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How Strategic Planning Can Revitalize Church MembershipBook Review

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¶ … Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs

In an era of declining or stagnated church membership, identifying opportunities to revitalize churches represents a timely and valuable enterprise. To this end, this paper provides a summary, critique and application of Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (1999) by Aubrey Malphurs. A summary of the contents of the book is followed by a critique of the contents and messages as well as an overall evaluation concerning the work. Finally, this paper provides an application of Malphur's work to this writer's own assumed future situation.

When companies are faced with unexpected changes in the marketplace, they are forced to pivot in new directions in order to survive. In this book, Malphurs makes the point that unless churches pivot as well with effective leadership, church membership will continue to stagnate and decline in the future. Pivoting though, is far easier when churches are still active with sustained membership. Churches that are in a declining phase are faced with far more daunting challenges if they are to survive. In these cases, the strategic planning process can actually revitalize church leaders to help them grow membership in their churches once again. In this regard, Maphurs emphasizes that, "The strategic planning process has a way of breathing hope into many who have lost their hope due to the struggles of ministry."[footnoteRef:1] In too many cases, though, church leaders do not have a strategic vision for their church to help guide them from where they are to where they want to be, or they do not know where they want to be in 5 or 10 years in the first place. The importance of effective leadership in the strategic planning process is made clear from the outset by Malphurs who writes: "The key to strategic planning is competent strategic leadership."[footnoteRef:2] [1: A. Malphurs, 1999. Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker., p. 18.] [2: Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 17.]

In the first part of the book, Malphurs explains the relevance and importance of strategic planning in general and for church leaders in particular. Likewise, the comprehensive, step-by-step guidance that is provided by Malphurs in the second part of this book enables even newcomers to the strategic planning process to systematically evaluate their current situation and develop unique plans and missions that are specifically tailored to their localized, individual requirements based on the church's core values. Moreover, Malphurs stresses the importance of the strategic planning process as a way to help churches by aligning churches' mission, values, vision with their funding needs.

An especially useful contribution of the second part of the book is its emphasis on implementing the strategic plan and then continually evaluating it for effectiveness. Another important point made by Malphurs is the need to recognize individual limitations in the strategic planning process and to be aware of the need to recruit assistance from skilled practitioners when necessary. In this regard, Malphurs emphasizes that, "Some churches have pursued strategic planning with the help of godly Christians who have been trained and consulted mostly in the corporate world."[footnoteRef:3] The use of consultants in the strategic planning process can produce a number of valuable outcomes, including the following: [3: Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 32.]

1. They guide the church through the process;

1. They provide the best and often the only opportunity for success;

1. They provide necessary objectivity;

1. They serve as a confidential sounding board for frustrated staff and congregants;

1. They bring credibility to the process; and,

1. They bring a solid grounding in Bible and theology to the process.[footnoteRef:4] [4: Maphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 47.]

The point is also made that there may be concerns over the anticipated costs of the strategic planning process. For instance, Malphurs notes that, "Another concern for most ministries as they consider strategic planning is cost. Can we afford to do strategic planning?"[footnoteRef:5] In response, Malphurs makes it clear that church leaders will likely experience greater costs, including the stagnation and decline of their membership, if they do nothing at all. Likewise, it is important to gain support from all stakeholders throughout the strategic planning, implementation and administration stages. According to Malphurs, "Regardless of the number of staff, it is important that they be on board the strategic planning boat when it sets sail, as they are the ones who will be heavily involved."[footnoteRef:6] [5: Maphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 39.] [6: Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 57.]

Creating a strategic planning team comprised of church leaders and others with specialized expertise in the strategic planning process is also a useful approach. For example, Malphurs reports that, "The team's involvement sends a message to the congregation that strategic planning is not just the pastor's idea or work but that of the leadership as well."[footnoteRef:7] In addition, Malphurs stresses the need to communicate the strategic planning process to the entire congregation preparatory to implementing a plan. There are a number of different ways that church leaders can accomplish this step. For instance, Malphurs reports that, "Every sermon, Sunday school lesson, ad, bulletin board, newsletter, testimony, skit and meeting is an opportunity to get the message across -- to present the cause and thus win people's trust."[footnoteRef:8] In addition, it is also vitally important to ensure that some type of grievance process is available that allows parishioners to voice their concerns. [7: Maphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 56.] [8: Maphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 64]

Finally, Malphurs provides a series of appendixes that contain a readiness for change inventory, an audit for church leaders to evaluate their leader-manager status, and other audit instruments to help assess church values and vision to identify appropriate directions for future change. In addition, the authors provides some sample evaluations to help church leaders better understand the auditing process.

Critique

One the one hand, the use of a series of personal audits, worksheets, discussion questions, graphics, inventories (i.e., "readiness to change inventory") and Likert-scaled evaluations was highly useful for readers unfamiliar with the strategic planning process and helped reinforce learning and integrate the material into everyday practice. The organization of the book into different parts was also useful since the preparatory guidance for the strategic planning was separated from the actual strategic planning process.

The use of empirical observations and personal experiences from the field were also highly effective ways to convey the author's main points concerning the need for honest and timely assessments of the current status of a church and what it needs to shake off its doldrums and become an active and thriving ministry. In this regard, Malphurs emphasizes that, "Spiritual vitality is infectious. From the pastor and the leadership team it quickly spreads to the congregation. They watch their leaders and follow their example."[footnoteRef:9] [9: Maphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 91.]

Moreover, Malphurs provides a great deal of pragmatic guidance concerning the challenges and obstacles that are routinely encountered when church leaders attempt to effect changes in longstanding policies and directions and provides audit instruments for this purpose. For instance, Malphurs reports that, "The majority of the audits in the Church Ministry Analysis address in some way a church's readiness for change. For example, the obstacles audit asks if a church is flexible or inflexible and whether or not it is a learning organization."[footnoteRef:10] In fact, the author even includes a General Ministry Troubleshooting Guide that can help church leaders pinpoint the most salient obstacles and constraints to change that might not otherwise be discernible. [10: Maphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 68.]

On the other hand, the "chatty" style of the narrative used by Malphurs can be tiresome after just a few pages, and some of the content is repetitive, redundant and overly simplistic (i.e., "Strategic planning involves both thinking and acting"[footnoteRef:11]). Likewise, even some of the seemingly useful materials that Malphurs provide for evaluation and assessment may be superfluous unless church leaders are just absolutely clueless concerning the status of their church and its core values and mission. [11: Maphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, p. 30.]

Application

At present, in response to the plateau of membership in our church, we are working on a strategic plan to double our church attendance within 3 years by surveying the community and knocking on house doors inviting families to come to church. This process can be facilitated by applying the internal analytical steps provided by Maphurs as follows:

1. Perform an organizational lifecycle audit;

1. Conduct a performance audit to determine the current status of church membership directions; Conduct a congregational audit to evaluate the ministry's respective strengths and weaknesses; Perform a direct audit to determine if the church has a vision and mission and if so, whether the congregation is aware of them;

1. Conduct a strategy audit to identify potential new members and how to reach them;

1. Conduct an outreach audit to evaluate the effectiveness of the church's… [END OF PREVIEW]

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