Methods: Planning consistently happens in three areas, personal, ministry and organization and on three levels, strategic, tactical and operational

25 Easy To Use Church Strategic Planning Exercises

Stephen Covey is noted for saying, “Without involvement, there is no commitment.” Mark it down, asterisk it, circle it, and underline it. No involvement, no commitment.

Those are strong words but needed admonishment for those of us who lead in the local church, for broad engagement is one of the things I see as most lacking in church strategic planning.

Today there are many definitions for strategic planning but for the purpose of church based planning the definition I prefer is:

“The process of determining the visionary direction of the church or ministry and then breaking down that overall direction into broad objectives, that are then divided into smaller measurable goals and ultimately to specific tactics.”

And, just as there are many definitions for strategic planning there are a variety of proven approaches to strategic planning. And it can be challenging to discern which approach is right for your church or ministry.

Our purpose here is not to recommend a specific approach. But rather to summarize a variety of strategic planning engagement exercises that may be used by church leadership to stimulate thinking and to identify high impact strategies and tactics for inclusion in the church’s ministry plan.

You may want to choose only those exercises you feel comfortable in facilitating, or you sense will resonate with your leaders and fit your church culture.

More important than the engagement exercises you choose is that they are entered into with an attitude of prayer and seeking the guidance and will of God for your church.

1. Situational Assessment/Environment Scan Approach – To Determine Current Reality

May include:

  • Gathering member/prospect/attender/leader/staff surveys and focus group perceptions
  • Existing systems, processes, culture and technology review
  • Staffing model and job description analysis
  • Evaluation of current strategies and tactics
  • Evaluation of recent past performance against objectives and goals
  • Culture and industry trends and shifts
  • Demographic studies
  • Membership and prospect data base analysis

2. S.W.O.T. Analysis Approach – To Insure Thorough Analysis

  • Strengths – What we do well. How do we maximize these?
  • Weaknesses – What we could do better. Which are most glaring?
  • Opportunities – Where we are missing it. Which have the potential for the most impact?
  • Threats – What could hinder us from achieving our objectives and goals? Which are most threatening?

3. The Organizational/Ministry Results Approach – To Build on Success

  • List the ministries, strategies, tactics, processes, systems, and technology that have contributed most to the success of the church within the past year. How can we build on these successes?

4. Story Telling Approach – To Identify Where God is Working

  • Tell the God stories and the life change stories from the past year looking for evidence of where God might be working and inviting us to engage with Him deeper and further.

5. The Resources Approach – To Achieve Synergy of Initiatives

  • Brainstorm, evaluate and plan around the financial, capital and human resources available to the church.

6. The Processes, Systems and Technology Approach – To Insure a Delivery System for Strategies, Tactics and Initiatives

  • Conduct a SWOT analysis or simply a Strengths and Weaknesses assessment of each process, system and technology that involves and impacts your church and its ministries looking for areas for strategic improvement

7. The Innovation Approach – To Heighten the Awareness and Importance of Innovation

  • List the innovations in your ministry or church over the last 10 years that have been the most defining and impacting
  • Each team member share one innovation they have gleaned recently from other churches or organizations.

8. Key Issues/Questions Approach – To Determine Our Response to Challenges

  • Identify the key issues and questions the church and/or your ministry face and use those as a basis for strategic planning
  • Review the challenges the church and/or your ministry have faced over the years and how we responded for further ideas

9. The Barriers Approach – To Determine Roadblocks to Success

  • Why haven’t we achieved our goals? What is standing in our way?
  • What challenges must we overcome to achieve our objectives and goals?

10. Critical Success Factors Approach – To Determine Keys to Success

  • Identify the few key conditions that must be met to achieve your objectives and goals and let those serve as a guide for determining strategies to be developed.

11. The Distinctives Approach – Capitalizing on our Uniqueness

  • List the characteristics, values and attributes that make the church or ministry unique from thousands of other churches or ministries and determine how we might better maximize them.

