What do you think is the way that God intends for the church to make disciples?
Can you state it clearly in a sentence?
What is the goal of your church and what are you doing to reach that goal?
When you answer these questions, you are revealing strategy.
If you are going to lead people from one place to another, by definition, you have a strategy. You must know where you are starting from and know where you are going and how you are going to move from one place to the other. Even if your plan is to just flow with the Spirit, you still have a strategy, albeit a very fluid one.
A strategy is a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.
In ministry, our mission is to make disciples and teach them to become mature followers of Christ who then make more disciples. All of our ideas about what we could do should point towards this ultimate goal.
I love talking strategy. Buckle up. This is my longest post to date.
Strategy or tactics?
Many people are confused about strategy and cannot distinguish it from philosophical concepts about change or tactics to help people grow. Think of strategy as above the neck thinking and tactics as below the neck doing. Strategy obviously should come first, though surprisingly that is not always the case. Tactics are then the things we do to accomplish our strategy. Our strategy is the big ideas we have about who God wants us to be and how He wants us to do what we do. Tactics are the actions we are going to take to help us accomplish those ideas.
Anytime we are talking about implementing a change, or trying to decide on a new course of action, we are talking about strategy first. This is an exercise in strategy.
The Pareto Principle
I believe in the Pareto Principle. Also known as the 80/20 principle, the Pareto Principle is that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes [or 80% of the results come from 20% of the actions].
This explains concept well from the Wikipedia article:
The [80/20] distribution is claimed to appear in several different aspects relevant to entrepreneurs and business managers. For example:
- 80% of problems can be attributed to 20% of causes.
- 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
- 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
- 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of the time its staff spent
- 80% of a company’s revenue comes from 20% of its products
- 80% of a company’s sales are made by 20% of its sales staff
Therefore, many businesses have an easy access to dramatic improvements in profitability by focusing on the most effective areas and eliminating, ignoring, automating, delegating or retraining the rest, as appropriate.
This 80/20 principle holds true in economics, warfare, software development, sports, and health and safety, and other measurable areas, too.
As we look at this exercise in strategy, our goal will be to apply the Pareto Principle to help us focus our efforts. But one word of caution may be in order. Our goal in ministry is not efficiency that bring maximum yield; after all, our model shepherd leaves the 99 to find the 1. I warned about that purely scientific approach that has a dehumanizing effect in Part 1 of this series. The point here is to focus and bring clarity about who we are and who God has called us to be (the evidence for both of which is right in front of us. That’s my conviction). We want to know what that 20% is that is bringing 80% of the return. We still would have 80% of our efforts to go after the 1 (so to speak). But I don’t want to overstate that. The goal in revealing these strengths is to put more than 20% of our effort into them. That’s the point.
FIND • LIKE • TRUST • BUILD*
The goal of the exercise is to come up with 10 data points in each of these 4 categories that are specific to our church. Once we have 10 ways in each category, we will use the Pareto Principle to narrow it down to the 2 most effective. These discoveries will then feed directly into our strategy and help us create targeted tactics. The intention is to base our decisions on data and not just opinions.
When we are done with this exercise, we will have uncovered our current strategy, such as it is. This is what we have been doing that has given us our current results.
How do people know we exist? How do people FIND us? What are we intentionally doing to reach out of our four walls into the community? This is not just the person down the street who drives past our sign, this FIND is a first time visitor. People in the FIND category are just checking us out.
Data points could include:
- Word of mouth
- Location/road sign
- Newspaper ad
- Social media campaign
- Special event (like VBS or a holiday service)
- Community outreach
- An after school program
- Opening our building for community use (like voting)
- Our bathrooms
The biggest question may be this: do we really know how people FIND us or are we just guessing? The first tactic we may need is to collect accurate data.
Once people FIND us, and visit, the next category is what do they LIKE about us that would make them come back for another visit? What are we intentionally doing to insure a guest has a great experience? This may very well be things that we do quite naturally. In fact, they probably are the kinds of things we do because we like them. That’s more than OK.
Data points could include:
- They encountered God and were radically changed!
- Engaging and age appropriate Kid’s and Student ministries
- Friendliness of the greeting team
- The sermon
- The worship
- Safe and clean facilities
- A reception area just for guests
- A coffee bar or bookstore
- Our denomination affiliation
- A specific ministry we offer (like women’s ministry or DivorceCare)
The biggest question may be this: do we really know what people like about us that makes them return or are we just guessing? The first tactic we may need is to collect accurate data.
