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Planning The Future

If you want your small church to make a difference, then you have to think about the future. As the leader, most of what happens in your church will happen because you lead your people into it. And as they say, leadership is all about change. If nothing needs changing, you don't need a leader.

When leading change, the question is: Where do you begin? Let me give you some options.

Method No. 1: The Stab In The Dark Technique

Or maybe even a series of stabs in the dark. The best way to do this is to read some books or listen to some CDs to find out what the latest fad is, then you fall into line with their program.

This is a method that many churches employ. Unfortunately, the results are haphazard. Usually, the implication is that if you do it their way, you will be amazed at the results. Your church will explode with growth, there will be a flood of signs and wonders, and life will generally be heaven on earth.

If only this were true. Sometimes people get great results, and sometimes they don't. Just because something works in one place doesn't necessarily mean it will work everywhere else in the world.

Method No. 2: The Get Spiritual Technique

This is where you say, "We just allow the Lord to do what He wants to do." It sounds impressive because it implies that God Himself is behind everything you do. In other words, "Don't blame me. God is at the helm."

This attaches divine authority to our actions, and places them squarely in a box marked "Unquestionable". But unquestionable equals unaccountable takes away responsibility for what we do and places the blame with God.

I remember when I used to teach songwriting. My students would bring in samples of their songs for me to listen to and assess. I am amazed at how unrealistic people can be as to their own abilities. And often, Christians are the most self-deceived. I used to cringe whenever I heard someone say, "God gave me this song." They'd sing it, and I'd think, "You're blaming God for that?"

Let's get real. If God really were totally and completely at the helm of our churches, they'd all be much better than they are. This technique is very often an excuse for inactivity.

Method No. 3: The Business Technique

This approach works on the basis that a church is primarily an institution or a business and that if you implement good business principles and practices, your church will grow and be the success it was meant to be.

There are at least two problems with this technique. The first is fairly obvious: Where exactly is God in this? Take a look at this verse:

Ps 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

A strictly business approach leaves out the most important ingredient of all: The Lord's involvement. This leads us to:

Method No. 4: The Bible Technique

This is the preferred method as it takes into account the two major components that God's Word teaches when embarking on any undertaking for God's kingdom. The first is God's active involvement. And the second is our involvement using our God-given abilities.

God does not expect us to leave Him out of the planning stage, but He also doesn't expect to have to do our jobs for us. Leadership - in fact, any act of service for God - is partnership between the Father and us. God can do great things, but He does them through ordinary people like us.

1. The Million Dollar Question

If you have this understanding firmly embedded in your mind, then you are ready to take the first step in planning for the future. And I can't think of any better place to begin than with a question Bill Hybels posed: What does God want our church to look like in five years time?

Think about this question for a moment. It has been very precisely framed.

First note that it doesn't ask what you think, or what your Leadership Team thinks, or what your congregation thinks. The question is all about what God thinks. He has a plan and purpose for your church and its involvement in your community. You need to find out what that plan and purpose is. How do you find that out?

2. Involve your Leadership Team

You probably thought I was going to say, "You need to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights", or something like that. Truth is that fasting and praying should be an important part of your walk with God. But I'm assuming you're doing those things anyway. What I'm outlining here is not intended to replace any of your normal spiritual disciplines.

But now you need to get practical too.

So involve your Leadership Team. A couple of weeks before your next Leadership Team meeting, send an email or letter to everyone in your Team and ask them to pray about this question and write down their thoughts.

By doing this, you are not only getting them more involved, you are giving them hands-on experience in actual leadership strategies. In your email / letter, tell your Team that you want them to come with a list describing what they believe God wants.

3. Focus on descriptive words

Notice that our question is not about what God wants you to do. It's about what He wants your church to look like. And by the way, we are not talking about your church building. We are talking about your church, an important part of which is your Sunday service/s.

This means that you should come up with a list of descriptive words. And you may be surprised at what your Team comes up with. Sometimes pastors are a bit dubious about involving anyone besides themselves in determining the future direction of their church.

However, it would be very foolish to assume that you are the only one who can hear from God. Hopefully, your Leadership Team can hear from God too. And if they can't, exactly why have you selected them for this Team? If you want them to learn how to lead, give them a chance to do it. And keep in mind that they won't be perfect, but then, neither are you.

When I asked my team to consider this question, this is what they came up with: Worshiping, Outreaching, Body-focused, Loving, Bigger, Holy, Follow-up, Encouraging, Influential, Fervent, Discipling, Fellowship, Learning, Developing (leaders), Community, Growing, Accountable, God-focused, Fervent, Honest, Word-based, Exciting, United, Serving, Committed, Life-giving.

See what I mean about the fact that they can hear from God? There's nothing on the list that I disagreed with. And notice that most of these words are adjectives, descriptive words.

Now, even though this is a great list of words, it's impractical because of the sheer number. It's very difficult to have a 26-pronged strategy, especially in a small church. Your next step is to reduce this number by putting them into a smaller number of more manageable categories.

Again, involve your Leadership Team. See if you can come up with no more than four to six broad headings under which all, or most, of these adjectives will fall. Keep in mind that it's okay if some of these words end up in more than one category.

Here's what we came up with:

1. Outreach - Outreaching, Bigger, Follow-up

2. Exciting - Exciting, Encouraging, Fervent

3. Discipling - Discipling, Learning, Accountable, Developing (leaders and others), Committed, Growing, Follow-up

4. God-focused - God-focused, Worshiping, Fervent, Honest, Word-based

5. Fellowship - Fellowship, Loving, Discipling, Body-focused, United

6. Community (including church community) - Serving, Influential, Community, Holy, Body-focused, Life-giving

Is the future looking just a little bit brighter already? It should be. You now have a pretty clear idea of what you are aiming for. Even more importantly, you should now be aiming at exactly what God wants you to aim at.

4. Prioritise

Now we need to determine our priorities. Which of these areas is the one that needs the most work. To illustrate this, I'll use an example that I have modified from elsewhere.

Imagine that your church is represented by a vat. You can make that a wine vat if it makes you feel more spiritual. Along the side of the vat are holes placed at various heights, each one symbolising the level of effectiveness of one of your categories.

So, for instance, one centimetre from the bottom is a hole representing how effective your church is at being God-focused. Two centimetres from the bottom is another hole symbolising how effective your church is at outreaching, and so on.

And right up the top of the vat, about one millimetre from the rim, is another hole representing how exciting your church is. Now try filling the vat. Can you see that it doesn't matter how exciting your church is - it could be the most exciting church on the planet - but you can only fill that vat to the level of the bottom hole.

If you want to fill the vat any further, you need to plug that bottom hole. Now please note, I am not talking about filling your church with people. This analogy has nothing to do with increasing the number of people in your church, although it may very well influence your church's size.

But what we are talking about here is prioritising so that you can fulfil the plan and purpose of God for your church.

If you follow through on this exercise, you will gain a clear and accurate picture of what you should be aiming at in your church. This will clarify your direction, and will give you, your leaders, and your people an important and unambiguous sense of direction.