Going into the new year is like going into a battle. In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu says, “Every battle is won before it is fought.” His point is the preparations and planning that take place beforehand contribute the most to the outcome. Victory is won off the field before a single sword is drawn. The same is true of the new year.
Much of what will make the next year your best year depends on the preparations you make now. Before a single firework is launched, complete the checklist below:
✓ Revisit your mission and values statement
If you do not have a mission and values statement, your assignment is to write one. The vision is why your organization exists; the values are how you fulfill that vision.
For the rest of you, the goal is to revisit, not revise. This is a moment to renew your commitment. Remember what you’re about. This may seem trite (obviously, you know what you’re about), but the benefits may surprise you.
Find someplace quiet to sit down with your statement. Read through it twice. The first time, go micro: Ask yourself if you, personally, are following this mission and living up to these values. Go through each one. Take your time. Identify where you have succeeded in each area and where you have failed. When you read it the second time, go macro: Ask the same questions of your church as a whole. Where are you as an organization failing and succeeding in your statement? What needs to change to renew your vision?
✓ Write down the top three successes of the current year
This is not just for reminiscing. Identify the top three success the current year, in your opinion. It could be a financial goal that was met, a new program launched, a debt that was paid, a successful sermon series, etc. Cement the milestones of your church’s recent history in your mind. How do these relate to your mission and values statement?
✓ Write down one crazy change to make in the new year
You heard right: one CRAZY change. Not a plausible change, not a reasonable change, not a realistic change. Write down one impossible change to make in the year to come as though you had to change something and resources were unlimited. Imagine that all you had to do was want it in order to get it. Now, I’m not asking you to be fantastical (e.g., “I would incorporate cloned velociraptors in the music ministry,” etc.). I’m asking you to articulate what you want when nothing else is a consideration. Go wild, but keep your answer confined to the present material realm.
✓ Meet your budget
If you don’t have a budget, the New Year is the time to start one. Clarification: A “pretty good idea” of how much money you have and how much you can use is not a budget. Budgeting is the cold hard math of financial stewardship. Put numbers on every gateway where your money is going out and coming in.
84 percent of churches are either below budget or just breaking even. The best way to break even, according to Michael Mullikin, executive pastor at NewSpring, is to hold your budget in one hand and your mission statement in the other. “I could go to any church,” says Mullikin, “and if I open up their books and I look at what they spent money on, I could tell them: This is what you find valuable. This is what you find important.” If a church puts its money where its mouth is, it will open up the giving spirit in its membership. Most likely, they will meet budget.
✓ Tidy up programs and ministries
It’s always exciting to launch a new program or ministry, but over time these tend to pile up. Too many programs can choke church management or drift her from her mission. Programs can also feel important and personal even after they’ve stopped being effective. Lawrence Fudge, executive pastor at Mosaic Alliance, says, “You always have to evaluate those programs and ministries to say, what is the actual effect? Size does not always equal effectiveness. It could mean it was effective, but it no longer is.”
“Effectiveness,” clarifies Scott Thornton, pastor of Life Church, “for [the church] is equipping the saints for the work of the ministry and seeing lost people saved.”
Shrinking, reorganizing, or elimination programs can be painful, if necessary. It’s tantamount to restructuring how a church is managed. Many of the fastest-growing churches in the U.S. are taking a minimalist approach to ministries and programs. NewSpring restructured 70 percent of her staff in an attempt to become people-focused after years of being programs-focused: “We woke up with this commitment: Simplify to strengthen, and to put people over programs,” says Mullikin.
A new year is a new beginning. Take a fresh look at the ministries and programs in your church. Ask yourself the following:
- Are you excited about the program or ministry?
- Does the ministry equip people or just manage people?
- Can you reasonably argue that the ministry or program advances the church’s stated mission?
- Is the ministry or program taking more than it gives?
- Do you have numerous ministries or programs serving the same or similar goals? Can you combine them into one?
- Not all ministries are equally important. Can you identify which ministries are “core to the mission,” and which might be diluting the effectiveness of those ministries?
✓ Write realistic goals for the new year
Name two or three things you want to improve on. Set goals. Do you want to increase your membership numbers? By how many? Be as specific as you can, then develop a battle plan with your team.
Blue Van Dyke, executive pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, believes a balance score card is the best goal-setting methodology for “any organization, whether corporate or ministry.” Goals need to be set in four key areas:
- Financial Stewardship: What are your financial goals?
- Operational Efficiency: What do you do that you can do better (not necessarily cheaper)?
- Member Engagement: How can you give members a quality experience?
- Staff Development: Do you have the right people on the right task?
Any organizational goal is reducible to one of these four buckets. Meet with your staff and leaders and examine what needs to change in each. Set two or three dates throughout the new year to revisit these goals with your staff.
✓ Write a strong end-of-year giving letter
The holiday season is a culturally significant time of charity and giving. People make generosity as much a part of the festivities as honey-smoked ham. This is a good time to reach out to people who intend to give but, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten around to it. Our free ebook, “End-of-Year Giving Success Kit: Ready-to-Use Tools to Maximize the Last 100 Days of Giving,” provides a quick, painless template for writing an end-of-year giving letter to your congregation.
Start the year with the right foot forward.