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

SWOT Analysis Strategic Planning Tool

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats originated by Albert S. Humphries in the 1960’s as a simple strategic planning tool for individuals and organizations. It is intended to identify internal and external factors that might influence an organization, objective, or decision. By definition, Strengths and Weaknesses are considered to be internal factors over which you have some control and Opportunities and Threats are considered to be external factors over which you have little or no control.

The SWOT Analysis method was originally developed for business and industry, but it is equally useful to take the mission, vision, and ministry of the church and produce practical objectives and strategies. A SWOT analysis is particularly helpful in:

  • Decision making
  • Solutions to problems
  • Setting objectives
  • Scanning the local environment
  • Developing new strategies
  • Defining critical success factors
  • Determining obstacles
  • Organizing and communicating a new initiative, decision, or program

SWOT Analysis Definitions

A SWOT Analysis has a variety of applications but for purposes of definition and illustration we have chosen the example of using a SWOT Analysis as a church strategic planning tool.

Strengths are the qualities, capabilities, and competencies that enable the church to successfully accomplish its mission and vision. They may be tangible or intangible. Strengths may also be those unique characteristics that distinguish the church from other churches in the community. These might include leadership competencies, facilities, equipment, financial resources, spiritual resources, reputation, location, services, programs, etc.

To discern strengths ask:

  • What advantages does our church have over other churches in our area?
  • What does our church do better than other churches in our area?
  • How are we unique from other churches in our area?
  • How does the community perceive our strengths?
  • What gifts and skills does our congregation possess?

Weaknesses are the qualities that prevent the church from accomplishing its mission and vision or reaching its full potential. Weaknesses may also be those gaps that place the church at a disadvantage when compared to other churches in the community. These might include factors that don’t meet certain standards, staff turnover, governance, location, inefficient systems, ineffective processes, not enough leaders, a lack of prayer, etc.

To discern weaknesses ask:

  • What could we improve?
  • How does the community perceive our weaknesses?
  • What do other churches in our area do better than us?
  • What should we avoid doing?
  • What factors cause us to lose members and first time guests?
  • Where are we being unbiblical?

Opportunities are the conditions inside and outside the church that if exploited would expand and increase the impact of the church’s mission and vision. Sources for opportunities might include changes in church or community demographics, new industries, local events, new technology, changes in government, social change, a new campus, new church members, a new pastor or staff member, etc.

To discern opportunities ask:

  • What internal opportunities are we not taking advantage of?
  • What external opportunities are we not taking advantage of?
  • What impactful trends are you aware of?
  • What changes have occurred recently in our church, in our community, in our nation?
  • Where do we see God working?

Threats are conditions that arise in the environment that threaten the stability and potentially even the survival of the church. These might include changing internal or external demographics, changing technology, the economy, legislation, safety and security, oppressive debt, large capital needs, aging facilities, unwillingness to change, a sense of member entitlement, spiritual immaturity, etc.

To discern threats ask:

  • What obstacles does our church face?
  • What is changing in culture?
  • What is changing in our community?
  • What is changing in our key metrics?
  • Could any of our weaknesses threaten the church?

Steps for Conducting a SWOT Analysis

  1. Designate an impartial facilitator who can keep things moving and on track
  2. Designate a master recorder to record answers on flip charts
  3. Introduce the purpose and explain the SWOT Analysis definitions
  4. Divide participants into smaller groups
  5. Have each group designate a facilitator and recorder
  6. Give groups 20-30 minutes to brainstorm and fill out their own Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats chart
  7. Ask them to refine each of the four lists to no more than 5-10 factors to share
  8. Reconvene the group to share results, recording Strengths first, Weaknesses second, etc. on the master flip chart pages
  9. Discuss and analyze results, relating each to the church’s mission and vision. Prioritize the most important factors in each list. Translate the analysis into action plans.

Advantages of a SWOT Analysis

  • Simple to understand and use
  • Identifies key internal and external factors affecting the church
  • Produces valuable strategies and goals that align with the church’s mission and vision
  • Explores a variety of new solutions
  • Can be used personally or organizationally
  • Can identify and overcome barriers to success

Weaknesses of a SWOT Analysis

  • Presents lists uncritically
  • Doesn’t distinguish or prioritize
  • May focus too much on the present and not enough on the future
  • Factors may be opinions rather than facts
  • May overlook “the law of unintended consequences”

Best Practices

  • A SWOT analysis is best developed in a collaborative group planning setting
  • Involve a variety of stakeholders from within and participants from outside the church
  • Separate the group into smaller teams allows for greater participation
  • Record results on 4 flip chart pages
  • Don’t allow lists to becomes excessive in length
  • Accept only verifiable facts, not opinions
  • Realize external changes typically represent both opportunities and threats
  • Invite further analysis then prioritize the lists using an exercise such as Dot Voting
  • Set goals and create action plans around priorities
  • For individual analysis use a SWOT Analysis Worksheet


Posted on April 24, 2018

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