Congregational discernment

Church strategic plans – in the traditional sense – are tricky. They require congregations to predict cultural shifts, the economic fortunes of the surrounding community, and technological innovations (including social media) for the next five to ten years. In other words, they can quickly become outdated.

Creative Commons picture by Kate Ter Haar is licensed under CC. 2.0.
Creative Commons picture by Kate Ter Haar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

There’s a better way. Following the lead of some uber-productive businesses, some congregations and denominations are visioning in one-year chunks. (I know, I know. I generally don’t like the thought of patterning ministry after business, but in this case I’ve found it’s helpful.) Yes, the church still has to have a larger understanding of its purpose for longer-term needs like facilities and staffing, but these single-year processes make sure that specific projects are fresh, meet the current needs of neighbors, and utilize assets to their fullest.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Dawnings initiative, for example, teaches spiritual practices to a congregation’s leadership team and guides the team in using those practices to discern God’s mission for this church in this time. The arc of Dawnings goes something like this:

  • How do we attune ourselves to perceive God?
  • Now that we’re better able to pay attention, what work does God have in mind for this church to do in the community in the coming year?
  • What resources do we already have toward these ends?
  • What additional resources do we need, and where will we find them?

The result is doable ministry that will make an immediate impact. A side benefit is that a congregation is not forever wedded to these projects, so there’s more willingness to try something new. And the overall impetus is entirely different from a strategic plan. Rather than a church creating a scratch blueprint out of its desires and hopes, it is taking an in-depth look at its neighborhood and adding its energy and assets to places where God is already at work.

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