January 8, 2020

Developing an Effective Ministry Planning Rhythm – Episode 127 | The Unstuck Church Podcast


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You Build New Muscles by Doing More Reps

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Good planning helps us make the right investment in the right ministry at the right time. I’ve found that organizational planning rhythms tends to be new muscles church leaders need to develop.

In other words, the staff, the pastor and the senior leadership team have to embrace some new disciplines in order to become better stewards of the resources God has given them. 

One thing I know about building new muscles? Doing just one rep won’t get you anywhere.  

Churches do this all the time. They do a planning retreat and then don’t do it again, and there’s no muscle built.

It takes repetition to see stronger results. That’s because it’s the key to getting better at execution, too.

And this is why we encourage pastors and leaders all the time to actually set up a rhythm for planning. It’s not just a one and done.

So, in this episode, Amy and I are sharing an effective ministry planning rhythm we see WORKING in hundreds of churches.

In this episode, Amy and I explore…

  • How good planning helps us make the right investment in the right ministry at the right time
  • Why getting better at planning is like working out: You don’t build new muscles by doing only one rep. Repetition builds strength.
  • What a good rhythm for planning looks like in a church, and how it intersects with budget planning
  • Ideas for transitioning from your current planning rhythm to a rhythm more aligned to your budget
  • The “90-day Sprints” method we recommend to churches for getting to action more quickly, and accomplishing more accountability
  • The RIGHT person to facilitate a planning process for your team, depending on the size of your organization
If you're trying to develop new muscles, it's always good to start with a personal trainer. Developing planning/execution rhythms is no different. #unstuckchurch [episode 127] Click to Tweet Good planning helps us make the right investment in the right ministry at the right time. #unstuckchurch [episode 127] Click To Tweet

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Sean: 00:02 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Unfortunately, building new muscle isn’t a one and done endeavor. You can’t hit the gym once and walk out looking like The Rock. Ministry planning is the same way. If you don’t create a rhythm for ongoing planning, you won’t see the results you’re hoping for. You can effectively plan your planning though. And on today’s podcast, Tony and Amy will share some insights into how. Before you listen though, you’ll need the show notes. You can get them every week in one email along with our leader conversation guide, the weekly resources as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation on creating a rhythm for planning.

Amy: 00:55 Well, Tony, we started this podcast series last week on ministry planning because we’ve recognized that through the years many churches are doing ministry without one. And I’ve heard you say that ministry planning is really about good stewardship, so share with our listeners what you mean by that.

Tony: 01:11 Yeah, Amy, first when you just begin with, I’ve not run into a church yet, maybe you have, but I’ve not run into a church yet that has an unlimited amount of resources. Whether that’s finances, time, people, whatever it takes to accomplish the mission God has called us to. And so because of that, I really do believe as leaders in the church, not only are we called to the mission, but we’re called to be good stewards of the mission. And because of that, we have to plan in advance so that we know best how to use the limited resources God has given us. I mean, good planning helps us make the right investment in the right ministry at the right time. And I find for church leaders though, this really is a new muscle that they have to develop. In other words, it’s going to take some discipline that the team has to embrace that the pastor that the leadership has to embrace in order to become better stewards of the resources God has given us.

Amy: 02:12 Well, one thing I know about building new muscles is that it doesn’t count if you just do one rep, right? Suddenly you feel like you’ve got it down, you’ve got the best diet or exercise regime.

Tony: 02:23 I’ve not found that exercise yet. If, I mean, maybe you have, but no. Just one routine is not going to help us get strong, Amy.

Amy: 02:31 Well, I actually do see, you know, we start something and then we don’t do it again and then there’s no muscle built, right? And so it takes repetition to get strong—to see results. And that’s why we encourage pastors and leaders all the time to actually set up a rhythm for planning. It’s not just a one and done. So walk us through, Tony, what does a good rhythm for planning look like at a church? And even how that intersects with a budget rhythm. You know, at least churches have to do a budget every year so they tend to do that. But how does a planning rhythm intersect with that?

