How do you get through a maze? Well there are two ways, either you form a strategy and work your way out or you jump out.
Yes I know the second option sounds ridiculous but bear with me.
As the Sutton Park Circuit we are facing a difficult few years ahed, we could be said to be in a maze with many options but also numerous dead ends. So what do we do? The simple answer is to produce a plan but there is another way.
Rather than planing our way through the maze of challenges we think our way through?
In His book Strategic Thinking, Thomas Bandy writes; “The essence of strategic thinking is to shoot an arrow straight into the heart of the community. It is about simultaneous church growth and community development. That arrow is a straight line from the Heart Beat of the faith community—toward the Heart Burst of the surrounding community, guided by the Heart Song of God’s unique love.”
Strategic thinking sheds the deadweight of unproductive plans, avoids the pitfalls of imposed agendas, and overcomes the roadblocks of cost and stress.
The Heart Beat of the church is the core values and beliefs of the church community, the faithful, discipleship between church members and God. The Heart Burst of the church is the urgent desire to reach the often diverse community around us. The Heart Song of the church is our experience of God and awareness of His calling on our lives.
The focus of strategic thinking is on vision and people, rather than programs and finances. So long as the church is guided by the vision, stays within boundaries that the vision sets, then they do not need endless meetings to asses whether the plan is succeeding . The church only needs to come together to address problems they can- not seem to resolve themselves, recommendation to terminate irrelevant programmes, and to brainstorm big ideas to grow the church and bless the community.
Strategic thinking connects church identity and vision with congregational creativity . It begins with trust and ends with action. Along the way, it strives to understand our community, discern God’s will for the future of both church and community, and evaluate progress so far.
Too often we hear church leaders complain about what they call the “Tyranny of the Urgent.” They say that they are unable to find the time or energy to set priorities, consider new ideas, or pray for renewed vision—because they are too busy attending meetings, sustaining struggling programs, managing conflict, and running the institution. This is not the tyranny of the urgent but the tyranny of the trivial. Strategic thinking is the art of discerning the difference between the really urgent and the truly trivial, and the courage to do the first and delegate the second.
When churches are driven by urgency rather than by triviality, the church grows and the community is loved. When churches are driven by triviality the church declines and the community is ignored. This means that many members understand “faithfulness” backward, they believe we are called to be faithful to the past model of church and mission when we are really called to be faithful to the God of the future. The problem is that faithfulness to the God of the future is much harder than a faithfulness to the past.
The essence of strategic planning is to build and sustain the institutional church. But the essence of strategic thinking is to build and expand the kingdom of God. The former concentrates on activities, property, and money. The latter concentrates on leadership, priorities, discipleship, and working with others.
Strategic thinking requires the reframing of the questions we ask of our selves.
|Strategic Planning||Strategic Thinking|
|Who is in Charge?||How much do we trust God?|
|What do we compromise?||How passionate are we about the vision?|
|What do the members want?||What does God want?|
|What is the plan?||What are the priorities?|
|What tasks should we do?||What are the boundaries of our mission?|
|Will we preserve harmony?||Will we grow?|
|Will we attract new members?||Will we change our world?|
|Will we survive?||Will we succeed?|
Strategic thinking is really about critical momentum, not critical mass. Small congregations can have great momentum into their community where larger ones can often become lethargic and mistake numerical success as missional success.
The way of strategic thinking is remarkably humble. It is humble before the public: listening first and speaking last; observing before acting. It is humble before God: praying first and acting later; slaying rather than preserving sacred cows.
The Sutton Park circuit has to some degree embarked upon a the path of Strategic Thinking with its ‘Living and Growing God’s Kingdom’ Vision and the development of Mission Centres and Hub Church model. Sadly the Covid epidemic and Lockdowns has derailed this somewhat, but with determination I believe we can get back on track and use the challenges we are facing as a spur to engage in more strategic thinking for the future.
Grace and peace,
Amen Alan.. thanks so much for this timely article…. I will pray for the Circuit as it seeks to focus on strategic thinking.