In the spring of 2014, our leadership team started talking about the value of working with an outside consultant. Our church was in its 18th year. We’ve seen growth, we’ve seen our share of plateaus. Our congregation has critical mass. Our financial picture is stable. Our volunteer base is above average. And at our core, we are healthy. But as we started to look at the next 3-5 years, it wasn’t real clear to us where we should be focusing our energy.
As far as the bigger picture is concerned, our small New England town has been the fastest growing city in the State of Maine over the last ten years, and we are starting to see a new wave of economic growth. At the same time, we know that the memberships of many of the churches in our town are quickly aging – with no real plan for the future. In fact, in some cases, churches that are otherwise biblically sound are just struggling to survive, with no clear vision for the future.
So with all that, we knew that we needed to develop a plan. Several of us had been involved with strategic planning in various businesses and organizations, and we knew we didn’t really want a structure as narrow as a strategic plan, but we needed something to guide us for the next 2-3 years.
In the summer of 2014, Pastor Bob celebrated 40 years in pastoral ministry and Pastor Todd was celebrating 25 years in the ministry. To help us celebrate these milestones, we reached out to our friend, Dr. Laurel Buckingham, and asked if he would spend a weekend with us, give a nod to the past, and a challenge to the church for the future.
And what a weekend we had! We know that milestones are just markers along the way. Milestones aren’t the destination. But on occasion, we want to stop long enough to recognize and celebrate God’s faithfulness (that’s a biblical concept). We spent so much of that weekend with Pastor B talking about the future.
Out of the many conversations that weekend in July, we ultimately scheduled a weekend of consultation, for November 2014. As a part of the consultation weekend, Pastor Buckingham met individually with each of our five elders (and their wives), and got a pretty accurate read on what’s working, what needs work, and what their vision was for our church. Then we assembled a focus group of about 25 people representing a cross-section of our church family. Pastor Buckingham facilitated a very engaging discussion for a couple hours on Friday night.
On Saturday morning, he led a workshop for a couple hours with our pastors, elders and wives – again, with a focus on the future, and importance of having a clear vision, and a plan to pursue that vision.
Then there were several hours of conversation between Pastor B and our pastors between scheduled meetings. By late Saturday afternoon, it was time to put together a plan… to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to address areas of concern, and focus areas for future growth. We came out of the weekend with the outline of a plan, and it was our responsibility to flesh out the plan, and come up with something workable and measurable, and then to set target dates for implementation.
We worked on this for several weeks, working with our elders to discuss the plan and our proposed timelines. And then, on the first of February, we introduced our plan to the church. Our plan was built around seven focus areas, with a clearly stated target dates to begin and finish implementation. We know we can’t address all seven focus areas at the same time, so we’ve prioritized, set realistic timelines, and we know where our focus will be for the next 2-3 years. And we’re going to assess our progress regularly, and then in a couple years’ time, work on projections and planning for the following 2-3 years.
Through Pastor Buckingham’s ministry with us in July and November, we’ve been encouraged, challenged and affirmed, and we believe we’re moving in the right direction, and we’re ready to chase this vision that God has placed in our hearts.
In January 2014, we did some teaching on prayer, based mostly on what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus said, when you pray, pray like this. And when you pray, acknowledge your dependence. In Matthew 6, verse 11, Jesus said, when you pray, acknowledge your dependence, say something like, Give us today our daily bread. Now, that brought back imagery from way, way back for Jesus’ disciples and anyone else who was listening. Give us today our daily bread brought back these pictures of Jewish people crawling out of their tents in the wilderness, and there on the ground are little bits of something that looked like bread, and they ate it. And God gave them this manna from heaven every day, and every day they learned that God would provide all the food they needed for that day. And God’s point in giving the Israelites manna from heaven out in the wilderness – (he said this through the prophets) was to say, “look, the day is coming when you’re not going to have to get your bread one day at a time. The day is coming you’re going to have so much bread, other nations are going to come and buy bread from you. But I don’t want you to forget, when you have a little or you have a lot, it’s all from Me – that you are as dependent on Me for provision when you have everything as you are when you have nothing.”
And we acknowledge, that as a church, as pastors, as leaders in our community, as a congregation, as an ekklesia, we are utterly and completely dependent on God. We don’t want to think “we’ve got a master plan, and we’re going to make it happen.” We know that this is just a man-made plan. Oh, we’ve asked God for wisdom in this process, but it’s still just a guide, just a roadmap for the next couple years. And if we need to take a side trip here or there, that’s fine with us, we understand that. We just acknowledge that we are completely dependent on God, and our end goal in all our plans and all our efforts is to bring glory to God.
The psalmist said this in Psalm 127:1, Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Click here to listen to the presentation of "the neXt initiative" at Faith Community on February 1, 2015.
“the neXt initiative” --
4, Outreach emphasis
5, Care ministry
6, Stewardship plan
7, Measurable goals