Tony: 03:03 I wish all churches did a budget but some don’t do that either. So this may be the whole thing that you need to be considering. And I’m going to walk through some details here. I think it would be helpful though for you to see a visual of what I’m talking about. So we will include a graphic that will support what I’m about ready to share in the show notes. But let me begin with this principle. I really do believe churches need to build a ministry plan before they build a budget plan. I really want churches to see their ministry priorities driving their financial, their budget priorities. And unfortunately, too many churches reverse the two. They establish what their budget is based on what they’re seeing God providing through offerings and then building a ministry plan around that. And you can reverse it. And many churches now are starting to to switch these two around so that they’re building the ministry plan. They’re figuring out, okay, now let’s look at the resources we have available. How can we match the resources to our ministry priorities? So that needs to come first. The second thing is as we’re building new discipline, we have to put it on the calendar and every year make sure that we’re engaging this planning conversation to assess progress on our mission and vision as a church, to reprioritize the future years ministry initiatives. Where are we going to put our focus? And then each year making sure an action plan comes out of these conversations. And so what I want you to hear is put it on the calendar. Make sure that you’re pulling away for probably a couple of days is what it’s going to take with your leadership team to talk about how are we doing with what God’s called us to, what are we going to focus on in the next 12 months? And then putting, making sure the action plan gets established to follow through. And again, Amy, our team does this. I mean, this is not something that we’re just pulling out of thin air that we think would be a good idea. For I don’t know how many years now you’ve been joining us since you became a part of the team. But every January we actually go to a good spot when we do our planning and maybe you need to put that, maybe you need to prioritize that too because we all want to go away to do the planning. But it’s something that we prioritize as a team. So that’s the second thing is you got to put it on the calendar. After the annual retreat, then, where you’re planning your ministry priorities, that’s when you need to engage the budget process. And so if you have an existing budget process in place, you just need to make sure that this ministry planning happens in the month or two before that budget process needs to start.

Amy: 05:55 Just to build off what you said, Tony, I think sometimes when we think about the budgeting process, it can be pretty laborious. I mean there’s a lot of details and time put in and so when pastors who are not planning right now are thinking about their planning process, you’re not talking about a four week planning process, you’re not talking about getting into the nitty gritty of all the execution. When you say get away for a couple of days, you’re just talking about headlines, right? What are the core initiatives? And you can work out the details later, but that’s a deliverable, right?

Tony: 06:27 Yeah. And so coming out of our planning retreat in January, we’ll build an action plan to move our priority initiatives forward. But it’s not gonna, it’s not going to be in full detail. We won’t have already pulled teams together to process specific steps. We wouldn’t have already executed on anything yet. We just have our framework for what we’re going to be doing in the coming 12 months. And you’re right, if that’s the case, if you’re just creating the framework, then you can do that in a couple of weeks or within that month before you actually start the budgeting process itself. Then once you get into the ministry year, you do, we encourage teams to work in 90 day sprints. So rather than setting 12 month objectives and then waiting until month 10 or 11 to actually start on those objectives, we encourage teams to break, break it down into 90 day sprints. And one of the primary reasons is we actually have a starting line now because there’s a short window in front of us where we need to accomplish the objectives in front of us. And so with those 90 days sprints, it’s obviously helpful and necessary to define who’s going to accomplish what within the next 90 days to move us forward on our priority ministry initiatives. And then once you establish those 90 days sprints, go back to your calendar and every 90 days schedule check-ins, schedule checkpoints. And so whoever’s responsible for the initiative that you, that you’ve identified, bring them, bring them in for the conversation with your senior leadership team just to assess how are you progressing on your action plans and then use those as opportunities to set the plans for the next 90 days. So what we’re trying to encourage is rather than just a once a year checkup on how are we doing and then kind of forgetting about what we’re prioritizing for the full year and then feeling guilty that we didn’t follow through. By creating these 90 day cycles for planning, we’re seeing churches are gaining more momentum and are just focusing on fewer things at any given time. But over time, as you work 90 days at a time, churches are accomplishing a lot more. And then it’s just a rinse and repeat. That’s on the back of the bottle of your shampoo, Amy. But I mean, just every year this just becomes a part of our natural rhythm. So hopefully, again, I think a visual will help you understand a little bit more clearly what we’re talking about. But hopefully that’ll give you a sense of how you can start to build new disciplines around planning so that we can be better stewards of the limited resources we have to accomplish God’s mission.

