementation,” Hotchkiss continues. “In other cases, a congregation that does planning on a regular basis may be interested in doing something different.”
Congregational leaders often look to this Alban seminar because they have found the book around which it is shaped—Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations—to be helpful, says Hotchkiss. The book, he explains, offers planning that is more appropriate to congregations than that designed for a business or corporate setting.
In the seminar, individuals have the opportunity to do some of the things proposed in the book. Hotchkiss engages participants in a number of simulations that allow them to use tools from the book. “That helps them feel more confident in using them in their own congregation,” he says.
The seminar also helps leaders learn whether strategic planning is appropriate for their congregation and, if so, what size planning process fits their congregational setting. Some participants learn that their congregation is not ready to do a large-scale strategic planning process, which Hotchkiss says can be a relief for those leaders. “Every congregation can plan, but there it is important to design a process that fits the congregation’s energy and situation.
Hotchkiss says that to be ready for a major, year- to year-and-a-half strategic planning process, a congregation:
- Should not be in a high level of conflict. Although some congregations think they can deal with conflict by doing planning, Hotchkiss does not think such an approach is helpful. “Planning may feel like a more comfortable frame because people think it will allow them not to deal with important differences of opinion,” he says. “But conflict is not a good basis for doing planning. In such situations, it’s a mistake to call the next step planning and doing so often will taint the idea of planning in the future.”
- Should have some continuity of leadership. If a congregation is in the midst of a major leadership transition, says Hotchkiss, it should focus on short-term plans and goals that will provide a “vision of ministry” for the next one to three years rather than undertake a more extensive strategic planning process.
- Should have a clergy leader who is positive about planning and is willing to participate in the planning process. Participation in the seminar also can help spark leaders’ imagination about planning. Hotchkiss helps participants imagine how to explain the planning process to others and how best to frame the driving questions for a planning process, a process he describes as “art as much as science.”
“Being with others in a seminar setting can help congregational leaders move into a more imaginative and reflective mode,” Hotchkiss explains. “It allows them to reflect on how planning connects with the larger story of their faith and could help shape the next chapter of their congregation’s story.
“The experience is more than an intellectual exercise. It’s a call to action. It sparks the imagination by providing a refreshing look at where one’s congregation is and how its future might look.”
Having a congregational team participate in the seminar can be more valuable than having just one person attend the event, says Hotchkiss. It makes it easier to convey what has been learned and to infect others with enthusiasm. Hotchkiss provides such congregational teams with opportunities to work on their own planning process during the seminar.
Hotchkiss has heard from past participants who have gone home and helped their congregation do planning—from a one-year cycle of planning that the congregation had never done before to a larger-scale planning process. Hotchkiss has provided consulting assistance for some of those larger congregational planning processes.
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. By choosing the resources that best suit their needs and context, congregations will shape their own strengthening, transforming, holy conversation.
Who Is Our Church? Imagining Congregational Identity by Janet R. Cawley
Many mainline churches today go through wrenching changes—amalgamations, closures, redevelopment, remissioning—processes that stress the deepest levels of congregational identity. Cawley makes the case that congregations with a clear, well-articulated identity, those that know, accept, and love who they are, can be flexible and respond to change and new initiatives from the Holy Spirit with boldness because their basic sense of themselves is affirmed rather than threatened. Congregations will find this intuitive, imaginative approach accurate, useful, and lots of fun!