Around the world this fall, boards gather at their online tables to ask, “What kind of congregation can we be in this strange time? When and how can we return to ‘normal,’ and what will that even look like?” Some deny the possibility of planning in such times, but without deliberate planning, habit and momentum rule. Without structure, planning conversations run in circles or explode in conflict. At this time even more than most, boards need structured ways to talk about the future.
“I wish we were more transparent about our finances.” For almost every problem congregations face, transparency is one proposed solution. Treasurers and business managers—who work hard to produce honest, accurate reports—often are surprised by the implication that they’re hiding something. Transparency is good, but flooding people with more data rarely solves the problem. True transparency requires a plan to give financial information to each of four distinct audiences.
Many phrases commonly used to describe the coronavirus pandemic have revolutionary overtones. Covid-19 is the “great disruptor,” the “medical disaster,” and the “economic catastrophe.” Writers assert that Covid-19 “will change the workplace forever,” arguing that its effects are both “global” and “enduring.” Reporting on the wave of unrest sparked by police killings of unarmed African Americans carries similar tones. Reporters describe the scope of the unrest as “unprecedented,” while the level of polarization in the country is “historic.”
We have been reactive. How else can one be during a pandemic? The opinions of outside experts have guided our actions since this all began, and their positions change daily. When to close, how to take church online, protocols to follow before opening. Now, things are slowing down a bit and it is time to become more reflective—tapping into our own wisdom and exploring the potent learning opportunities at hand. The shift begins by asking better questions.
Usually when I write these columns, I write as a non-anxious consultant able to offer objective advice in difficult situations. But today I write as a minister fully caught between the two dominant moods of the current debate on re-entry into corporate worship—anxiety and anger.
Congregations around the world have made a dramatic pivot in recent weeks—from regular face-to-face gatherings to entirely online services and meetings via Facebook Live, Zoom, and other platforms. The transformation that decades of proliferating social media and streaming platforms failed to achieve was accomplished by the coronavirus pandemic in just a month.
But what has it been like on the receiving end?
Last week, Susan Beaumont wrote compellingly about when NOT to do strategic planning. As she correctly observed, “a hasty or poorly formed strategic plan is a waste of time and resources. A well-formed plan that isn’t executed is also a waste.” I would add that in times of crisis or high-level conflict, action or intervention is a better choice than strategic planning.
So when is strategic planning the right choice?