Amy: 09:17 I think the key to what you said are those 90 day increments because I think we all, we all need accountability when we’re trying to move things forward. And that’s what those 90 days bring—accountability and an opportunity to refresh. W quick question for you Tony—what if a church current planning rhythm does not proceed their budget planning cycle? What steps can they take to reverse those?

Tony: 09:39 Yeah. Amy, you can go one of two ways. Either you can look at setting a shortened ministry priorities plan so that it wraps up and you can start before your next budget with a full ministry plan or we’ve seen churches reverse the two when they recognize there’s, there’s an important ministry initiative that we need to move forward on. But we’re in the middle of a budget year or the timing doesn’t—I’ve seen churches set six month budgets too so that they can get to the place where they can fund fully whatever that priority ministry initiative is. So, look at this as an opportunity though to make sure, are we doing ministry planning and budgeting at the appropriate time? So that they can sync up together cause it’s, it’s not going to be helpful for you if you prioritize a ministry plan and then you can’t fund it. That’s not going to be helpful to anyone. So, be as flexible as you can upfront so that you can make sure that in the long run, the planning happens before the budgeting.

Amy: 10:49 So I heard you say in the last conversation, you know, schedule your annual planning retreat, manage it in 90 day increments. And Tony, you and I both know, we often call it the tale of two churches. Two churches can go through the same planning process and one church actually executes and the other one gets back to the whirlwind of it’s every Sunday. And so in addition to just having it on the calendar and having these 90 day accountability times, any other best practices you’ve seen out there with how teams can keep their planning, their plans moving forward?

Tony: 11:18 Yeah. So, churches that are establishing a ministry plans for the coming year, like I said, quarterly, they’re doing full assessments and then resetting the next 90 days. But the churches that we’re seeing that are gaining a lot of momentum are actually doing just monthly check check-ins and these aren’t full assessments. It’s not a full planning process. It’s just like a five or 10 minute update on what’s the progress that you’re making on your priorities, your objectives. And that is helpful again to create that accountability when when people know, “Oh and next month I’m going to have to give an update on the progress that we’re making.” It helps people start to prioritize, in their minds, but also more importantly on their calendars starting to actually move some of these action items forward. The other thing is I think it’s helpful to just keep these plans visible and you know, you can try to do that through paper and email, but that gets pretty challenging quickly, especially in larger organizations. And this is where we have found it helpful to have some sort of solution app. We use Asana, churches use basecamp. There are lots of other tools out there, but whatever you’ve identified as your ministry priorities, try to make those visible in some sort of solutions so everybody can be tracking together the progress that you’re making. Celebrate success too. I mean we just got together as a team just in the last few weeks to talk about all among other things, all the things that we accomplished together through the last year. And the thing is we would not have accomplished those things if we hadn’t planned to accomplish those things. But when the plan actually gets worked and the plan actually does work, you ought to pause for a moment and celebrate. Now someone like me, I’m only gonna pause for a moment and then I’m going to start to work on what’s next.

Amy: 13:20 I’m aware, I’m aware.

Tony: 13:23 You really should celebrate. And then as I mentioned, it’s really important to prioritize those 90 day sprints and then the 90 day checkpoints just to make sure you’re refreshing your plans. And sometimes you’ll get into a plan and you’ll recognize, well, we thought this was necessary three months ago or six months ago, but now that we’re in it, we’re recognizing either we’re pursuing the wrong objective or we have the wrong people that are running on the subjective or it doesn’t have the resources that it needs and we need to reallocate resources. But that’s another reason why those 90 day checkpoint gatherings are critical. And again, those 90 day checkpoints, they don’t have to be a full day or two. I mean, usually we’re doing those in two or three hours with leadership teams when we, when we start to do that in The Unstuck Process, when we’re actually on the ground working with churches. So it doesn’t need to be a full blown planning day, but you do need to prioritize at that time to make sure you’re moving forward on your priorities.

Amy: 14:32 Yeah. And those two hours cover three to four initiatives. So it’s not per initiative. Yeah. I love what you said. Those 90 days, not only are you checking in, but it gives you the flexibility and agility you need as you get discovery on your plans. All right. Next question Tony, is just how do our staff teams and leaders benefit from ministry planning? What’s their role, you know, in helping it move forward and what do they benefit from this planning process?

