Drafting a set of goals is difficult. You want next year to be the best one possible, and that means you need to approach it with some intention and planning.
Putting together a comprehensive strategy is a daunting task—especially if you’re not the only one involved. You need a plan that your whole leadership team can get behind. That means you need to get together with your leaders to plan for next year.
We’ve put together the master guide to making your church game plan for next year. We recommend you use this as the basis for your next strategic leadership meeting. The guide covers what topics to address and what order to address them.
When you have finished working through this guide, you’ll be able to create a plan for next year that…
- Reflects your church’s values
- Defines exactly what success looks like
- Equips everyone to make better short-term decisions
- Gets your entire church on the same page
- Helps create a culture that embraces strategic planning
- Sets you up for even greater planning next year
Making a Plan May Not Be Urgent, but It Is Important
Making and sticking to a plan isn’t easy. If it was, every church would do it.
There are many reasons why churches struggle to get into the planning groove: Some pastors and leadership teams don’t know how or aren’t particularly gifted in that area. Some have given up on planning after struggling to build consensus. And some feel so completely overwhelmed by ministry’s constant urgencies that planning is neglected.
What’s sad is that planning for the coming year might be the most fruitful thing you can do.
It helps you establish your priorities and goals and puts you on track to achieve them. A good plan also shows you which tasks are critical and which are simply distractions.
Include Your Leadership Team
You can’t formulate a plan in a vacuum. The entire church needs to feel a sense of ownership and investment. Of course, it’s crazy to think that you can create a plan with the help of the entire church, but by pulling the leadership into the planning process, you’re creating a broad base that your church can rally behind.
Discover other things you need to know to help your church feel ownership over your church’s mission and vision for the new year. Discover how today by dowloading the free ebook, Start Strong: Must Have Goals For Your Best Year Yet.”
How to Use This Format
We encourage you to pull in 8–12 people for your annual planning session. Ideally, this will be done as a retreat. There’s a good reason for this. As you move from one session of this guide to another, you’re creating momentum and building on your last discussion. When you have a couple days of undisturbed focus, you’ll be amazed at how easily the ideas and plans will flow—and how much everyone enjoys the process.
It can be difficult to recreate that feeling of camaraderie and propulsion if you allow a week to pass between sessions.
We’ll be approaching this guide as if you’ve set aside a weekend retreat to work through it in three 2–4 hour sessions, but you can break them into nightly or weekly sessions as well. Make sure that you have a scribe who takes good notes.
Session 1: Assess Last Year’s Performance
It’s important to spend some time together taking a good, honest look at last year’s performance. What went well? What needs to go better this year?
This is a terrific way to start off your discussion on a high note. Focus on celebrating successes. When you do this, it helps your team feel more open to sharing ideas—which is important later on.
Be careful when discussing ways you want to improve next year. You can expect that someone in the room will feel a sense of ownership over something that didn’t go so well last year; naturally, they might feel defensive when it comes up. Focus on the high points and monitor the tone in the room.
To ensure honesty and openness, create an anonymous survey before the retreat begins. If you do it beforehand, your team will have enough time to really think through the answers and enrich your discussion. Otherwise, do the survey during the first session.
Some of the questions the survey can include are…
- What were last year’s high points?
- What are your thoughts about *insert specific event from last year*?
- What opportunities for the church were missed?
- Which metrics should be monitored more closely?
- What are your thoughts about the church’s performance against *insert a specific metric*?
- What should be our goals for next year? Name your top two.
- Are we in line with the church’s vision/mission? How?
This can give you a lot of fodder for beginning your discussion about last year.
What Were Last Year’s High Points?
Start off on a positive note. What went really well last year? What elements made it successful? What did you learn from it? What would you change if you were to do it again? Is there a way to apply what you’ve learned to other ministries or outreaches?
What Opportunities for the Church Were Missed?
Think about stuff that happened in your community last year. Was there anything that you wish you could have taken part in? Were there any opportunities to minister or assist the community that you missed out on? What would it take for your church to be prepared the next time an opportunity like that arises?
Which Metrics Should Be Monitored More Closely?
You’ll want to look at some metrics from last year, but, depending on the size of your church, focusing on numbers might not be helpful—or indicative of real health. Churches that are growing aren’t always healthy, and a healthy church isn’t necessarily growing.
Real growth applies to these areas:
- What percentage of attendees are members?
- What percentage of attendees are involved in a small group?
- What percentage of attendees give faithfully?
- What percentage of attendees show up at outreach events?
- What percentage of attendees are involved in some form of Bible study?
