Church Strategic Plans - Hell's Trojan Horse
Marketing the Gospel
Over twenty years ago, a popular church growth guru wrote. "I believe that developing a marketing orientation is precisely what the church needs to do if we are to make a difference in the spiritual health of this nation for the remainder of this century." Further, "My contention, based on careful study of data and the activities of American churches, is that the major problem plaguing the Church is its failure to embrace a marketing orientation in what has become a marketing-driven environment." (George Barna quoted by John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel, p.37)
Among the scandals the world uses to demean our Savior is that Christians are hopelessly divided and often hostile toward each other. It's a charge honest followers of Jesus grieve over. However our divisions are also testimony to the fact that God is not finished with us yet. While on earth we must display as faithfully as possible our spiritual bond, we shall never do it perfectly until in glory.
Not truth. It's about strategy
But have you noticed that the divide among Christian is no longer over truth, but over ministry strategy? Baptists and Pentecostals and Presbyterians and Catholics have important differences in what they believe the Bible teaches. Better to openly acknowledge those differences, allow each other space and cooperate where we can than to sweep them all under the rug. But over the last several decades, the lines have shifted. Now the difference is between churches marked by contemporary music, dramatic skits, words on overheads and open necked shirts on the one hand; and more traditional groups on the other. There is open, and often cruel, disdain expressed between what is called seeker directed strategies and traditional means of outreach.
The world's first strategic plan
The central feature of this not-so-new-anymore breed of church is its all-important strategic plan. The plan is what defines the values, vision, mission and goals of the church. Of course it's got to be short, pithy, memorable, and above all, different from every other church on the block.
I think this would qualify. "Let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." Genesis 11 It's succinct, specific, ambitious, measurable, and, like many church strategic plans, utterly man-centered. You know the end of that story.
Gotta have a plan!
Of course. When Jesus sent seventy-two disciples on a mission trip it was "two by two". As they set out, I can hear one saying to his partner, "I know a huge fig tree about three hours away where we can stop to rest." "Sounds like a plan," responds the other. Two people can't work on the same project without some sort of plan requiring communication and agreement and faithfulness. Certainly the call to make disciples of all nations was issued to all who follow the Savior. So to avoid waste and chaos we need a plan. But the plan must be consistent with the values and principles found in God's Word.
A godly strategic plan
I once spent a futile weekend with church leaders attempting to hammer out a mission statement. Yes, futile because a dozen men I loved and respected couldn't agree on who the church's client is. The use of the word "client" should have clued me in. Some, including me, held that the client is God himself who must be honored in all the church does. But others insisted that the un-churched person is the client. Well, it went down hill from there.
The first mark of a godly strategic plan is that its goal is to please God. Then we must ask, "What pleases God?" Let's try these for starters. It pleases God when his people worship him; when they take his word seriously; when they value what He values, particularly, his Son; when they enjoy his and each other's company; when they are eager to invite others to join the party; when they know their place before God and in the world.
We'll displease God when human experiments are more influential than his Word; when people for whom Jesus shed his blood are marginalized because they don't fit the plan; when obvious god-given opportunities for service and ministry are ignored because they might derail the plan; when the history of God's faithfulness is ignored or minimized in favor of all that is new; when God-given human and material resources are jettisoned to seek new ones more compatible with the plan.
You might be surprised to read that I really like planning. I enjoy figuring out how to get a task done, where to start, whom to recruit to help. I really enjoy seeing the finished product. The secret to my joy in planning is that I hold every plan with a very loose grip. I take seriously James' warning, "Come now, you who say, 'Let's make a strategic plan.' You don't know what tomorrow holds. Your very life is but a mist; here today, gone tomorrow. Wouldn't it be better to build into your plan the fact that God will show up to fine-tune your ideas; maybe even to point in a different direction"
Actually that's Frank's version of what James says. But you can check me out at James 4:13-17. What I find thrilling is that often God says, "Hey that's a pretty cool plan, but let's do it this way." It's kinda like turning my chopsticks into a symphony.
© 2012 Frank P. Crane