Tony: 14:58 Yeah, the, the big win here is around alignment and, Amy, I actually have heard you talk more about this recently and the value of it. So let me kind of introduce this concept and then I’d love to ask you a follow up question here. But alignment is so critical to the health and the performance of every team. And as you can imagine, when, when the organization, when our churches have clarity about this is where we’re heading and this is how we’re going to get there and these are the, the priorities that we’re going to take action on over the next 12 months. When our churches have that type of focus, it gets, it just gets so much easier then for the ministry teams to then set priorities and set their focus and then to take it down another level, it gets a lot easier for every person on our team to have focus on where they need to be investing their time and their effort as well. So what we’re looking for is just that alignment around what is the win. And so, what are the wins that we’re pursuing as a church? That then should translate then to what are the wins for the ministry teams and how will our ministry teams support the overall church objectives? Which should then translate into what individual wins will support what the ministry team and the church is trying to accomplish. And so it’s, it is kind of a tiered approach to getting alignment in the organization, but we need to begin with the foundation of what are we, what are we trying to accomplish as a church first. Without that foundation, this is what I’ve seen through the years, ministry silos will start to form because every ministry will start to establish their wins and if there’s not a foundation for what the church is trying to accomplish, ministries will start to pull against each other. And believe it or not, especially the strongest leaders, people in your organization, if you don’t have a foundation of what the church is trying to accomplish as a whole, individuals will start to prioritize what’s the most important for them and their ministry for them to be successful and for them to have an impact. And that too, then as you can imagine, will start to create some tension in your ministry because people, individuals will start to pull in different directions. So, Amy though with that, that introduction, that kind of foundation to this conversation, can you share some examples of churches who have seen their staff team thrive with this new clarity that a ministry plan provides?

Amy: 17:42 Yeah. You know, often what you’re talking about, how I talk about it in the staffing structure review, a missing piece is often these goals that actually put numeric values to what it is we’re trying to accomplish as a church. And when we don’t have those things, what I see as ministries just doing great work. And actually it’s from the unstuck church. They’re doing the work of God, I believe you said, but they may not be doing the work that God has called them to. And so I’ve seen several churches finally get that “aha” from vision to setting big organizational goals. And honestly, once you have the goals, the wins that I’ve seen with churches is when they set their strategies now, and what I mean by strategies is how they’re gonna do small groups or how they’re going to do the weekend. All those strategies are now actually pointing to are we hitting our goals or are we not? And now it’s a strategy issue and that’s all it is. We have to shift our strategy. It’s not producing the results that we want. And so it’s probably too big of a story to detail it, but when they know their goals and they know the strategies that they’re doing, they’re so much better, Tony, at pruning the things that are not effective, that are just sucking time resources away from the main thing and they’ve made some great calls. Can I just share? Because I watch our customer comments a lot.

Tony: 19:00 Yeah. I was going to ask you if you would do this because we’ve worked with churches now that they’re winning in this area. They’ve been creating plans and working their plans and now they’re starting to see some of the results from that. Would you be willing to share some of those specific examples?

Amy: 19:16 Yeah, I knew we were talking about this today. So I pulled some, and by the way, I’ve mentioned this before, but we get these comments six months after our last visit at a church. So we’re not just trying to get hype after they’re all set with their plan. We’re actually asking them six months after. So they’ve gone through two 90 day cycles on their own working these plans. Here’s a couple of comments. “We killed it in the changes we needed to make an upgrading our facility, our service flow and our rebranding, our guest experience and our communication systems.” So that’s a lot. And they just said to all those areas they killed it because they had a plan and they worked at. Another one said, “We restructured (six months later) how our Sunday morning schedule, new worship times, new spaces for children and youth ministries, new wow children’s ministry and new food and fellowship time for the church.” So again, it’s a lot that they got done, but it’s because they were focused on it. Another person said, “We now have a team thinking and working on improvements and growth. We’re becoming more proactive and looking at what we’re doing differently.” And maybe the last one I’ll share is, “We have an energized, high quality team working to relaunch our congregation and position us to pastor in a revitalized way with younger families. We are making amazing traction towards that goal now that we are unstuck.”

