Planning Time

by Joyce Madsen

It's that time of year again - the time when staff and committees are meeting to decide what they want to do before Advent and what will come after.

One of the most useful things that we do as a team at the Congregational Life Centre is set some time aside, usually once a quarter, just for dreaming and planning. It is an opportunity to reflect on what we have been doing, how it has been going, and to think about what we have discovered over the last couple of months. What emerges is a number of goals for the days ahead.

It is always amazing to me when we look back at our plan (even when I've forgotten what it was we laid out) and see how many of the goals we have achieved. The act of discussing what we want to do and identifying goals creates a mindset that we carry with us as we go about our daily and weekly activities.

We believe congregations need to have a process to identify specific goals every year. The process is simple - it just requires the commitment of the leadership of the congregation.

To begin, the Board or Vestry or Council needs to take the time to identify what it is they want to accomplish during the coming year. We would suggest you need to include some new challenges, not just maintain the programs and ministries that you have had in the past. Think about how your community has changed, the new technologies that are available, and the changes in those who attend your congregation. You do need to introduce new ministries and programs if you want to connect with these new people.

Many of our small rural towns have become bedroom communities for larger centres. Young families are moving in as a result. How are you connecting with these people? Do you use e-mail? Is the cell phone part of your communication strategy? How can you use technology as a way for people to connect with your congregation? If congregations are to continue to be effective, they have to evolve ways to meet the needs of those who currently live in their community.

A planning event can be an extended evening meeting, perhaps beginning with dinner, or a longer weekend event. Whatever format you decide on, be clear that you are not going to do any regular business during the session. This is a special time just for planning. Many congregations find that getting away to a different location helps. Ideally, you will find someone who is not currently involved with the leadership to facilitate the process.

A typical agenda includes celebrating what you have accomplished and dreaming what it is you want to do for the coming year. The outcome should be no more than three new goals. Goals need to be SMART, and by that we mean Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Required, and Time-specific. Otherwise you will find you can't achieve them.

We say no more than three goals because you can only add so much to an already busy schedule. If you set one significant goal and achieve it, that would be a great success! Success breeds success, so whatever you do, set yourselves up to win.

Don't assign new tasks to people who are already too busy. Do find new people who are passionate about a particular goal, and support them as they lead the congregation in that area. If you don't have new people, seriously consider letting some things that you have done in the past go. That frees up resources to do something new.

Use this planning time to look at the vision and mission of your congregation. That way the goals will fit in with the congregation's way of being.

You want goals that move people to achieve them. Goals should invite endorsement by congregation and clergy.

Once you have your goals, the actions required to achieve them will readily follow. Take small steps - remember a journey happens one step at a time. There is nothing more exciting than seeing you are actually moving toward something that you envisioned.

A very important task of the Board/Council/Vestry is to regularly review the goals for the year and monitor progress. This, in effect, should be a major focus of meetings throughout the year. That way you can make the necessary adjustments based on what is happening. Do you need to speed things up, slow them down, or consider a new approach?

One of the major challenges we find is that people want to slip back into the "way things have always been done", rather than following through on something new. The leadership needs to persevere over the challenges of naysayers who are blocking the way.

If you are clear about where you are going, you have every possibility of getting there. That is a source of excitement that will infuse a whole congregation with new life and vitality.

Congregational News August 2008 Vol. 14 No. 6

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