By Allen Quist & Tim Robnett
For thirty-five years in banking, I (Allen) labored under the hammer of the business plan. Every fall the business plan became the center of our focus, and for good reason. The plan was the standard by which we were measured the following year. If you were too aggressive with your plan, then you had to live with it for the whole year; so you did not want to be too confident. On the other hand, if you were too conservative with your plan, there was always the chance that bank management would help you set a more aggressive plan; more aggressive than you would do for yourself.
The business plan included what you or your team projected to be your sales (vision), what you intended to do to reach your projected sales (plan of action), and how much it would cost to execute your plan (budget). The purpose of the business plan is to put structure to the process of achieving the purposes and mission of the organization.
A church plan or ministry plan is similar to the bank business plan in philosophy. It includes a word statement of what God intends for us to do for the next period of time (vision—discussed in the previous chapter), the actual steps we are going to take and what will be the results of those steps (plan), and how much it will cost to carry out the plan (budget).
As we described in chapter 12, if we had a coin with one side labeled “The Vision of the Church,” the other side would be labeled “The Plan.” In a sense, the plan and the vision are complementary, except the vision is made of words that are meant to inspire, to motivate, to educate, and to focus our congregation. The plan is the vision stated in ways that direct action, influence behavior, provide some sense of objectivity, and provide a basis of evaluating results. As stated at the end of chapter 12, the plan asks, “What are the specific measurable steps needed near-term to accomplish this vision within the context of God’s purpose and mission through and in us?”
The plan has the six ingredients listed in chapter 12 in common with the vision. Through the following, please keep in mind that all we have presented about the love of God, the command to love God, and the command to love others must be evident in any plan that is developed or implemented.
1. The Plan Comes from God
If the plan is based on the vision and the vision is from God, then the plan is God’s plan. The plan will include specific steps that will allow for the overarching call of God to love others. The plan will accommodate the two roles of leaders: (1) to be a steward for Jesus Christ to lead his church where he directs them to lead it (God’s vision), and (2) to be Christ’s steward, to serve, love, and develop those same people the leader is leading (love for others), and to keep both roles in balance. The plan will also provide for the fear of other leaders and the fear of those being led. The plan will be developed by leaders whose affection for Christ, rather than for themselves, is the driving affection in their lives.
The plan and its development centers on the dynamic love relationship with Jesus Christ and all that relationship implies.
2. The Plan Is Uniquely Ours
Since the vision is uniquely ours, and the plan is the actionable steps we will be taking to accomplish the vision, the plan will be uniquely ours. Ours individually, as a church, or as a ministry. Jan Johnson’s quote of pastor and author Peter Lord applies here as it did in the section on vision.
3. The Plan Needs to Be Clear and Provide Direction
As the vision statement provides clear direction about what God is leading us to do or where he is leading us to go, the plan does the same thing, only worded in measurable steps. For a plan to be helpful, it must provide people with the information about the specific actions they will be taking. The steps need to be worded in such a way that we are able to know when the step starts and when the step is completed. Otherwise the step is only an intention.
4. The Plan Will Provide Energy and Is Measurable
It is difficult to be excited about accomplishing something when we do not know specifically what we will be actually doing. In fact, if we don’t know specifically what we will be doing, we will likely be nervous about it. The plan provides that information. As a result, the plan will lower tension, minimize confusion, help leaders coordinate people, and put traction to the vision. A vision without a plan remains only a vision, interesting but accomplishing nothing.
Since the plan is measurable, it will help leadership keep the vision on track.
5. The Plan Is for a Season
One of the beautiful things about a plan is that it is for a specific period. If you purchase planning software, you will notice that it lays out a calendar upon which you build your plan. Planning is by definition time-oriented and, therefore, for a season.
Your plan can be for a short-term vision such as a project. The plan can be for a year, several years, and even for decades. (Although for a plan that lasts decades, we recommend breaking that plan into shorter increments.)
