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How Healthy Churches Grow (Part 2)

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You can make better decisions today regarding people, money, current priorities, etc. when you have clarity on what the future looks like.

In our 15+ years of serving more than 650 churches at The Unstuck Group, we have found that the healthiest churches are constantly looking toward the future and identifying what they need to prioritize today in order to move forward.

Last week, we talked about assessing the health of your church. The next step toward health is planning. How do we strategically plan to get to the place where we sense God is calling us as a church?

DEVELOPING A MINISTRY PLAN FOR HEALTHY GROWTH

In this next episode of our new series on “How Healthy Churches Grow,” we focus on the importance of making it part of your culture to have a regular rhythm of planning involving the right voices.

  • Why ministry leaders struggle with planning
  • What a healthy planning rhythm looks like
  • Characteristics of a healthy planning process
  • Practical steps to take in the planning process

What's Working in Large Churches Now

At this free webinar, Tony Morgan is sitting down with lead pastors J.D. Greear, Eric Geiger and Adam Starling to discuss what’s actually working in their large churches now to reach new people and engage people in the life of the church.

The healthiest churches and the churches that are in sustained health for the longest period of time are constantly looking towards the future and identifying where they are going next. [episode 348] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet As church leaders, we have to pause periodically and make sure we're working on what we need to be focused on next in order to continue to move the mission of the church forward. [episode 348] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Lead pastors, you need to be engaged in the planning process, but you can't own it. You have to have somebody else on your team that you can lean on. [episode 348] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Good planning points to the future, brings clarity to the present and creates the framework for follow-through. [episode 348] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet
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Transcript

Sean

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church, whether it’s vacation bills, birthdays, or even retirement. Most things turn out better when there’s a plan, but often in ministry, we find ourselves feeling too busy to plan, or if we’re honest, really unconvinced of the value of having a plan. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on How Healthy Churches Grow with a conversation on how to develop a ministry plan for healthy growth. Before we go there, if you’re brand new to the podcast, head to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the episode show notes in your email. When you do each week, you’ll get resources to support that week’s episode, including our later conversation guide and some bonus resources you won’t find anywhere else. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before this week’s conversation, here’s Tony.

Tony

Is your staff spending too much time pulling reports and creating dashboards to gain clarity, define reality, and understand how engaged your people are? It’s time to stop chasing reports and start focusing on people with PATH. Transform the data you already have in the discipleship with past clear actionable reports to learn more. And to get your free resource today, visit pathengagement.com/unstuck.

Amy

Well, welcome back to our listeners. Today we are in part two of our series on how healthy churches grow. But before we dive into that, Tony, what have you been up to this past week?

Tony

Well, I got to go to a conference, the drive conference, Irresistible Church Network. I’m gonna give a shout out to my friends at the network. But also it was fun for me to be at the conference for a couple of days because I ran into several pastors from churches that we’ve worked with over these last number of months.

Amy

Oh, fun.

Tony

Including friends from Chilliwack, British Columbia up in Canada, and they travel quite a long ways to be a part of the conference here in Atlanta. And then on the other side of the continent, our friends, you know, from The Journey in Newark, Delaware. And then there were several others I had a chance to run into. But I love being in environments like that, because it’s a chance for people who love Jesus, love the mission of the church to come together and just really dream again and be inspired by what other churches are doing. So, love, love that experience, and love the opportunity to partner with pastors, to accomplish the mission God’s called them to.

Amy

You kind of got your people side on.

Tony

That’s right.

Amy

Hope you were enjoying being around people.

Tony

You know this to be true. I enjoy being around people that I enjoy.

Amy

That’s true.

Tony

And usually those are people that are very passionate about the mission of the church. So that’s always fun for me.

Amy

That is your tribe. To our listeners, if you happen to miss last week, the reason that we’re focusing this series on how healthy churches grow is because not all churches that grow are healthy. And if you’re a gardener like me, you know that both healthy and unhealthy things can grow and the unhealthy things actually grow faster in my world. Tony.