12. Innovative Church Scan Approach – To Not Re-invent the Wheel

  • What are the emerging characteristics, methods, strategies and tactics we see in other innovative churches? How can these be adapted (not adopted) for our purposes?
  • What new paradigms are we seeing in the church and Kingdom work? Which do we need to begin communicating and incorporating into our planning?

13. Internal and External Environment Scan Approach – To Capture Trends

  • What external trends, societal issues (family, technology, political, aging, crime, worldviews, etc.) and local cultural dynamics (materialism, economy, mobility, etc.) are most impacting our people and those we are trying to reach? How should these impact our strategies and tactics?
  • External culture watch – have staff bring newspaper and periodical articles, blogs, web pages, etc. that they see as indicative of the culture, culture shaping or signals a future trend.
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis of the church, ministry or staff culture.

14. The Staffing/ Volunteer Model Approach – Strategy Determines Structure

  • If we could add one key staff and/or volunteer position that would have the most strategic impact what would that position and person look like?
  • What does our ministry/department staffing and volunteer model need to look like over the next 5 years to accommodate strategic growth?
  • How might we restructure our current team to pursue new strategic initiatives?

15. The Dialectic Approach – Using the Pendulum Theory to Predict the Future

  • As a process for initiating innovative rather than just adaptive change examine past and current ministry strategies and see if you can identify their thesis, antithesis, and synthesis moments (traditional worship/contemporary worship/blended worship; Sunday School Classes/Small Groups/Sunday School Classes that also have Small Groups) and discuss what the next antithesis and synthesis or hybrids of your current strategies might look.

16. The Great Person Approach – To Identify the Core Strands of Church DNA

  • List the most impactful past and present staff and lay leaders of the church and/or ministry and identify what energized them, what they prayed for, the attributes, passions and gifts that made them difference makers. What strategies and tactics can we develop to build on that DNA?

17. The Broad Objectives Approach – To Align Around Church Objectives

  • Determine 5-7 broad multi-year objectives for the church
  • Brainstorm potential goals for each objective
  • Brainstorm potential strategies and tactics for achieving the goals

18. Strategic Plumb Lines Approach – To Determine That Which is Foundational

  • Compile an exhaustive list of everything that is currently true about the church
  • Look for patterns, themes, and categories
  • Determine which three or four of these are so fundamental they should be considered foundational and therefore be used to inform all other decisions, strategies and tactics

19. The Wants and Needs Gap Analysis Approach – To Determine Needs Based Initiatives

  • Through surveys and focus groups determine the wants and needs of various target groups within the church, a ministry or the community.
  • Determine which wants and needs have the largest gap when compared with current strategies and tactics as opportunities for strategic focus.

20. The Motivation-Dissatisfaction Analysis Approach – To Determine Dissatisfaction Based Initiatives

  • Through surveys and focus groups determine the areas of dissatisfaction of various target groups within a ministry.
  • Determine which areas of dissatisfaction are most intense or pervasive as potential areas for ministries people might respond to the most.

21. The Scorecard Approach – To Monitor Progress

  • List the factors that are indicative of ministry success.
  • Determine various ways to measure those factors.
  • List SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals for each measurement
  • Brainstorm strategies that will help you reach those SMART goal measurements

22. The Mission Approach – To Align Around Mission

  • Brainstorm, evaluate and plan around the most significant words of the church’s Mission Statement.

23. The Vision Approach – To Start with the End in Mind

  • Revisit the church’s or ministry’s vision and identify the steps and strategies required to fulfill that vision.

24. The Values Approach – To Shape Culture

  • List the church’s or ministry’s values and determine which are aspirational and determine strategies that might make them more actual and shared.
  • List bad and incongruent values and determine strategies that might make them good and congruent.

25. The Outside Voice Approach – Borrowed Perspective

  • Bring in an outside facilitator to facilitate the planning process.
  • Bring in an outside subject matter specialist to consult and lead a discussion around a strategic initiative.
  • Consider that outside facilitators and specialists may come from sources such as church staff, staff from other churches, lay leaders from within the church or paid consultants.

What other strategic planning exercises have you found helpful?


Posted on August 25, 2015

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5