6. The Plan Is Important (Provides an Objective Measurement of the Subject Vision)
The vision statement is subjective. You cannot know specifically when you begin or finish the vision. That is one of the powerful purposes of the plan. Because the plan is objectively worded into steps, it provides an objective measurement of the subjective vision. It allows leaders and managers something concrete to follow.
When the vision is God’s vision for us, then the plan, with God’s leading, will be God’s plan and the budget (which is part of the plan) will be God’s budget. This is important to remember through all the planning. After all, we are stewards for God.
The plan has three parts:
All churches plan. That is a bold statement. We say to ourselves that this is not true, because our church has no plan. Every year it is just business as usual. However, read on and let us make the case that all churches plan.
One church—let us call it ABC Church—used a simple process to create a unique plan for themselves. This church wanted to assure that their plan was based on God’s vision for them and not just business as usual. So each ministry head of ABC was required to present a vision and plan for the coming year in writing and in person to the board. They were to pay special attention to the changes in direction from the previous year and explain why the changes were recommended. During the in-person presentation, which accompanied the written presentation, the board was able to ask questions to assure that they understood the vision and plan of the ministry head. They were also able to adjust the vision and plan if it strayed from the purpose and mission of the church.
Once the vision and plan was agreed upon by all the ministry directors, the financial side was addressed. Each ministry director gave a forecast of total ministry costs for next year based on the vision and plan. Once the board finalized the annual budget, the directors were asked to spread the annual numbers out over the twelve months of the year, based on their plan. ABC ended up with a vision, plan, and budget that agreed.
You probably realize as we do that not all churches plan that way. In fact, very few of the churches we have visited follow the method of ABC, except those that are required to follow denominational guidelines. The following chart places churches into groups based on our estimate of the relative size of each group.
Sadly, we believe groups A and B comprise most of the churches that are in decline or on a plateau.
Remember the discussion on vision in chapter 12? We read about God giving Joshua and Israel the vision of taking Jericho and what an inspiring vision it was. By now, you may have been thinking about what kind of Jericho vision God might have for you or your church or both. Jericho was an enormous vision. However, please remember that God also gave Joshua a detailed plan to defeat Jericho. The principles we can pick up from this plan could shake our churches to the core.
God gave Joshua and Israel specific directions to defeat Jericho in two categories. First, he gave them measurable tasks to complete. These tasks included when they were to start doing the task and when they had completed the task. Some of those tasks God gave them in advance and other tasks he gave them at the time they were to perform them. Second, he directed them on how to deal with the emotions of the leaders and people.
Soon after Moses died, God began revealing his plan for Israel to move toward his mission for them, to inherit the land he had promised to them. As we pointed out in chapter 12, God directed Israel toward his first vision for them—to defeat Jericho. Little did Israel know how much God would be teaching them as he launched his plan to defeat Jericho.
What God did first was to tell Joshua to let Israel know the time had finally come to enter the Promised Land. They were to get ready by organizing all the material they would need for whatever might arise in their taking of the land. It took material to shelter, feed, and care for all the people of Israel. It may be surprising that God would address material as his first concern, but that is exactly what God did (see Josh. 1:2–11).
In our own church, it takes money, supplies, facilities, equipment, people, and time to perform what God has called us to perform while caring for his people’s needs. It may not be a very inspiring subject to address, but it is important to God.
As Israel traveled north on the east side of the Dead Sea and then to the Jordan River, they defeated the kings. As a result, Moses gave the land to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Now that Joshua was in charge, he had a potential problem. There were forty thousand warriors in those two and a half tribes that were needed for the greater and longer-term conflict.
Therefore, the next step in God’s resource plan was to assure that those warriors went with the remaining tribes as added military strength. It is significant to note that it was not just people God wanted from those two and a half tribes. God wanted the right people—the warriors (see v. 12).
