Your Church Needs a Business Plan

The church is so much more than a business.
And pastors aren't just professionals.
But there are times when the church acts like a business and times when a pastor needs to act like a leader.
And while we shouldn’t reduce the church to an organization built on financial models and strategic decision-making, it would be a mistake to fully leave behind sound leadership principles.  Just beacause an idea came from the business world doesn't mean it can't help the church.
Besides, while te church is much more than a business, it is at least a business.
If your church pays people, pays bills, owns or rents property, uses software, or has 501c3 status, it is legally a business.
There are times when acting like a business is the right thing to do.
There are things great businesses do that great churches should do as well.
And one of those things is making a business plan.

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a simple document that defines who you are, where you are, and where you believe God wants you to go in the next season of ministry. It’s a written document that describes how your church will work.
Very few churches have this, but most churches would really benefit from creating one.
When I signed up to be a church planter, my supporting church and funding network required I created a prospectus, a version of a business plan for the brand new church. I spent weeks and months creating this document and distributing it to potential donors. It was robust and filled with projections and plans.
When the fundraising round was over, printed copies sat on a shelf and the PDF stayed hidden in a folder on the hard drive.  It didn't really help us.  We didn't really use it.
That’s not the kind of business plan I’m talking about.
Instead, I want to encourage you to create a document that captures who you are, what you do and how you do it.
I want you to have a document that you can use to help new team members understand who you are and what you're about.  I want you to have a simple plan that describes who you're trying to reach and how you're going to reach them.  I want you to have a clarity-forcing document that will help you make decisions.
Instead of checking a box to appease a group of donors, use your plan to cast vision and inspire people to stay involved.
Here’s a video describing how the plan and the process might work.

The Two Page Plan

When you hear the phrase “business plan,” I don’t want you to think of a 30-page document and an Excel spreadsheet full of Macros and Pivot tables.
Leave that to the accountants.
Instead, create a simple and clear plan that you could share with new members, give to new donors, and review regularly with your staff. Create a document that will anchor you in reality and push you to the God-designed future.
We created a template for you  and we call it the Two Page Plan.  Here are some of the things we'll help you clarify.

  1. Your Purpose – this is your deep sense of why, the compelling reason your church exists. It probably comes from the pages of Scripture and when you think about it, you’re never really going to accomplish it. You’ll never check the box because this sentence is always driving towards it.
  2. Your Mission – this is what your church is shooting for in this next season of ministry. It’s specific and tangible. It’s a milestone as you push for your purpose. If NASA’s purpose is to explore space (never accomplished), their current mission might be to go to Mars.
  3. Your Strategy – this is HOW you plan on accomplishing your mission. It’s 3-5 action steps that every ministry can share.
  4. Your Key Ministries – All of your ministries are not equally important and there are some that deserve an unfair amount of money, people and communication capital. Your one page plan should identify those 3-5 ministries.
  5. Your Goals – Great goals are church-wide, measurable and attainable in a set amount of time. Every ministry in your church should be able to participate in reaching them.

There are 13 components to the perfect ministry plan, and each of them provides amazing clarity.
Pastor Cody from Littleton, Colorado spend the last few months working their ministry plan.  He gathered several of his staff and leaders and took the time to get this right.  Here's what he said:

We finalized our ministry plan after chipping away at it for the last few months. Our leadership meeting yesterday featured the right amount of contentious and harmonious conversation 🙂
Thank you once again for helping us get unstuck! We started this process with one group of leaders, and we actually changed out about a third of our leadership in January, and we were able to generate buy-in and receive meaningful ideas from the new group very quickly.

The Holy Spirit and Planning

When we talk about goals, metrics and strategy that looks more like business, there is always pushback.
Rightfully so.
Frankly, the church needs the voice of the prophet continually calling for a spiritual focus.
God does not need a business plan.
God can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, with whatever He wants. He certainly doesn’t need any plan of our creation.
God may not benefit from your plans.
But you will. Your leaders will. And the local church will.
Divinity may not require a plan, but humanity benefits from one.
The Bible supports this idea.
A great annual plan will help you experience growth and health. That’s why the document we’re encouraging you to create isn’t really a business plan, but a ministry plan.

What do you do with your plan?

Another reason churches tend to avoid work like this is because it doesn’t appear helpful.  Preparing a sermon, serving the community, and working with people…those things feel both pastoral and useful.
Spending hours in meetings or committees creating a document that will sit in a drawer…that doesn’t feel like a great use of time, particularly when there are more important things to do.
But a simple, clear and carefully written one-page ministry plan can actually be quite useful. It can help you cast vision, raise money, and inspire volunteers to serve.
Once you have a clear and compelling one-page plan, here’s what you can do with it.

  1. Review it in meetings. If you’ve carefully laid out your current mission, identified your keystone ministries and agreed on what numbers to track, pulling out your one-page ministry plan in as many meetings as possible is a great thing. It’s a big way you keep your meetings focused on the important not just the urgent.
  2. Use your one-page plan in staff and ministry evaluations. If your one-page plan describes who you are and what you do, using it when talking about job performance keeps those conversations from focusing too much on feelings.
  3. Build graphics. Take parts of your one-page plan and turn them into computer background images for your staff and key leaders. Keep the important things in front of you, literally.
  4. Use it to develop a weekly scorecard. A great plan indicates what numbers you will track, so build this out in a scorecard you review regularly.
  5. Send it to first-time donors. When people give money to your church for the first time, send them a digital copy of your one-page plan. Let them know they are funding an organization that has a deep sense of purpose that will impact eternity but also an organization that has a current-world plan that is sustainable.
  6. Give it to new members. Again, show people they are joining a family that has an important but timely mission.

If the idea of planning sounds like it could help your church, you're not alone.  Hundreds of churches are gaining clarity around all kinds of issues…who to hire next, what programs to start or cancel, how to measure effectiveness, how to lead a church to change.
Planning, along with prayer, leadership, faith, and a host of other things, can help you lead your church to healthy growth.  If you're interested in using our Two Page Plan to build your own ministry plan, learn more here.