Tony

Well, I think you’re right, Amy. And in this series we’re going back to some of the basics. So for example, how do healthy churches grow and what do their leaders do differently from other churches? And last week we talked about the importance of effectively assessing the health of our ministries. Today we’re going to dive into a conversation on the second step towards health, which is planning. How do we strategically plan for where we’re going next?

Amy

Yeah. Tony, I know from working with hundreds of pastors that planning isn’t really the most favorite subject or favorite word for a lot of them. Why? Why do you think ministry leaders tend to struggle with planning?

Tony

So a few things come to mind. Number one, I just don’t think as pastors, as church leaders, we know how to plan. So that’s part of the process. We’ll try to cover a little bit of that, of course, in today’s conversation. But more importantly, it is just the urgency of ministry. Ministry is it is just the urgency of ministry. Ministry is always happening because people are involved. There’s always going to be a crisis and opportunity, a next step we want to encourage. And so, that doesn’t stop. And Sundays are always coming as well. And specifically for church leaders, we’re planning for the Sunday service. We’re preparing messages. And I know that is a time consuming process, and frankly, it should be time consuming. We need to be prioritizing what’s happening on Sunday. But here’s the deal, if we’re not intentional about this, we never get to the place where we’re actually working on what we need to do next to accomplish the mission God’s called us to.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, we are constantly working in the business rather than working on the business. And for us as church leaders, we have to pause periodically and make sure we’re working on what do we need to be focused on next in order to continue to move the mission of the church forward.

And then Amy, it could be just, things are going well and when things are going well, it’s really tough to prioritize the time to step away from our normal routine and think towards the future and identify what needs to change. But Amy, as you and I have been working with churches, now it’s close to 15 years, that’s hard to believe.

Amy

Wow.

Tony

What I have learned is the healthiest churches, and the churches that are in sustained health for the longest period of time, they’re constantly looking towards the future and identifying, where are we going next? What do we need to prioritize today in order to move forward? And it’s crazy. The healthiest churches tend to be the churches that are most open to change as well.

Amy

One other common refrain I’ve heard from pastors over the years, Tony, is just that I’ve never led a church of this size before, and I just don’t know what I don’t know. Do you hear that as well?

Tony

And I get it. Especially for pastors who started out in small or midsize churches and then they experienced growth. It’s a challenge for pastors because you move beyond just pastoring and shepherding people to actually having to lead people and lead an organization. And in many, many instances, pastors just were never trained on how to do this. It’s not one of the tools in their tool belt. And so because of that, of course, we like to spend more time on the things we’re more comfortable doing that we’ve been equipped to do that we feel like we’re good at, and this is one of those areas because it’s something that we don’t commonly do in our context of ministry. We were just uncomfortable with it. And because of that, I think we tend to shy away from it.

And then, lead pastors, they’re focused on teaching, and we just talked about this a moment ago, as they should be.

Amy

Right.

Tony

And they’re not always aware of the organizational challenges around them. And the reality is you can’t preach your way out of everything that’s important. But it’s not everything you do need that strategic thinking, that strategic planning, so that you have direction around the priorities for today so that you can move your mission forward as a church.

Amy

You know, as you’re saying that, Tony, I’m remembering the church that I spent over a dozen years on staff at, when we started attending the church, I’m guessing it was somewhere in the 1200. It was a large church by then. And when I came on staff a few years later, I could tell that our lead pastor, his focus was always Sunday message, Sunday message. And the traction that really got established in the years to come was when he finally had the right leaders around him who leaned into strategic planning. He would’ve, the church would not have gone, I mean, he’s an amazing communicator, but it really took those leaders to lean into strategic planning around him for the church really to go where it went over those years.

Tony

Yeah.

Amy

So great words.

Tony

And Amy it’s just a confirmation, again, we talk about the four roles that senior pastors can’t delegate. Vision casting being the primary spiritual leader of their churches. And that comes through teaching most oftentimes. Being the leader of leaders, being the champion of the culture. If those are the four roles that senior pastors can’t delegate, that means there’s this big component of strategic direction that somebody else has to own.

