Friday, November 18, 2011

Planning or Preparation?

Each year churches and other Christian groups spend a great deal of time on strategic planning.  They consider their environment, assess their resources, and make goals for three, five, or ten years into the future.  Unfortunately, most of this is wasted effort.   Current realities change so quickly that it is difficult to know what will happen next week much less years into the future. 

What’s the alternative?  In Great by Choice, the new book by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen, the authors address the question, “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”  The answer is not simple, but an illustration early in the book reflects some of the characteristics of organizations that prosper in uncertain times.

The authors tell the story of the competition between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott in 1911 to reach the South Pole.  Amundsen’s team succeeded, reached the Pole, and returned home safely.  Scott’s team finally made it to the Pole, only to find the flag of Amundsen’s native Norway planted there, and died in the return trip. The difference was in the preparations that Amundsen made.  He trained his team for the physical stress they would face, he learned from others (such as the Eskimos), he chose his equipment carefully, he developed redundant systems for safety, and he did thorough research.  In summary, he made good use of his resources and prepared for the unexpected. 

What does this mean for the church?  Drawing from Collins and Hansen’s approach, let me suggest four things that we need to do.

First, we need to develop our people so that they will be prepared to lead and minister.  This involves helping them discover their gifts, embrace their talents, develop their skills, and exercise their opportunities.  We do not need programs to face the challenges that are around us but gifted, motivated, caring individuals.

Second, we need to learn from others.  This includes the churches that may not be like us (even the megachurches), business leaders and consultants (like Collins and Hansen), and socially conscious entrepreneurs.  Their experiences can give us the insights we need to prepare for the changes that will certainly come our way.

Third, we need to face the reality of the world we find ourselves in.  The church no longer holds a preeminent place in society.  Our “competition” is not other denominations or megachurches but a secular society that often does not value what the church has to offer.  The game has changed, and we must be willing to accept the challenges that brings.

Fourth, we need to be clearly focused on our mission.  We need to know what business we are in and pursue that business.  Does a specific activity contribute to the growth of the kingdom of God? If not, why are we wasting our time on it?

Although we may not know what challenges or opportunities the coming weeks or months may bring to the church, we can start developing our people, learning from others, facing reality, and sharpening our focus in order to ride that wave.

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