What to do now? Embrace short-term planning

Published / by Dean Eland

The following article explores some of the questions members may have about traditional patterns of mission planning. Many will remember the influence of workshops led by Kennon L. Callahan in the 1980s and his book, The Twelve Keys. David Bosch’s comments however reminds us, that the definition of mission is a continual process of shifting, testing, reformulating, and discarding. Mission is to be understood as an activity that transforms reality and there is a constant need for mission itself to be transformed. (Transforming Mission, Chapter 13. pg. 511). Indeed the changing environment in Australia is a challenge and we are encouraged to listen, keep our eyes open, connect with others and take steps that are achievable, practical and specific.

Long-range planning has been a mainstay of organizational leadership. Conventional wisdom advised leaders to set three-to-five-year goals. To reach these goals, leaders established action items and metrics to determine whether they were making adequate progress toward the desired outcome. Traditional planning strategies, like a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, tried to account for potential barriers that could impede future success. But today’s political, social, religious and economic environment diminishes our ability to rely on predictions of the future based on continuity with the past. Instead, we need to intentionally embrace the value of short-term planning. Many pastors hear multiple versions of the same question each week.

The interrogatives all begin with the same word: “When.” Members want to know when the church is going to do whatever it is they long for it to do, like in pre-COVID times. This is understandable. Nearly three years into one of the most disruptive periods in the modern era, nostalgia and the desire for emotional and psychological equilibrium may drive some to feel like the church cannot get back to “normal” soon enough.

This week’s resources challenge us to see that the right quest for many leaders is to be courageous enough to determine what the right thing is to do right now. Especially in congregations, our long-range plans are not sophisticated enough to account for macroeconomic trends: the continued escalation in median home prices that might shape where people live, lingering inflation that could influence giving patterns, how the work-from-home culture and general pandemic anxiety will impact in-person church attendance.
The good news is that God is faithful. We might not be able to predict the future, but we can prayerfully discern what God is calling us to do right now. If we live into that call, we can be confident that God will continue to reveal each next step as it comes.
Newsletter of Alban at Duke Divinity School https://alban.org/ June 21, 2022