Amy

Yes.

Tony

Ultimately, the senior pastors responsible for it, but somebody else has to own that, and somebody else has to make sure that that becomes just a regular rhythm of what you’re trying to accomplish as a church.

Amy

Yeah. Certainly the key, the pastor’s voice is in there, the lead pastor’s voice is in that strategic planning, but somebody to come alongside and champion that was certainly key in our story. Well, last week, Tony, we explained that churches need to understand their current health clearly before they can start planning. So hopefully, that gets done. Once that assessment is complete, what would you recommend as their next step?

Tony

Well, the next step is the plan. You need to take time, as a leadership team to figure out where are we going next? So, it gets down to some basic questions, where are we now? So assessment helped us get clarity on that. Where are we going? So now we’re starting to think about the future, what is our sense for where God’s taking our ministry next. And then two key questions. How are we going to get there? And then once we’ve actually implemented those strategies, those priorities, how did we do? What were the results? And so it’s, where are we now? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? And how did we do? And then it’s kind of rinse and repeat. Do they still have those instructions on the shampoo bottles?

Amy

I don’t know. I can’t read that small print anymore.

Tony

In other words, this is not just a one and done deal. This is gonna hopefully be the constant rhythm of your ministry going forward. And so specifically . . .

Amy

Can I just jump in, Tony?

Tony

Yeah.

Amy

Just for clarity, I think when we say rinse and repeat, you’re really talking about this should be an annual muscle that you’re doing. You should set aside a couple of days to go through those questions. Give yourself 12 months to work those plans and then do it again. Right?

Tony

That’s right. And here’s, as a senior pastor, I think you’re typically thinking about those first two questions. Where are we now? And where are we going? That’s what gets you to a place where you can begin to cast a vision for what’s next for the church. But that’s where we typically see the gap then, is no one is answering the second two questions of how are we going to get there? And how did we do? And that’s where you need other leaders on your team to be really thinking through the execution of the vision. How are we going to actually see this vision become reality?

And then specifically around that question of how are we going to get there? I challenge churches to think about four kind of core areas of ministry strategy. We need to have a lot of clarity and understand action priorities around our reach strategy. So this is really around how are we going to reach more people? How are we going to reach new people? And so we need to have a clarity around that. We need to have clarity around spiritual formation strategy. So once people connect to faith and connect to our church, how are we going to encourage those people to continue to take steps towards Jesus, and become more like Jesus. So we need to have clarity around that. We need to have action priorities built around that.

We need to have action priorities built around future vision. So, and that’s gonna look different for every church. Some churches that might be expanding impact as far as outreach in their community. It could be expanding a building. It could be stepping into multi-site. It could be getting more involved in planting new churches. I mean, that vision’s gonna look different for every church, but you need to have a strategy around how are we going to accomplish that vision and what are the priorities today that we need to be working on?

And then for the churches that are multi-site, you need to have a separate clear strategy on how you’re going to engage multi-site as a church. And I know we’ve recently just spent a lot of time talking about multi-site on our podcast. But Amy, I just heard another story just in the last several days from a church who really didn’t have clarity on what their multi-site strategy, what needed to look like. And so they just started up, they just started opening locations and called themselves a multi-site church. But because they didn’t have clear strategy around how they were going to accomplish multi-site and remain one church in multiple locations, now they’re facing the predictable outcomes of having to close down one of those locations.

And so in each of those areas around reach strategy, spiritual formation strategy, future vision, and multi-site, you have to have a clear plan for how are we going to get to the place we’re sensing God’s calling us as a church, and then making sure we have constant rhythms to confirm that we’re actually proceeding, we’re seeing vision become reality in each of these areas. In other words, we’re assessing how are we doing in each of these areas to move our mission forward.

Amy

Alright. So for churches that have never made this planning kind of a priority or a habit before, talk a little bit, Tony, about what does a healthy planning rhythm look like? We just talked about the annual aspect, but what does that rhythm look like?

