Last week I attended a session that described an assessment process for churches. Consultants go in and diagnose a church, and then provide some affirmations and prescriptions for further action.
I never know exactly what to make of these approaches. Part of me – a lot of me, actually – wants to write this approach off completely. But I’ve come to recognize that there is some value in assessing as part of a larger strategic planning process. I used to want to say it’s of no value. Now I want to say that a process like this is of limited value. It’s still valuable; we just need to recognize its limits.
To illustrate: In January I witnessed the operations of the Compassion office in Honduras. I usually think that people who have the right dynamics – the heart and passion – are going to be well-meaning but a little scattered and disorganized. I was really surprised to find an operation that had the dynamics – the heart – but that also employed very effective systems. They had really thought through the ends they were trying to achieve, had created effective structures. They could explain everything they did, and why they did it that way after trying various options. I had the sense that if I came back a year later I would see further changes, because they always seem to be looking for a better way to do things.
It is one of the few times I have seen dynamics (heart) and mechanics (structures) working well together.
I have the sense that when churches engage in a strategic planning process, it’s because the dynamics are all wrong. The church has lost its focus on the gospel, or it has become ingrown, or there is some kind of problem with heart and passion. You can do all the strategic planning in the world and you won’t solve this. Strategic planning is great at fixing mechanics, but it will never go deep enough to fix the deeper issues, the issues of dynamics, the issues of the heart.
If a church needs new life, then what they need is what Richard Lovelace called a rediscovery of the gospel. That, not strategic planning, will give them the life they need. But if a church needs to channel that life into effective ministry, then maybe strategic planning will help.
Strategic planning will never give new life, but it may help in channeling existing life more effectively. It’s of some value, but only when used against problems it’s designed to solve.