After people LIKE us, how do we know when they TRUST us? Trust is when a person goes from visiting our church to deciding that this is now their church. What on-ramps do we have that allow people to get more involved? How are we intentionally saying, “this is how you become an active participant”?
Another way to say this is what are the markers that let us know the level of engagement of the people who like our church. (I know of one church that uses these 4 markers of engagement: attendance, giving, small group involvement, inviting people they know to church. Yours may be different, but you will hopefully see that all of these are measurable.)
Data points could include:
- Regular church attendance (3 or more times per month)
- Formal membership process
- Baptizing or dedicating a child
- Joining a group
- Serving in an area of ministry
- Attending pre-marital counseling
The TRUST category is an internal measuring tool that we use to track engagement and movement from the LIKE category. I doubt anyone will volunteer that they are now trusting us. But if we define trust as joining a small group, and they just joined a small group, we can move them to this category.
The biggest question may be this: do we really know when people move from liking us to trusting us or are we just guessing? The first tactic we may need is to collect accurate data.
When people move from trusting us on their spiritual journey (i.e. joining with us) to helping us reach other people, they move to the BUILD team.
Data points could include:
- A member of a church council or official elder board
- Service on a committee
- Teaching Sunday school
- Becoming a group leader
- A volunteer that oversees other volunteers
- A leader of a ministry or outreach
A builder is an active owner of the mission of the church and a disciple who makes disciples. There may be some form of commitment or process that a person needs to go through to be part of the build group. Perhaps we ask people to go through a doctrine training class before we turn them lose to teach a Sunday morning class.
And once again, the biggest question may be this: have we clarified what it takes to move from trusting us to becoming a builder or are we just guessing? The first tactic we may need is to collect accurate data.
Movement through these stages should be seen as a progression. People start at one end and move to the other: FIND——>LIKE——>TRUST——>BUILD.
In the FIND and LIKE categories, the new person is in the driver’s seat.
In the TRUST category, whatever we are using to measure engagement is driving.
In the BUILD category, chances are, we are in the driver’s seat. Most builders got there by a personal invitation from someone in leadership.
At each stage in the process there will need to be some sort of tool to gather data. We want to know why and how a person is moving to a new category. But we have to ask the actual people. We cannot guess based on a few conversations we’ve had over the last decade. Frankly, lead pastors are notorious for this. They have conversations with a dozen people over a few years that give them an impression of what is working or not working. The sample size is always too small. Instead, ask the people directly. At each stage of this journey it is not onerous to simply ask people How did you hear about us? What made you decide to become a member? What do you like about our church?
In this ministry model, the strategy of the church is not to simply provide services and events that people enjoy. The strategy of the church is to provide a path for people to move along in discipleship (which could involve services and events as a means to an end and not an end in themselves). What are we doing and saying that encourages people to move down the path?
This is the paradigm shift where the pushback occurs between leadership and congregants. This is where the change in programming and tactics occurs, so implementing this change could bring resistance from those who are used to doing church another way. However, if the church exists to provide a path, there should be clear next steps into the next category and consistent communication of those next steps.
We’ve got the lists. Now what?
This is where the fun begins.
In God we trust; all other must bring data.
W. Edwards Deming
Using data, we are going to choose the 2 most effective methods in each category. Whatever is emerging as the top 2 out of 10 ideas, trust the Pareto Principle that these are within the 80/20 ratio.
Now under each of the 4 categories, we should have only 2 ideas for a total of 8.
For sake of illustration, let’s say that during our membership process we have been gathering data for a few years about what people like about our church. Let’s pretend our data reveals the 10 points in the LIKE section above. Although all of these ideas show up on our survey, there are 2 things that receive more attention. Our data shows that the reason people like our church are:
- Our denomination affiliation —they were new to the area and were looking for a Lutheran church and that is what we are.
- Engaging and age appropriate Kid’s and Student ministries — they tried a different Lutheran church but their kids didn’t like it. They do like ours.
I’m simplifying this, but you get the idea.