It is interesting how God’s next step was about the right people; not just people but the right people, the warriors. We may not have enough of the right people in our church to carry out the vision and plan we believe God has for us. We should not despair. We may need to get serious about developing people to be the right people as an added step in God’s plan for us.
Principle 1: It takes organized resources, both materials and people, to carry out God’s vision and plan for our church.
Once Israel had organized the material and ensured that they had the right people to carry out God’s vision and plan, Joshua put his focus on learning what Israel would face when they got to the other side of the Jordan. Joshua, an experienced surveyor of enemy territory, knew how to find out; he sent spies to evaluate and report to him about Jericho and the surrounding area.
Notice that Joshua did not send twelve spies. Maybe he learned from forty years ago that many spies do not guarantee accurate information. Joshua sent only two spies. We can imagine what information he needed. He would have wanted to know about evidence of strength, potential war material, defenses, and the heart of the enemy. The heart of the enemy was exactly what he heard about from the spies. The people were afraid of Israel (see Josh. 2).
Once Joshua and the other leaders understood the obstacles that were ahead of them, they took the first step forward by traveling to the first obstacle, the Jordan River.
The Jordan River would seem to be an insurmountable obstacle. It would be one task to get warriors across, but an entirely different difficulty to get women and children across. Yet here they were, facing this overwhelming obstacle.
While we have seen churches doing their own vision and expecting God to come through for them as if he were committed to them, ignoring his own vision for them, we have also seen churches facing all kinds of insurmountable obstacles and have seen those obstacles topple. It has happened in my wife’s life and my own.
Many years ago, I (Allen), my wife, Mary, and five other couples were convinced that God wanted us to start a Christian school in our community. We had a church that was willing to be the sponsoring church, but to start that fall we had to have at least twenty students, teachers, and an approved and acceptable building by July 15—and the church could provide nothing but their name. It was already May—so we prayed for a miracle. We decided that first God wanted us to take the step of courage and make a significant sacrifice for God. We all put all our savings into the project and prayed.
Within two weeks, we had received information about a couple in another town, both teachers, who were looking for positions in a Christian school. They were perfect, so we hired them. The following week we received a call from the superintendent of the public schools in our community who had heard from another source about our need. He offered us one wing of a closed school for just the cost of maintaining the building. He believed the public schools needed competition to keep them sharp. On July 14, we enrolled our twentieth student. When we opened two months later, we had thirty-five students and the experience of witnessing a miracle not unlike Israel crossing the Jordan. As a side note, that school has been ministering to children now for over thirty years.
Principle 2: Facing an obstacle with God at our side opens the door to creativity and miracles.
Israel was camped beside the Jordan River, preparing to cross. God was about to show Israel a mighty display of his creative miracles. Notice, there were specific and detailed directions about how they were to cross (see Josh. 3:2–4).
It is easy to take shortcuts or ignore the concerns of God’s people when leadership gets into the fray of day-to-day struggles. For Joshua, the immediate goal was to get all the people across the Jordan without losing or hurting one of them, yet do it God’s way. It is the same for us as leaders. Our goal is to get through the obstacles without losing or hurting one person and to do it God’s way. Who said being a leader is easy?
The last step Joshua took before taking Israel across the Jordan was to command people to examine themselves carefully for anything unclean, anything that they were attached to that stood between them and their love relationship with God. Was there anything they had affection for that was greater than their affection for God? This was the source of problems for Israel in the past and would continue through the time of Christ (see v. 5).
Principle 3: God does amazing things for those who lay aside everything displeasing to him; whose affections and obedience center on him.
This is still a problem for Christians today. With all the temptations for things, prestige, success, reputation, approval, power, or any number of other idols, believers fall into the trap of developing great affection for the world. It is not that we do not have affection for Christ. Rather, in our affection for all the stuff and all the competing activities for our time, we tend to do those actions that bring us what we have the most affection for. Unfortunately, all too often it is not Christ. This goes for church leaders as well.
