How Using Strategic Planning to Start New S-Curves Can Help Strengthen Your Church and Ministry

ASP3The results are in. And the news, though bad as it seems, is not new. Western societies are experiencing a time of cosmic shifts that are affecting change in the arenas of business, politics, the media, and how we live in community. As many faithful Christians and pastors have lamented, the church certainly is not exempt from feeling the tremors of such massive changes in our culture. For the modern day “Essenses”, the answer may appear to run and hide from the supposed dangers of postmodernism. Others in the church want to circle their holy wagons and preach apologetic, soapbox sermons to feed people doctrinal arguments for disproving and condemning the skepticism and evil in our societies.

However the Christian response should never be to completely separate oneself and ministry from the culture. There is a difference between being “in” and “of” the world (cf. John 17:14-15). While traditional seminaries do a great job of instructing ministers with proper dogma, biblical exegesis, and church history, most fail in the realm of equipping pastors with the real world organizational skills, such as conflict management, change, innovation, and learning systems. Though often ignored in theological academia, The Bible speaks volumes to these issues. For example, Jesus presents a biblical way to handle disagreements among believers in Matthew 18, and promotes the advancement of knowledge, in terms of the relational teaching of information for transformation in the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:20).

In his newest, third addition of Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st-Century Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (2013), Dr. Aubrey Malphurs, senior professor of leadership and pastoral ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary and founder of the Malphurs Group, advocates a more proactive approach to navigating our philosophically diverse culture and gives practical lessons for leading a church through times of change. Like the given example on reconciliation, Scripture voices the need for strategic planning. Both Peter and Paul write to churches addressing long range planning with the expectant hope of Christ’s return (cf. 2 Peter 3:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 16:5-18). Dr. Malphurs articulates the habits of Paul’s missionary journeys showing how effective leaders don’t simply drift from place to place, or program to program without considering the end goal of growth in Christ. Instead, they devise a plan, communicate it to others in the Body, and implement it, working with the gifts of members and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The perceived “unchurched” problem in the North American, twenty-first century context is really an opportunity for the sacred to redeem the secular. Churches, like people have lifecycles. In what has been termed the sigmoid curve, or “S-curve” one could plot where they or their organization is on the curve, and in turn, can plan on what to expect next. For Dr. Malphurs, “the answer to the problem of church decline is to start with new S-curves” (p. 11) through strategic planning in the efforts of church planting, church growth, and church revitalization.

Advanced Strategic Planning is divided into three sections, “Part 1: Prepare to Sail! The Preparation for Strategic Planning”; “Part 2: Set the Course! The Process of Strategic Planning”; and “Part 3: Pursue the Course! The Practice of Strategic Planning”. Dr. Malphurs explains how “the strategic planning process is a fourfold process consists of the development of a biblical mission, the development of a compelling vision, the discovery of the church’s core values, and the design of a strategy that accomplished the mission and vision (p. 105).

As a former church consultant and a team member for a Christian university’s alumni strategic planning team, I found chapter 4 “Developing a Biblical Mission: What We Are Supposed to be Doing” of particular interest. In this section, Dr. Malphurs states how a biblical mission defines functions, sets priorities, facilitates evaluation, and provides guidelines for decision making. Dr. Malphurs also distinguishes the differences between mission and purpose. While a church’s purpose declares the “why we exists”, the mission states the “what” or divine intent that God has destined this specific faith community for accomplishing and bring His will to fruition.

Classic lessons on building a ministry team, studying a community to discover the needs and service opportunities, as well as assessing ministry activity have all been updated. Also, this third edition of Advanced Strategic Planning includes a discussion on the missional church and the current emphasis on discipleship as movement. Full of relevant statistical data, helpful charts, and the long list of applicable appendixes, unique to Malphurs’ writing, such as a Leader-Manager Audit and Core Values Audit, this third revision of Advanced Strategic Planning is sure to encourage and prepare pastors for effectively serving God, growing the Kingdom, and positively impacting their communities.


7 Scientific Steps to Build a Successful Organizational Culture

Boundaries for LeadersDr. Henry Cloud has become one of my favorite leadership experts to learn from. It is always a joy to hear speak because his lessons are practical, researched based, and full of integrity. In fact, his book “Integrity” was his first work that really made him a serious leadership expert in my mind. However, Dr. Cloud has over twenty years of leadership experience as an organizational consultant and has become a major influencer in certain church circles as well as the business world. He has a Ph.D in psychological leadership and writes from a faith based perspective.

Dr. Cloud’s newest book, “Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge (2013) is essentially a synthesis of his previous bestselling work Boundaries, with a heavy emphasis on neuroscience and organizational effectiveness. Dr. Cloud states that leaders get what they create and allow. Thus, the need for clear boundaries is a discipline that is absolutely critical for optimal effectiveness at both the personal and corporate level.

While Dr. Cloud’s insights are based on scientific research and they are by no means empty or dry data. Instead, he brilliantly weaves in personal stories of working with previous clients and shows how each principle can be fleshed out in the reader’s organization. At the heart of his book, is the thesis that leaders lead better when they appeal to the executive functions of human brains. These functions are habits that cultivate chemical reactions and build healthy company cultures. The three disciplines leaders need to adhere to are attending, inhibiting, and relying on working memory. In attending, employees, followers, or teammates become ambitiously focused on completing the task at hand. With inhibition, unnecessary distractions are eliminated and certain activities are avoided. The third element is perhaps the most detrimental for it joins and applies the previous two. Dr. Cloud explains that working memory is “the ability to retain and access relevant information for reasoning, decision making, and taking future actions” (p. 27).

Many of the boundaries discussed focus on factors that build relational trust. Of these, things like connecting through understanding, motivation and intent, character, capacity and ability and a leader’s track record are foundational. Likewise, Dr. Cloud lists a number of objectives leaders can enact that will help execute trust that will improve performance. The implementation of trust, sharing team objectives, defining operating values and behaviors, utilizing case studies, making specific covenants, and developing accountability systems will help deepen trust and consequently align organizational purpose.

In addition, Dr. Cloud shows how a results-oriented team can work to turn the three P’s of personalize, pervasive, and permanent attitudes from a negative perspective to a positive mentality. Ultimately Dr. Cloud states seven scientific steps to build a successful organizational culture, which he claims is more important than the smartest of people or most advanced strategic plan. The seven elements of an inspirational culture include helping people attend to what is important, inhibit what is not important, and remember what they are doing as well as the why behind it. Emotional environments free of the wrong kind of stress as well as building teams that are deeply connected and help people think optimistically help people gain and keep control over the items which they should concentrate on the most. The final component of great performing teams, are leaders who are able to lead themselves effectively. Leaders, who can take charge, relationally connect with people, and create opportunities for growth, will consistently get high performance results while being ridiculously in charge.