How Strategy Will Drive Pivotal Decisions for Your Church

There is nothing more critical to leadership than strategic decision-making. And nothing is more strategic in decision-making than, well, strategy.

Recently our staff reviewed five of the more pivotal decisions we’ve made regarding strategy over the course of our church’s life. We’ve certainly made more than these five, but these loomed large in terms of our church’s foundation and formation. You may not agree with our decisions – in fact, I’m sure many of you won’t. But that’s what made each decision strategic; it reflected a settled choice between competing ideas.

Here were the five:

1.    The weekend service is the “front door” of the church, and should be opened widely to the people we are trying to reach – specifically, the unchurched.

There are a number of outreach strategies that I have no doubt produce fruit. We’ve decided that the best is an “invest and invite” approach. Essentially, this is investing in friends and family, co-workers and neighbors, relationally – building the friendship. Then, in the context of that friendship, we invite them to attend a service or event that we’ve designed to be a good “front door” to the church and the message of Christ. We’ve decided to make the weekend services the primary front door.

2. Our small groups and serving teams are not primarily focused on discipleship, but spans of care.

Whatever small group system you have, and whatever role they assume in the life of your church, you have to determine whether they are going to function primarily to serve discipleship or community. I know, many will want to say “both,” and I would agree that they can. However, strategically, you should decide which of the two is the primary role of the small group. Our small groups certainly have a discipleship element, with groups going through content and studies, but we are not betting the discipleship farm on small groups. For us, that bet is being placed on our Meck Institute, which is a “community college” approach to classes and seminary, courses and learning. We are, however, betting the “spans of care” and “assimilation” farm on small groups and serving teams.

3. We made the decision to go “multi.”

It’s currently in vogue to talk about going “multi-site,” but in truth, going “multi” is much more foundational. It means you’re not going to stay “uni,” as in having only one of something. For us, this meant options. Going “multi” meant giving options. It started with going “multi-service,” offering multiple weekend service times on Sunday. Then it grew into “multi-day,” offering multiple services over multiple days. Then it became “multi-site,” offering services at multiple venues and locations. Finally, it became “multi-medium,” offering services through our internet campus and talks through our app for smart phones and tablets.

4. Children need separate programs and experiences to optimally serve their spiritual development.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to children and the church. One is that children should be with their parents at all times, worshiping and learning as a family. Another school of thought is that children have different levels of maturity, differing attention spans, and different needs, and should be served accordingly. We chose the second school of thought. While we intentionally create opportunities and events for families to worship and learn together – we call them “Family Nights” – our weekend services separate children birth – fifth grade from the service their parents attend in order to provide a unique experience and learning environment for their level of development.

5. There should be a gift-based approach to ministry

Again, there are two schools of thought when it comes to ministry. One might be called the “professional” school of thought. This is when you “hire” a minister to do ministry in and for the church. You expect them to marry and bury, visit and teach, reach out and develop. If the spouse plays the organ, all the better. The other school of thought turns ministry loose; the people are the ministers, and the pastors are more the administers. Further, there is a deep belief that every follower of Christ has been given at least one spiritual gift to be used for the purpose of ministry in the life of the church (Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, I Peter 4). So in this model, you help people discover their gift, develop their gift, and then deploy their gift. Then you have leaders leading, singers singing, counselors counseling, teachers teaching, and so on. And it’s not just the “clergy” doing it; instead, every member is a minister.

Of course, the best leadership teams understand that strategy should be held with an open hand. It must be continually evaluated in light of whether it continues to be the best strategy. If so, it should be affirmed with a deep sense of “why.” If not, new strategies should be considered and employed.

We remain convinced these five are good choices for this season of ministry.

Regardless, it bears repeating:

Nothing is more than critical to leadership than strategic decision-making, and nothing is more strategic in decision-making than strategy.

Read more from James here.

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James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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