Tony

Amy, that’s a good question. Let me just share this first. For lead pastors, when we start to talk about planning process, you need to be engaged in this, but you can’t own it. You can’t be the facilitator of it. You can’t be the one that’s driving this. Especially for large churches. You have to have somebody else on your team that you’re leaning on. Ultimately in large churches, that’s typically an executive pastor that really owns strategic planning for the team. But even executive pastors, when you’re in the middle of a planning process, you can’t be the facilitator as well. And here’s the reason I say that, and I’ve learned this firsthand, leading teams, leading organizations. It’s impossible for me to both be engaged in a planning process and facilitate the process at the same time. One of the two, I lose my voice.

As a facilitator, if I’m focused on facilitating, I lose my voice as a participant in the process. If I’m a participant in the process and a key voice in the process, the planning process as a lead pastor and an executive pastor should be, if that’s my focus, then the facilitation gets lost and the conversations aren’t as focused. We’re not as intentional about moving that planning process forward. And so you need to have the right facilitator there, but then you need your key leaders, including the lead pastor and executive pastor to be contributing.

And Amy, it shouldn’t be everyone. This is not a case where we ask the church, now what’s your opinion of where we should be going next as a church and how we should get there? And frankly, in large churches, this is not for all the staff. And it’s not even for all the pastors and leaders on your staff, it’s for the people, the right people that can think, they can almost take off their ministry specific hat and for a moment.

Amy

There ya go, Yep.

Tony

Just focus on where are we going next as a church looking at the whole church, not just their ministry area. Where are we going next as a church? And you, because of that, you need strategic thinkers. You need people that are not going to be consumed by the details, the systems, kind of the execution side of this. You need people around you in this part of the process that are really able to think forward for the holistic health of the ministry.

Amy

Yeah. We’ve all sat in planning meetings and every once in a while there’ll be someone to go, I wish we would’ve had this person in the room.

Tony

That’s right.

Amy

You know, or we’ve seen teams engage and they’ve had some of the wrong players, people who just could not fly at that high level. So it’s so critical. You get the right mix of people and the right facilitator.

Tony

Yeah. And to even get more specific, it’s probably, ideally no more than eight people, eight leaders that are helping you think about future direction in this way. You referred to, I think in one of our recent episodes, it comes from Amazon, the two pizza rule. So if you can’t feed the room with two pizzas, you have too many people in the room. We tell churches, if you’re pulling together a team to plan for the future, we say no more than 12 for sure. But even with that many people in the room, it’s difficult for everybody to have a voice in the conversation, to raise ideas, to push back on other ideas. And you want everybody in that room to be fully participating and fully engaged.

And so when you get too many people, you can see folks begin to check out. And what I’ve noticed, Amy, is the key people that check out are the leaders, because they’re hearing all of this sideways conversation that’s really not helping to move the mission, the vision forward. And leaders just get frustrated and start to tune out in those conversations. So if you really want your best leaders to have a voice in the conversation, you need to right size how many people you bring into the room to think about future direction.

Amy

And just to add a few thoughts, ’cause I, you know, talking about the rhythm of planning, we talked about that being annual, you know, we often recommend, you know, 90 day runs on your action plans and then check in on them and report out and see if we’re actually making progress. And you often wanna do your planning before your budget cycle so that you can actually fund the dreams and the actions that come out of those meetings. Talk Tony a little bit more, what are some other characteristics of a healthy planning process?

Tony

Yeah. So obviously good planning points to the future, brings clarity to the present and then actually creates the framework for follow through. So, this is not just about looking at all the challenges and the problems and trying to fix problems right now. Yes, some of your key problems actually could speak to future direction that you need to be considering. But you can’t get bogged down on what’s happening presently. You need to have an eye towards the future. Where are we going?

And you know, Amy, we used to, when, at 15 years ago, when I first started doing strategic planning with churches and we started to talk about future vision, we would look 10 years out. And I was, I don’t know what we were thinking. Maybe the world just wasn’t changing as fast as it was 15 years ago as it is today. But now when we’re helping churches think future, really we’re just talking about, let’s figure out in the next two to three years, what are we gonna prioritize? And then specifically, what are we gonna take action on in the next 12 months? 

