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8 Obstacles to Church Strategy

If your staff and volunteers don’t know your church’s strategy, they invent their own.

Many times, this is not the fault of the volunteers but a failure on the part of senior leadership. I recently reviewed an article from Harvard Business Review entitled, “How Hierarchy Can Hurt Strategy Execution.” This post is an adaptation of that article, reframed for ministry. While the interrelated challenges of these obstacles make it hard to put in a ranking, I have attempted to do so in terms of linear progression. Also, there are many ways to define strategy. The one I use is “the process of picture that shows how you accomplish the mission on the broadest level.

#1 Too focused on short-term results and tactics. Sunday’s a comin’. Enough said. 

#2 Not taking time to develop a clear, coherent strategy. Because of the crowd fixation on the weekend worship event, most leadership teams never slow down enough to have the strategic conversation. This ultimately hinders forward progress in disciple making and subversively reinforces a shadow mission, “to get as many people through the doors on Sunday.

#3 Poor communication of strategy. If you do have a strategy, you can’t communicate it too much. The litmus test is to get the top 25 people in your leadership together and ask them to draw a picture that shows how you accomplish the mission. If they are not drawing the same picture, you’re not communicating enough. 

#4 Lack of meaning for the front-line volunteers and their roles. Once it’s clear and being communicated, it must be translated to the front line. It can’t live only in the world of “thinkers,” but must be grasped, and joyfully so, by the “doers.”

#5 Departmental silos and ministry segments with competing agendas. One of the greatest barriers is not individuals but the momentum of church systems – stuff from org charts to decision-making structures. In church, the strategy first splinters to become meaningless in the children, student, and worship “departments,” which typically focus 100% of their attention on their unique short-term needs. 

#6 Inconsistent or indecisive actions from senior leaders with regard to strategy. Once you set the course, you must lead the way. Strategy will set priorities, and your people will quickly notice from small daily actions when the two disconnect.

#7 No follow-through on strategy with measurement, accountability, or celebration. Strategy won’t become meaningful without it becoming a cultural reality- something that shapes new thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. 

#8 Resistance to change. Leading with a strategy will always require some change. Some people will catch it painfully slow, and others will never see the light.

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Will Mancini emerged from the trenches of local church leadership to found Auxano, a first-of-kind consulting ministry that focuses on vision clarity. As a “clarity evangelist,” Will has served as vision architect for hundreds of churches across the country, including such notable pastors as Chuck Swindoll and Max Lucado. Will holds a Th.M. in Pastoral Leadership from Dallas Theological Seminary and has authored Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture and Create Movement; he also co-authored Building Leaders with Aubrey Malphurs.