Chances are our 80/20 principle is in full effect here. It takes 20% of our effort to be Lutheran and have engaging kid’s ministry, but it is yielding 80% of our likability. Whatever our strategy should be in this case, I would suggest that it should prioritize being Lutheran and it should prioritize our kid’s ministry. If this is what is drawing people into our church, these are our strengths. We may wish our strengths were something else, like our preaching, but if that is not what the data shows, then the data wins. We need to leverage these strengths.
A few tactics emerge as we are clarifying this strategy.
(1) We should make sure Lutherans moving to our area can find us. What do we need to do to make that happen? One tactic could involve getting our information into a welcome packet that the city provides new residents. Another tactic could be to develop a volunteer chaplain team at a local hospital to have a point of contact with people who grew up Lutheran but have drifted from church.
(2) We have a great kid’s program, how can we make more people aware of that? Is there another endeavor like after school care or VBS or a Summer camp that would let people discover our kid’s program? One tactic is to highlight the Kid’s and Student ministries during special outreaches and holiday services.
Once again, as a reminder, we still have 80% of our effort to push harder into these strengths with some left over to go after those things that are unique to our community or that we feel God is specifically calling us to do. That’s the beauty of the Pareto Principle. You get the benefit of your 80/20 ration which frees you up for exciting, risky adventures. Eventually a risky adventure may pay off and supplant one of these current strengths. But until that happens, these 2 strengths are our strategy and priority in our LIKE category and should drive our communication.
Obviously we should have people in our church in each of these categories. So what is the ideal percentage of how many people in each category? Some might say we want more people in the FIND category. That means you’re getting a lot of visitors and that’s exciting. So let’s say we have 55% of our people in FIND, then 15% in LIKE, 15% in TRUST, 15% in BUILD.
But not so fast.
This percentage reveals a bottleneck between FIND and LIKE.
Although a lot of people FIND us, less than 1/3 of those actually LIKE us.
This would expose that the majority of work we would need to do is in the LIKE category, because that is where the bottleneck is.
The ideal percentage is always 25%, 25%, 25%, 25%.
If our church is heavy in the first 2 categories, while we are reaching people for Christ, they are going elsewhere to be discipled. If our percentages are heavy in the last 2 categories, we probably have an inward focused church and it will take some work to create the desire and atmosphere to bring in new people who will undoubtably mess things up (in a good way).
Once we discern where the majority of our church is currently in these 4 categories, we discover where we are over represented and where we should focus our tactics. Wherever the bottleneck is, press into the strategy and tactics we revealed in this exercise.
Strategy is only one element
Strategy is a thing but it is not the only thing. For strategic thinkers, we could live in these concepts all day. For others, well, I doubt they made it to the end of this article. At any rate, this hard work will pay off and help you clarify how you are going to do what you do.
The building blocks to any organization are Mission, Story, Vision, Strategy, Tactics, and Accountability. This is true in every organization and all are critical. I hope this exercise helped you examine your strategy and know that you have one, make sure it is the right one, and provided a tool to clarify it. Your team needs this. Let’s get to it.
* This was one of several exercises that we went through in an excellent lab I attended at the 2016 SAL.T Conference with Justin Wise, Social Media, SEO, and Branding.
Although the lab was about marketing, we spent a considerable time developing this strategy and fleshing out a target audience (what Justin called “the ideal congregant”). This is the person you are communicating with — literally you are targeting them in your style, programming, preaching, decor, etc.
I realize branding and marketing are two words that make some in the church uncomfortable. These are trendy business/communication words that get thrown around quite a bit. Even if you try not to use these words, they are still describing truth and concepts you should understand.
Your brand is what people think and feel when they think about your church—their image of who you are. That’s your brand.
Your effort to develop, adjust, influence, correct and control that image (your brand) is marketing.
One very important takeaway of this lab is simply the amount of time that must go into clarifying a strategy before one can engage in communicating (regardless of the medium—print, digital, video, etc). Communications are a bridge connecting a vision and strategy to a target audience. Without clarity of vision and strategy, and without clarity of your target, you will never have good communication. Too many churches have a bridge-to-nowhere situation in there communications. I could see the temptation to pursue greater communication skill and techniques to solve this problem. Won’t work. Instead add clarity to your strategy (this exercise) and add detail to your target audience. It’s hard. Really hard. But it’s the cost we need to pay because what we are doing matters. A lot.