- What percentage of members attend regularly?
These are the kinds of metrics it might be better to focus on when it comes to church health. If this is the first time you’ve done this kind of planning, you might not have any specific information for these questions. It’s fine to discuss the group’s impression about these numbers and how they think the church is doing. It will help you when you get to the planning stage.
Are We in Line with Our Vision and Mission?
I’m going to assume that you have a vision and/or mission statement that clearly communicates your focus and goals. If you don’t have one, schedule a separate retreat to hammer that out. Your mission is a plumb line to help you easily identify your goals.
It’s easy to enthusiastically attach yourself to events without giving any real thought to whether they align with your highest goals. Mapping out that vision first can really help you focus your activities on your ideals.
If you have those documents ready, it’s important to spend some time looking at your church’s activities through these lenses.
What Are Your Goals for Next Year?
Create a list of things you believe healthy Christians do. Do you offer ways for people in your church to take part in these behaviors/disciplines, or at least teach them how to do them on their own?
Once you’ve created that list, ask yourself this question: What percentage of congregants in a healthy church take part in each item, and how could we measure them?
For instance, let’s say that you believe that healthy believers are in small groups. If you’re a healthy church, what percentage of attendees will attend small groups? What kind of method could you use to actually measure how you’re doing in this area?
Session 2: Set Goals
Now it’s time to turn those discussions into New Year goals. Here are some questions that need to be asked with every goal:
- Is the goal clear and specific?
- How will we measure our success?
- Is this goal realistic and attainable?
- What needs to be done to succeed?
- Who will be responsible for its success?
- What steps are required to complete this goal?
- When does it need to be done?
Obviously, growth is a priority for next year, but turn it into a specific goal. Spend some time thinking about how you’re going to measure it. Is the goal about numbers or percentages? Are you counting adults, individuals, or families?
Once you set an actual goal for the year, iron out how to make it a reality. What steps can you take to bring people in this year? Who will be responsible for putting together the strategy and a team?
Pro-tip: We’ve created a fantastic resource for you to use to meet your attendance goals. The free ebook, 5 Principles of Fast Church Growth, outlines five strategies used by some of America’s fastest-growing churches. Download it today and get a head start in mapping out some growth strategies.
There’s a big difference between people who attend your church and people who have committed themselves to its care and health. For many churches, membership is a way that attendees can align themselves with the church’s theology, mission, and vision.
And even if your church doesn’t have formal “members,” you still need a way to identify how many attendees are participating in the church’s mission. After all, there’s a difference between someone who visits your church and someone who has expressed their commitment to your church.
What percentage of your attendees would you like to see become members?
Having a church full of faithful givers is significant. Generous giving is an important sign of Christian maturity. On average 33–50 percent of church attendees never give—even those that claim to be deeply invested in their church.
To set some goals around giving, you’ll need a working understanding of what percentage of your church gives regularly. Once you have some clarity, your team should decide what an attainable goal looks like for the coming year.
Pro-tip: When it comes to giving, this needs to be a metric that the pastor drives. If you’re looking for some insights to get you started, check out our free ebook, Teaching Your Church to Give. It has all the vital information you need to spur generosity, even from the most closed-fisted attendees.
Note: Many churches have invested in mobile giving solutions but the church hasn’t really adopted them. Maybe your goal can be to increase the buy-in from your congregation in using these tools or to encourage a percentage of them to sign up for recurring giving.
The more people you can get involved with giving digitally, the more your giving will go up. The nice thing about setting mobile adoption as a goal is that in order to achieve that goal, all you need to do is get Pushpay on your side. They’re all about helping increase church adoption and they even set you up with your own contact that can help you get your church on board.
Go over last year’s budget and decide together how much you dare to budget for an increase. This is closely tied to your giving goals and the two can be presented together in order to inspire your church.
(If you don’t have a church budget yet, it’s time to create one.)
Do you have some volunteers that are ready to move into a staff position? Would an employee in the right position make a big difference for the church? Maybe it’s time to set some employment goals.
Can you set a goal to hire a full or part-time employee before the end of next year? What would you need to do to make that plan a reality?
2 Key Seasons to Keep in Mind
1. The Summer Slump
Does your church suffer from “the summer slump”? Do you find that the nicest months of the year lead to a huge dip in giving and attendance?
If so, do you have any actual numbers that shed light on how your church trends in that area? If you tend to take a 30 percent dip in attendance and a 20 percent dip in giving, it might be good to set a goal to shave 20 percent off those numbers.
Just realize that offsetting those numbers will take a lot of planning and year-round effort. You’ll want to put someone in charge of it who has really strong project management skills.
