4 Tips for Setting Goals


This is the time of year where many churches are thinking about the future. Budgets and ministry plans are being crafted. Events and programs from various ministries are competing for limited space on the already crammed church calendar for the next year. In the flurry of activity, someone may ask the question, “what's the point of all this?” Given your context, how will that question be received? Will the questioner be perceived as a ”Debbie Downer”? Will that question even be heeded? What effort is made in your ministry setting for setting goals? Now let me go ahead and put my cards on the table and tell you that this is something I've struggled with quite a bit. I get a bit nervous whenever someone starts talking about things like vision and goals. Part of me concludes that those words belong in the secular business world, not in church settings. In fact, I've seen examples of vision taking precedence over mission, as well as instances where goals become more about counting dollars in the offering plate and people in seats, than about the sorts of things that seem to matter to the New Testament writers. I'm not saying this way of thinking is correct, but it's my default way thinking about words like this. My gut says run the other way, and “just be the church”.

Although certainly we should elevate mission over vision, and ministry values over ministry goals, these words are not bad and shouldn't be limited to the cooperate board room. Mission, (which I define as the purpose of the church), should come directly from the pages of Scripture. As such, it should take precedence over “vision” (which I would define as a picture of what the future looks like if we are faithful to our mission), which has greater potential to be influenced by man’s sin nature. Although both mission and vision should come from the Lord, vision should always yield to and support mission. But this doesn't make vision evil or bad. In the same sense, ministry goals (which are the stated objectives of what we plan to achieve in various ministries) should yield to our mission and core values. But goals are still an essential ingredient in faithful ministry planning.

But how do we go about the process of goal setting? How do you go about this process? While we certainly don't have this process fully figured out or formulated, here are a handful of suggestions that will hopefully help stir some dialogue about this important step in ministry planning.

  1. Determine where you are – If you don't have a good understanding of where you are, then how can you hope to determine how to begin movement toward a goal. Be thorough and brutally honest about the current picture of ministry and effectiveness. Invite others into this process to guard against over-emphasizing strengths, under-emphasizing weaknesses, and ignoring blind spots.
  1. Re-affirm mission, vision, and values – If these are unclear, then your goals will be like aimlessly swimming in a sea of chaos. You won’t get anywhere, and you're more likely to drown. At the risk of over-generalizing: values determine the boundaries, vision determines the pathway, and mission determines the over-all purpose. Without clarity on these, our goals will lead us to accomplish lots of activity, but little effective ministry.
  1. Focus on people, not numbers – We are in the people business, not the program business, and people are not numbers. It's easy to set a goal for the size of the budget, the number of people attending on Sunday, and the percentage of folks in small groups. It's much more difficult to set a goal for the spiritual maturity of our people or the faithfulness of their efforts in sharing the gospel. It's not bad to set an attendance goal, but we need to ask whether that goal will truly reflect the kind of ministry success we really want.
  1. Determine how you will evaluate – Fast forward to this time next year and ask, “how will we evaluate whether we've met these goals or not?” What are the metrics you will use to determine success or failure? And remember, metrics don't always need to be numbers. For example, if you want to see your people grow in their engagement with the Scriptures, then what will you expect to see in order to determine whether you've met that goal or not? Perhaps a pre and post spiritual survey will help. Perhaps you can coach your small group and Bible study leaders to gauge group members’ readiness to discuss assigned Bible passages. The point is to decide in advance the metrics you will use to determine success.

There is much more that could be said about the process of goal-setting. Whom should be involved with this process? How should ministry goals be communicated to the church if at all? What emphasis should be given to short-term goals (6 months to one year),versus long-term goals (5- 10 years)? Hopefully, these suggestions will begin a helpful conversation.

>>>What about you? How do you go about the process of goal-setting and what have you found to be critical components that we would all benefit from hearing?

Time ManagementKen Rucker