Tony: 20:32 I love that. Yeah, just personally, Amy, you know this, but I’ve always had this personal angst that we get onsite, we’re working with churches, we’re helping them understand God’s mission, their vision for the future, plans are put in place. And the angst that I’ve always had is because we’re not on the team with them, we’re just coaching them through this, that the follow through is not going to happen. And so I love it when I hear feedback from churches that they’ve created the plan and they’ve worked their plan and now they’re seeing the results from that.

Amy: 21:07 Yeah. When I worked at a church, baptism was my payday. And now these comments are my payday. Tony, from your experience, can the senior pastor or an executive or associate pastor facilitate the planning process? Or who should churches be identifying to lead that process? Who do they have in the room? Just, just paint a picture for that a little bit.

Tony: 21:28 Yeah. Yeah. You know, I think eventually, and especially in larger organizations, you see this in church world, but also in the business marketplace, they’ll actually hire people to be a part of their team just to facilitate the strategic process that the team is using. And so, yeah, I think eventually, but I would say, I’ll say it this way, you talked about exercise and new disciplines and things like that earlier in the conversation—if you’re trying to develop new muscle, it’s always good to begin with a personal trainer. And so in our case, when we’re talking about establishing new rhythms of planning, eventually, this might be something you can do on your own, but I really would encourage you to bring in a personal trainer. In this case, an outside facilitator to help you. And then after you develop these new disciplines and rhythms, you can start to figure out solutions to maybe make this more of an internal part of your team and identify internal facilitators. But I will say this, even now, I mean our team’s been doing this for 10 years now, more than 10 years. I have found it difficult as the leader to both facilitate a process and to fully engage in the process at the same time. So especially for the senior pastors, I would carry this to the executive pastors too, because your voice is so instrumental in establishing future strategy, I would encourage you not to be the facilitator in your process if you decide to make this an internal, an internal role on your team and rather identify somebody else so that you can fully participate in the process. The benefit, of course, of bringing somebody from the outside to facilitate is you can be fully engaged in the conversations that you need to be a part of. That outside facilitator is going to be to bring fresh perspective and new learnings.

Tony: 23:34 I mean, even the churches that we work with in the last years, we’re continuing to learn at the unstuck group. And so every year we go back, we’re able to share fresh insights and there’s definitely value to that. But what I’ve also found is hugely valuable in bringing in an outside facilitator to help us, Amy, is they ask new questions. And I can remember just a couple of years ago, outside facilitator asking a key question I had never considered about how we’re building and structuring our team and that would have never come to me had we not brought somebody in outside to work with our teams. So, yes, I, the answer is eventually I think you can make this a more internal function of your team. But in the end I think you’re going to find like we have found it’s pretty valuable to bring somebody from the outside and we’ve paid good money to bring somebody in from outside to do that. But it’s been worth every penny.

Amy: 24:37 Yeah. We’ve had so much more robust discussion, Tony, than I think we would have had if one of us was facilitating. Right? We tend to move towards group think if we aren’t careful. Alright. That’s great stuff. A lot to think about. Any final thoughts on this topic before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony: 24:54 Yeah. So let me just personalize this. This is what I’ve noticed in my life—that if I want to improve health in any area of my life, I first have to embrace new disciplines. So if I am wanting to pursue physical health in a new way, I have to engage in new disciplines to get to that physical health. If I want to get to financial health in a new way, I have to engage new disciplines financially to experience that financial health. Relational health, same thing. I mean every area of my life, if I want to get healthier, I have to first establish new disciplines. So let me go back to a statement we’ve shared many times. With that in mind, hope is not a strategy. Hope will not get you to where you want to go. You should have hope. We want to bring hope to the teams that we’re working with, but if we want to experience, especially new health and in our churches, if we want our churches to get unstuck, we’re going to have to embrace new disciplines to get to that place, which means you’ll need a plan. That’s just part of being a good steward of the mission that God’s called you to. And you’re also going to need to develop new disciplines, new rhythms around planning so that your church can experience health as well.

Sean: 26:17 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If creating a rhythm for planning is a need in your church, we would love to talk. Everyday at The Unstuck Group, we work with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences that focus them on vision, strategy, and action. You can start a conversation with us by visiting us theunstuckgroup.com. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast, help us get the word out by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling your friends. Next week, we wrap up our series on planning with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

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