For more information on how to mitigate the slump, check out the post: Summer Slump Lessons: How to Thrive All Year Long. It provides some insight to get you started. You can also download a free copy of the ebook 10 Tips to Sustain Giving During the Summer Slump. It will give you a leg up on planning to meet your summer goals.
2. Year-End Giving
For nonprofit organizations like churches and charities, the last quarter of the year is called the “giving season” for a reason. A 2012 GuideStar Survey discovered that 50.5 percent of the organizations surveyed received most of their contributions between October and December.
As you prepare your giving goals, pay particular attention to this time of the year. There are ways that you can increase your giving during this pivotal season. The last quarter of the year has the potential to get your budget back in the black and set you up for a financial win—which translates into future ministry wins.
We have some tips for writing end-of-year giving letters to send out as a way to encourage greater generosity. You can also grab our free End-of-Year Giving Success Kit, which can give you everything you need to inspire giving at this crucial time.
Session 3: Set Event Goals
Now that you’ve set some measurable goals, it’s time to think through some of the high points of the coming year. This is going to include special services, holiday services, sermon series, and other events that are unique to you.
In this section, there will be some goal setting. For the most part, you’re going to be brainstorming ideas that you can use throughout the coming year instead of waiting until the last minute to throw services and ideas together.
What kinds of series would be meaningful for your church to walk through together? Are there biblical books you should tackle? Topics? Social issues? What is on people’s minds in your community?
Once you create an outline of potential series ideas, brainstorm some other ways those series can be reinforced. Could there be Bible study curriculum for them? Outreach projects? Children’s curriculum?
Good Friday and Easter
Do you have a Holy Week tradition? What about a Good Friday service? If not, is that something you could consider? What about an Ash Wednesday service? Many evangelical churches find a lot of value by taking advantage of the church calendar.
Knowing that Easter is going to be a well-attended service, how can you take advantage of this opportunity? Start by talking about what has worked in your typical Easter service. Go through the music, the message, and the tone of the service, then discuss things that people have found meaningful in other Easter services.
Next, spend some time talking about your average Easter turnout. If you have actual numbers to use, that’s great. If not, make sure that you get them for next time. Try setting a goal for the number of visitors you’d like to see in this service, and how you intend to get them there.
Lastly, talk through your plan to capture their contact information, and how you intend to follow up with them.
Christmas Eve and Christmas
What does a typical Christmas Eve service look like for you? See what kinds of ideas your team can come up with to create the most powerful service they can. This is often a pretty well-attended event, so how should you plan on getting their information and contacting them again?
While there’s an occasional Christmas Sunday, Christmas at church is usually more about a season than any particular day. So you want to make sure that the whole Christmas season is firing on all cylinders.
Start by asking your team these questions:
- What have we done in the past that has been especially meaningful during the holidays?
- What are some ideas for sermon series that will really help set the tone for this season?
- What are some charities or ministries that we can champion at this time, and how can we set goals around our support?
- What can we do to make the entire Christmas season an event that no one would want to miss out on
Your Mother’s Day service is another one that requires serious attention. It’s typically the third most attended service of the year, and some thought needs to be given to how the service is put together.
If you think about it, it’s one of those services that many people attend out of respect for their loved ones. As much thought needs to go into how to capture their attention and begin to build or rebuild a relationship with them as you put into the service itself.
You’ll want to discuss:
- Does the service need to revolve around motherhood or should there just be a short focus on mothers?
- How can we communicate our focus to people who are attending for the holiday?
- How can we capture their contact information?
Every church has events that are unique to them. Maybe you have a Valentine’s Day banquet, summer barbecue, or an annual food drive. Have the team make a list of all your special church events.
Talk about how well they’re attended. Maybe it’s time to actually discuss putting an end to some of the low-traffic events. If you still believe in them, discuss how you can make them more meaningful and market them better. Would partnering with other churches make sense? That could be something to consider as well.
Keeping Track of the Details
The first time you put together a planning retreat like this, it will be a little difficult. Churches aren’t often too studious about keeping track of all the measurables, so it can be hard to create goals without enough clarity.
As you move forward, make sure you have a plan to keep track of:
- Attendance at events
- Contact cards filled out by visitors
- Money raised for special requests
Generally, if you can measure it, do so. It’s important that you have as much information as possible so that you can decide which goals are meaningful, how to set them, and how to achieve them!
Start your year off right. Discover how forward-thinking churches are setting up their new year for success. Download the free ebook, Start Strong: Must Have Goals For Your Best Year Yet, today!