By Bishop Mike Rinehart
- When will the first day of fall Sunday school begin?
- Who will recruit teachers?
- What adult classes will be offered?
- Who will teach them?
- Will there be a theme, focus or emphasis for the fall?
- When will Stewardship Sunday be?
- How many confirmation classes will there be, and when?
- What will be the topics?
- Will there be any special events? (Congregational festivals, meals, etc.)
- What youth events and children’s events will be held?
- When will the pastor be gone? Who will lead worship and preach?
- What are the scriptures and themes for worship?
- How will the worship space be appointed?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Planning ahead leaves room for more creativity. You have time to recruit teams, order supplies and do things in fresh ways. If you haven’t planned the fall yet, now is the time. Easter is past and summer is coming, when people take vacations because the kids are out of school. If choir music needs to be ordered before August, if Sunday school curriculum needs to be ordered, now is the time to make those decisions, aligned with the congregation’s mission, goals, hopes and dreams.
I spoke recently with Brad Otto, pastor at Messiah in Cypress, Texas about the way they plan. They plan the entire year during the fall of the previous year. So the 2012 worship series was planned at their Fall 2011 planning retreat. This fall they will plan 2013.
I asked Brad to share how they plan as a leadership team. Here’s what he had to say. They do a Spring Retreat at Lutherhill, and a Fall Retreat at Camp Allen in Navasota (the Episcopal Retreat Center where we will be having our 2013 Synod Assembly). The spring retreat is a leadership training retreat. They read a book together. The fall retreat is a planning retreat at which they set the goals for the coming year.
There we were, 20 members of Messiah leadership, including staff, council, and ministry chairs, sitting in a room at Camp Allen. It was our first leadership retreat since I accepted my call as senior pastor of Messiah. For the four weeks leading up to this leadership retreat, I had asked members of leadership to pray each day and to spend time in Scripture daily. We needed to know where God was calling this congregation to. We needed to know how to respond to that call as leadership. I knew going into this retreat that there were big plans in store for Messiah; I just didn’t know what those were. We needed focus, and most of all we needed a purpose moving forward. Messiah had a vision statement and a mission statement, but no one knew them. Not one person could recite them to me. I knew we had a lot of work to do.
I had asked them to bring the verses they found in their Scripture search to this retreat, and to think about this question, “What is the purpose of Messiah Lutheran Church’s ministry? Why are we here?” And so the process began. First we needed to tackle the question as to the purpose of our ministry. We began to lift up the things that mattered at Messiah, things like learning from the sermons and in classrooms, experiencing fellowship with one another, serving (even though we knew this was not a strength, but it was something we felt deeply about). We began to see there were three areas of focus: education, fellowship, and service. Now we needed to put that into a memorable and portable purpose statement.
Purpose statements, or mission statements, whatever you want to call them, need to be memorable. That can mean it needs to be short or it can mean that it needs to stir emotion in people. I think it’s both. You don’t need long mission statements. No one will remember them. And you don’t need mission statements that don’t evoke an emotion in people- the people won’t do anything if they aren’t moved. To make a long story short, ok shorter, we settled on three words: Grow, Show, Go. They rhymed, and that meant a greater possibility of people remembering. Our purpose centered around three things: growing in God’s word (education/small groups), showing Christ’s love (fellowship/worship), and going in service (serving). These are the three things we ask of our members. Only three. Participate in worship, be in a small group, and serve. And at that moment, when we had that up on the board, we knew that was exactly our purpose! Not only that, it was Trinitarian in nature, and that appealed to our Lutheran roots! From there, we would create a new logo that would contain all three aspects of our purpose statement, and we would put that logo and this purpose statement everywhere. And not only that, it would become the basis for ALL decision making.
From there we needed to know where God was calling us. So we began to put everyone’s Scripture verses on the board. Once all of these were on the board, we began to see a pattern. There were verses that kept repeating, themes that came up again and again. We began to see a picture of where God was calling us to. There were many things in our “Future Story” that needed to be done, but they weren’t being done. Through these verses we could now begin to see that God was saying to us: “Have faith in me, do big things, reach out to people, make sacrifices.” Those were the themes that kept reappearing, and it’s what lead leadership to begin to tackle some of the “big” things within their future story (long range plan).
It was after this leadership retreat that I began to see the importance of bringing leadership together, away from the church. Leadership retreats serve many purposes, but in my view they serve to bring leadership together to make great decisions on behalf of the ministry of the church. Somehow when we are away from “life” and the “life of ministry” we begin to let our guard down, we are more able to step out in faith, and we are able to focus on the ministry of the church. It also brings the team together.
We have two leadership retreats every year. There’s one in the spring, which serves as our leadership training retreat. We focus on a book, and actual leadership principles. It doesn’t do pastors any good to go to all of these conferences if we don’t come back and share them with our leadership. If we don’t, we ultimately end up speaking a different language. By sharing and teaching, leadership now can be on the same page as the pastor, and everyone can speak the same language. Not only that, but we have to do a better job in the church of training our midlevel managers.
In the fall we have our planning retreat. This is a retreat where we set the goals for the next year. We vision, we plan, we dream big. Our goal is to come away with a set of congregational goals. This set of goals guides the ministry teams in setting their goals for the next year. Then after this is accomplished, the staff can set their goals to support the ministry goals, which support the congregational goals. As a pastor, I wait to set my goals once this entire process is done. My goals should support and encourage the goals of the staff, ministries, and congregation. All of this helps to ensure alignment all the way through the entire ministry of the church.
After the leadership retreat, we know the goals of the congregation. I then sit down with our worship and music director and we plan out the next year’s worship calendar. This calendar lists all of the worship series that we will preach the next year. When we do this, we are able to look at the life of the congregation at that moment and what it might be next year given the goals and determine what kinds of things would help the congregation in terms of worship series. We plan out the year, and then as we progress through the year, we sit down about 4-6 weeks out from a series, and really dig deep in the planning of that series: from the texts, to the themes, to the graphics, to the music etc.
I am a planner. Planning helps in the life of a congregation. It helps to set flow, theme, direction, and emphasis for the entire congregational body. We have seen great results, and have managed to stay in alignment throughout our entire congregation. We align ourselves to the purpose statement of our congregation, to our congregational goals, ministry goals, and staff goals. All of it, moving in the same direction.
So, to recap, these are the things I have learned along the way:
Leadership Retreats are important. Do them!
Train your leaders. Share with them things you learn from reading books, from conferences, from videos. We have to train our mid-level managers!
Plan ahead and set goals. Carry these goals from the top down to ensure alignment. Plan ahead so that you can see the big picture of what’s going on in the life of your congregation. I believe it’s ok to do worship series instead of lectionary preaching, so that you can address the life of your congregation appropriately. This too, also helps to align the ministry.
Make sure your purpose is clear. It has to be memorable and portable, otherwise, it will do your congregation no good other than to say that you have one. Then, stick to it. Make all of your decisions based on it. If something doesn’t fit or doesn’t move your people to fulfill the purpose, then don’t do it. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Thanks, Brad for taking time to share some of your experience.
As we were growing up, my dad’s motto was, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Consider going away with your leaders a couple of times a year to pray together, study together, dream together and plan together.