Future Planning For Leaders
The world I was trained to minister in doesn't exist anymore. Pastors weren't taught how to prepare a sermon using multimedia, yet large screens projecting graphics, maps, Bible verses, and even videos often overshadow today's pulpits. Using a song, dance, or short drama to set up the sermon topic is also popular in many churches.
The way I was trained to preach, teach, administrate, and counsel isn't effective in today's church. Think about all the changes that have occurred in our world in the last decade. Computers have changed our lives, creating new ways to bank, shop, and travel. The proliferation of cell phones has changed how we communicate. Think of how digital and video cameras have opened up new possibilities for using images. Even our homes and churches are built differently than they were a few years ago. Now suppose I send my first child off to kindergarten today. What will life be like for him when he graduates high school? Will he use a cell phone? Will e-mails still be around? How will he watch television? What subjects will he study in high school or college? What jobs are here today that won't be there then? Will he even leave his house to go to work?
In my book, Futuring: Leading Your Church into Tomorrow, I suggest this is the kind of thinking that needs to be done inside our churches and organizations. We need to have extended planning sessions to get our teams to think creatively about what church will look like a few years from now. Fifteen years is too far out. I recommend teams start by looking at the next three to five years. Divide the leaders into groups, and give them questions to investigate. Ask them to report their findings in three months.
Here are some questions to get them started:
Over the next three to five years, how will our church change demographically? Will we have more male or female members? Which age group will grow the fastest? Why? What will the ethnicity, socioeconomic factors, and education of our members be like in three years? How will the neighborhoods around the church look? What developments are planned that we don't know about? Is there a plan to build a Wal-Mart, a new school, or a low-income subsidized apartment complex on land near the church? Is there a highway planned that could come through the parking lot and take three acres of our property? How will traffic flow change based on new construction patterns?
Some of this information is available from city hall, the Chamber of Commerce, or other local business bureaus. Other pieces of information can be taken from corporate cues.
If McDonald's has recently moved into the neighborhood, we can assume that the corporation believes the neighborhood will be steady for the next few years. If the local McDonald's franchise builds a playground, corporate research probably shows there are a lot of growing families nearby. Is the local school board considering a new school building? If so, educators are planning for growth in the next five to ten years. Is the school an elementary, middle, or high school? What does that tell us about growth in this area? Are there water or electrical lines being run to a certain location? Has a developer filed plans for a subdivision even though work hasn't begun on the land?
Answering these questions and others like them can help us understand how the needs of our members might be changing in the near future. Suppose our team members come back in a few months and have found information that suggests the community around the church will be increasingly Latino. They've also learned that a subsidized housing complex will be built on the next block. Knowing this information, we can make decisions about our ministries and programming. For example, who on the staff speaks Spanish? Have we considered an English as a second language ministry? Should we add a Spanish-speaking worship service? What other services can we offer? Should we consider adding a daycare for working mothers?
Someone once said, "Opportunities are never postponed; they're lost forever." We will miss opportunities if we are not intentionally planning. Leaders need to spend more time thinking about the future and less time thinking about the past. Imagine how the staff meeting at the beginning of this chapter would be transformed if, instead of looking backward, the church began to look forward. The only thing we can do about the past is learn from it; but even so, for those lessons to be valuable, they have to be applied to the future.
(Taken in part from: What's Shakin' Your Ladder? by Dr. Sam Chand)