It finally happened. Israel crossed over into the Promised Land. We can only imagine what it would have been like to witness such a large mass of people moving as one across the same place where not long before floodwaters were rushing by.
To provide Israel with a reminder of what God did the day he brought them across, Joshua erected stones into a memorial (see Josh. 4). Joshua must have known how Israel tended to forget God’s past mighty deeds.
Leaders, how many times in our churches have we witnessed God doing something significant, and have essentially forgotten it a year later? Perhaps there are some creative ways we can keep a memorial— a symbol that can remind our congregations of what God is doing.
Principle 4: Memories of God’s miracles grows dim with time. Memorials can help keep the memory in front of us.
Now on the west side of the Jordan, God told Joshua to do something that was risky militarily. Joshua had the people set up camp right on the eastern border of the Jericho area. Then he circumcised the men within striking distance from Jericho. During the time of the healing, the entire nation was vulnerable to an attack by Jericho or anyone else (see Josh. 5:2–8). Why would God have them circumcised at this vulnerable place? Why would God not have had them do this surgery on the east side of the Jordan? Or why would God not have at least had them do the surgery in stages, a small percentage of the men at a time and therefore provide for the protection of Israel? All I can infer is that God wanted the nation to see his hand of protection while they were most vulnerable and while they were being obedient.
Many churches make foolish decisions, stating that what they were doing was in obedience to God, when it was not. Churches build new, excessive buildings with enormous debt out of what they call “obedience,” when instead, it was out of their affection for respect or recognition in the community. People set out into full-time Christian work, without any source of support, declaring that they are stepping out in obedience, when their real motivation is to leave another unpleasant situation.
On the other hand, I have known men and women who genuinely step out in faith for God and have seen God provide in wonderful ways. I know missionaries who have selflessly stepped into impossible situations and been fully protected and provided for.
It can be difficult to discern between foolishness and obedience. We keep going back to the fundamentals: Scripture, prayer, godly counsel, looking for idols in our hearts, and examining our motivations. As Paul warns us, many times the flesh (our affection for power, respect, approval, recognition, or safety) can be what is motivating us. Paul warns us always to be on guard.
Principle 5: Obedience to God is the best choice even if it appears foolish. Our Lord is the God of impossibilities and kept promises.
The specific steps in the strategy that God had Israel take to defeat Jericho was incomprehensible. Think about it—march around the city a bunch of times, blow some horns, yell loudly, and the walls will come down. No way will it happen. It had never been done before. It flew in the face of military strategy. It was contrary to common sense. It defied the laws of natural science (see Josh. 6:3–5). Yet it happened!
Principle 6: Anything God intends to do, he will do, including keeping his promises.
In this book, we will not be going into all the details of quality budgeting. We will attempt to bring some sense of direction in order to make the connection with the overall plan.
The budget has four parts; the first three are estimates and the fourth is a report:
The Budget Has Five Goals:
Many churches fail to understand the importance of a comprehensive financial management plan, including financial statements (balance sheet, income statement, and reconciliation of cash report) and a forecasted budget.
For most churches, which do not have a comprehensive financial management plan, it will take years to get there. However, if you are one of those and you desire to have a quality plan, you can do it.
There is inexpensive software, there are books and seminars on church accounting and reporting, and there are advisors who can coach you. The first decision is to move in that direction. We have seen it done by people who had very little knowledge or experience in this field. Please, do not let fear hold you back. Take it one step at a time, and you will get there.
After all this discussion about planning and budgeting, we must be careful never to let the plan become sovereign. Only God is sovereign. Therefore, do planning with a pencil. In other words, we must be ready to change direction as God directs us.
Even a seemingly secular subject like planning, as with all things, revolves around Christ. We must keep planning centered on God’s purpose and mission as well as his vision for our church. Planning is important; but never forget that God loves people, not planning.
In the next chapter, we will be looking at organizing our team.