Monday, February 16, 2015

Advanced Strategic Planning by @amalphurs Aubrey Malphurs (Book Review #13 of 2015)


Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st-Century Model for Church and Ministry Leaders
This is the second book of Malphurs that I have read (the first was Money Matters in Church [my review], co-authored with his pastor (Stroope).  While he includes Scripture references in much of what he writes, Malphurs is a pragmatist overall, those in the Reformed tradition who caution churches on such things will find much to dislike in this book. (If you think Bill Hybels is pragmatic, Malphurs probably takes it a step too far for you). Some of the elements that made me uncomfortable in Money Matters, mainly regarding capital campaigns and a flippant approach to church debt, made its way to this book and there were other things I took issue with as well. Malphurs is weak on a biblical approach to polity, opting for efficiency rather than biblical precedent. For example, in his chapter explaining and critiquing various forms of church polity in doing revitalization he rejects elder rule in favor of a board who oversee the pastor/elders (think Trustees if you're in a traditional Southern Baptist context) and does not see how elder-led churches can be compatible with congregationalism. That is odd given his background and the range of churches with whom his consultancy has worked. Capitol Hill Baptist is an elder-led Southern Baptist church that is still quite congregational in its membership and budgeting decisions, for example. How can you biblically justify a board of governors that is ultimately responsible for the spiritual health of the church, checking its consistency with doctrine, and holding pastor/staff accountable but they themselves not be the ones who teach and shepherd--ie: hold the office of elder/overseer? 

I can just say I've seen mixed results with trustee-accountable churches, and I think the current thinking in churches that care deeply about biblically-based polity is that such a system, while perhaps effective in certain contexts, is not biblical; I think Malphurs is on the wrong path here. Revitalization should include an effort to become more biblical in issues of membership and church discipline, which Malphurs does not address. (I'm open to corrections if I've erred here.)

However, the first half of the book I really liked as an introduction to strategic planning for churches who are looking to revitalize.

"Strategic planning is the fourfold process that a point leader, such as a pastor, works through regularly with a team of leaders to envision or reenvision and revitalize his church by developing a biblical mission and a compelling vision, discovering its core values, and crafting a strategy that implements a unique, authentic church model" (32).

"The strategy accomplishes the church’s mission and vision and includes five key elements or steps: reaching out to the community, making mature disciples, building a ministry team (congregation, staff, and possibly a board), assessing the ministry’s setting (location and facilities), and raising the necessary finances to carry out the mission and vision" (35).

Malphurs pulls no punches, if churches should be growing then we need to critique ourselves and ask tough questions. It's one thing to plateau or decline in heavy persecution, another to decline because your church no longer serves your community or devotes its resources to programs that don't match up with the vision and mission of the church. If the church has no mission or vision, where can it go? It does no good to rev your engine without a destination-- Malphurs refers to pastors and leaders in the church in the revitalization process as "navigators," an analogy he uses throughout the text. Appendix A is a good questionnaire to gauge both the pastor's and the church's readiness for change-- don't invest in the process unless it has some probability of becoming reality. If a pastor isn't willing to commit 5-10 years to see the effort through, isn't a perpetual optimist, does not handle conflict resolution well, and cannot consistently articulate the vision of the church then he shouldn't even start down the road. Malphurs minces few words in telling leaders to step aside and find someone else to revitalize their church, or to close the church so the flock can go elsewhere.

"Survey results show that 85 percent of churches which have grown off the plateau have reevaluated their programs and priorities during the past five years, as compared to 59 percent of churches which have remained on the plateau. Similarly, 40 percent of ‘breakout churches’ have developed a long-range plan, as compared to only 18 percent of continued plateau churches...many if not most churches that are making a difference for the Savior are led by or at least staffed with strategic thinkers who, if they don’t have a plan in hand (articulated on paper), have one in their heads” (p. 29).

"Gary McIntosh of the American Society for Church Growth estimates that only 20 percent of America’s 367,000 congregations actively pursue strategic planning" (p. 38)

Once you meet the initial hurdles and commit to the process, Malphurs' book is a step-by-step guide through the process. How to assemble the planners, hold your strategy meetings, involve the larger body in execution, and evaluate yourself in the fulfilment of the vision. I basically sum up the meat of it like this:

What is our mission (usually just Matthew 28:19-20)?
What is the pastor's/elders' vision (what does the church ideally look like in 5 years?)
What are our core values? (member care? prayer? community service?, etc.)
Do our current ministries & programs line up with our values and vision?
What needs to change, be removed, or started in order to better match our values and vision in the fulfilment of the mission? (this is the strategy)

I think it's a useful exercise for the stakeholders to be on the same page about what the values and vision are, so they can understand how to build a strategy to live up to those things. If you have multiple people proposing multiple new programs they each feel passionately about then these ideas need to be prioritized according to the values the congregation feels most strongly about. You can also see how balanced your programs are. If everyone feels passionately about helping the poor but there is no action with benevolence, then this doesn't match up and adjustment should be made.

This is where I see a benefit of 9Marks-- a pastor could lay those out as a list of values. Then, for example, you could state a vision that every church member be in a small group by 2020 because those relationships are essential to a healthy and biblical view of church membership, which we value. Then the strategy answers the question: How do we encourage small groups to form? (quarterly leadership training, volunteer sign-up, etc?) If a member is not in agreement the basic values, he may need to do some soul-searching. None of the crucial issues like church discipline make their way to Malphurs' prescriptions for churches in this book.

Both this text and from pastors I've spoken with, often times long-range planning devolves down to an unhealthy focus on building a new building. While Malphurs devotes the last portion of the book to the "setting" of the church, including its building and grounds-- and how to run a capital campaign to finance construction-- he warns readers up front that a plan to build a building without the greater focus on mission, vision, and strategy to fulfill the  mission will likely end in an unused building that reminds members of a previous pastor who is no longer there. (This is partly why I think his later approach to debt is highly dangerous.)

I'm writing this review from the standpoint of a finance committee chairperson in a small-church context. While I wholeheartedly agree with Malphurs that pastors need to have some basic education in finance, often missing from seminary, I disagree that the pastor needs to know who is giving what amounts, cultivate "giving champions," manipulate people emotionally (see my review of Money Matters), and get Monday-morning flash reports on per-capita giving from the day before. Delegation is key to any leadership position, and I see micromanaging finance as akin to waiting tables -- let someone better equipped do that, and make sure they give you the important info. Pastors are too tempted to gauge growth purely by numbers and finance. Some of the worst churches in the world are the largest and wealthiest, and we can't have it both ways.

I can say I highlighted more passage in this book more than most, there is much that's helpful. If you're in the 20% of churches that want to do strategic planning, I'd recommend not hiring an expensive consultant-- buy this book instead and work through it with a group. Beware it's an investment requiring teamwork and positivity. 3 stars out of 5.

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