Strategic Planning

“Well-run programs and non-stop activities offer no guarantee of Mission Advancement”

– Steve Logan, Founder of Mappings

Three Planning Paradigms

by Jim Plueddemann, Ph.D.

We need a gracious revolution in our thinking about Strategic Planning. We are not likely to be effective by merely becoming more efficient within the old paradigms. Christian-based organizations need a new paradigm to guide them.

Here are three strategic planning paradigms— The Factory, The Wildflower, and The Pilgrim, each of which may be influential at different times.  Admittedly, and for the sake of clarity, these three approaches are presented in extremes. Nonetheless, we must leave the first two paradigms behind and move on to consider the Pilgrim paradigm for Strategic Planning.

The Factory Approach to Strategic Planning

The dominant assumptions underlying some contemporary Strategic Planning are rooted in what could be called “the factory paradigm”. The industrial revolution gave us this paradigm. The factory metaphor places a high value on precision, quantitative goals, predictability, efficiency, and control. It moves planners to set goals that can be easily measured. They want to know exactly what the final result will look like, when it will be accomplished, and how much it will cost.

Such a mind-set within the Christian community affects the way we look at the task, strategies, leadership, and evaluation of mission. When we aim only at what can be measured, we ignore the more important goals of character, discipleship, and holiness, which we cannot predict or quantify without falling into legalism. Factory thinking forces us to aim for goals that can be accomplished in a specific time frame. It inhibits vision for the qualitative development of people, of the church, and of society.

Fortunately, most factory-minded Christian leaders also have a genuine love for the Lord and a deep passion for the Church, which produces qualities of character in people despite the inadequate aspects of the paradigm. But while the factory model has been helpful in defining the task, far too often lukewarm churches and para-churches are the result of the assembly-line mind-set.

The Wildflower Approach to Strategic Planning

In reaction to the factory model, the wildflower metaphor, a more intuitive paradigm, has gained strength. This model emphasizes personal experience, emotions, spiritual warfare, and inner healing. While the paradigm may provide a corrective to the factory model, I question the extent of its integration with biblical teaching, and I fear it may blindly build on contributions from existentialism and Freudianism. Wildflower Christian leaders often prefer a “go-with-the-flow” approach to Strategic Planning; they are so embedded in the existential present that they have little time for future planning, or they may assume such thinking is unspiritual. If factory-oriented Christian leaders have their day planned in fifteen-minute intervals, wildflower leaders seem to be blissfully unmindful of the calendar. One manages by objectives, the other by interruption. Wildflower Christian leaders have many strengths and bring spiritual vigor to churches and para-churches because their flexibility and people orientation enhance their ministry. The danger is that they may lose the foundation of biblical Christianity, become inward looking and lack strategic planning for world outreach.

The Pilgrim Approach to Strategic Planning

A better mental image is that of pilgrimage. Pilgrims have a visionary goal and a sense of direction, but they realize that the path often leads through rugged mountains and foggy swamps, bringing unexpected joys and sorrows. Pilgrims travel together, helping each other follow the map of the Word of God. Because pilgrims have a sense of direction, they are better able to decide if an event is an unfolding opportunity or a sidetrack interruption. Missionary pilgrims are not surprised by difficulty and ambiguity. They are motivated in their service by a vision of the Kingdom.

No Plan?
No Problem.

Doing Ministry Without a Ministry Plan

10 Reasons Not to Plan

For Consideration when Planning

  1. What is God’s purpose for ministry planning?
  2. When does planning become non-biblical?
  3. Do we have to plan “strategically”?
  4. How often can we change our plans?
  5. What does it look like to plan?
  6. What if our plans don’t pan out?
  7. What does God want us to measure?

Healthy Reasons for Planning
Unhealthy Reasons for Planning
  • Our mission is not advancing appropriately.
  • We are not clear on our mission.
  • We are not sure what to measure.
  • Our Board micro-manages too often.
  • We are unclear on our organizational priorities.
  • Our budget is not aligned to our priorities.
  • We are doing some things right, but are we doing the right things?
  • We need more money to fund what we are doing.
  • We need more people to show up to our stuff.
  • Everyone is else doing it.
  • We haven’t done any strategic planning for a while.
Tom Peters, famous for In Search of Excellence, writes:

“Plans? Goals? Yes, I admit that I plan and set goals. After I’ve accomplished something, I declare it to have been my goal all along. One must keep up appearances!  In our society “having goals” and “making plans” are two of the most important pretenses. Unfortunately, they are dangerous pretenses — which repeatedly cause us to delay immersion in the real world of happy surprises, unhappy detours, and unexpected byways.”

“Meanwhile, the successes keep going to those mildly purposeful stumblers who hang out, try stuff with reckless abandon–and occasionally bump into something big and bountiful, often barely related to the initial pursuit.”

We like Tom.