So, we’re gonna plan for the future that will help us bring clarity to the present, and then that will create a framework for follow through. And that’s the key. And we’ll talk more about follow through next week, but we wanna make sure that the follow through actually happens.

And as you do this, then as you begin to practice healthy planning rhythms, here’s what you’re gonna find. You are going to be in a better position to make better decisions today. When you have that clarity for where we’re going next, it’s gonna help you decide today, okay, if this is our future, who do we need to hire today? If this is our future, where do we need to invest our financial resources today? If that’s our future, where do we need to prioritize our time today? So it will help you begin to play the movie forward a bit and give you clarity then about decisions that you need to make today in order to see that vision become reality.

Amy

Yeah. I’ve probably said this before, Tony, but when I work, I was just with a great church last week, and when we got to the structure recommendations, we actually started much farther out to say, this is our, because they’re going multi-site, so let’s just pretend you’re a multi-site of four locations and let’s start there. And then we backed it up. I bet we had probably six iterations that they’re gonna be working through over the next five to 10 years. And of course, plans might change, they’ll learn new things. But when we play that all forward, those leaders just had clarity on who they need to be looking for and what gaps they have on their team in order to live out that vision. So anytime we have a plan, then we start thinking about how to work the plan. And we’re just more prepared for what God’s gonna be doing in our churches. Tony, if I’m a pastor who’s listening and I wanna actually get started on creating this rhythm, what are some practical next steps for me?

Tony

Well, you gotta get it scheduled first. So we need to put this time on the calendar. I usually, especially if you’ve never gone through a process like this previously, and even for the churches that are in that annual rhythm that you just described, Amy is probably gonna be a day and a half to two days where you need some just dedicated focus time with your leadership team.

So you need to get this on the calendar ideally, for churches that are on a calendar year fiscal year, thinking about doing this in late summer, early fall before you get into the budgeting process because you want your ministry strategy to drive your financial planning rather than the reverse. So trying to get ahead of that. If your fiscal year begins mid calendar year, maybe looking out six months before your physical fiscal year.

So we’re gonna do the ministry planning first, and then we’re gonna build our financial plan. And I’ve, we’ve kind of alluded to this. You just, you can’t do this on your own. I really think you need to bring somebody else from your church who facilitates strategic planning, that, you know, has some experience leading teams through this or bring in somebody from outside. Obviously we do this, we would love to help you with this. This is what we do on a weekly basis. So I think we’re pretty good at it. But you don’t have to go try to figure out how to do this on your own. Really you shouldn’t do that. You should bring your voice to these conversations and let somebody else who has facilitated strategic planning help guide you through that process.

Amy

Yeah. Let me jump on that for a minute. We just said we’re gonna have eight leaders and we’re gonna do this for two days. You do not want to wing it.

Tony

That’s right.

Amy

You don’t wanna wing all those hours all that you’re investing. You know, strategic planning is a normal muscle in the secular world. It’s obviously a very normal muscle for us. You need someone who has that muscle to do it, especially if it’s the first time you’ve ever done it. You’re gonna wanna have someone who’s skilled in that area.

Tony

That’s right.

Amy

Well Tony, any final thoughts that you have on this planning aspect before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony

Well, I do wanna remind our listeners about our upcoming webinar on May 23rd. It’s called What’s Working in Large Churches Now, and we’re going to hear from lead pastors of large churches about where they’re seeing health and growth in their ministries. The intention of the webinar isn’t to give you proven strategies to copy and paste in your own context. Rather, we want to provide encouragement that there are strategies that are working in the season and encourage you to be creative in reaching your own communities. So if that sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, you can register at the link in your show notes to join us for this free event.

Sean   

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, we’d love to have you join us for the upcoming webinar on what’s working in large churches now to register and learn more, make sure to check out the information in your show notes. And if you don’t yet have the show notes, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Next week we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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