As fall is just around the corner, there are a number of things that are coming into focus for those who lead churches: fall programing. There is Sunday School that may need to start up in late August or Early September (assuming you have children in your congregation). That means recruiting and training teachers, promoting the classes to parents and children, organizing rally day and so on. You may be planning a special emphasis for the fall such as a stewardship, a new Bible class or ramping up those same old activities like you always have every fall. Perhaps there is a Fall festival, or something special for the 500th anniversary of the reformation. If you have a parochial school there is a lot going on with budgets and staff, preparing classrooms, ordering curriculum and so on. Many of the summer vacations are coming to an end and now is the time to get busy.

What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing really. That is if nothing has really changed in your church and community compared to last year.

But perhaps you are wanting to do some really serious planning at your church. You’ve noticed that your worship attendance has dropped off a bit. You’ve seen fewer children in Sunday school. Your offerings have not risen in the last five years. In fact they have gone down slightly. Many haven’t even noticed yet some of your faithful leaders have begun to meet with the pastor and are starting to ask some hard questions about what’s going on. You’re quietly asking each other in the meeting questions about marketing the church, contemporary worship, hospitality events and concerts and things that will attract newcomers to your property. It’s a bit scary.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing really. That is if it is correct to assume what you are assuming.

But that is in fact the fatal flaw of church planning. What are you assuming? Do you really know?

What are you assuming?

We may assume everything is just fine at our church. Are things just fine? How do you know? What are you tracking? What are you paying attention to? How are you understanding or explaining the changes? How are you or are you not responding? Why or why not?

We may assume that less attendance, less offerings, less kids in Sunday school are normal for this more secular and less religious society. Is that an accurate assumption? Is that really the trend in America? Who or what church is having a different outcome in your community, in your city, in your denomination, in your country? What are the real reasons they are having a different outcome than the society at large? Are you sure? How do you know?

We may assume that your current programing is solid. It may be. But what are their outcomes? Have you evaluated that lately? It is tempting to assume that just because certain things are done year after year that we can evaluate less and adjust things less. So once again, what are you paying attention to? Are those things in alignment with where God is wanting you to go? What about the stewardship of those resources? Are those the best uses of those resources? Is a partnership with another ministry or organization an option? Are you getting what you are hoping for?Why or why not?

We often don’t know what we don’t know. That may be because we aren’t even asking serious important questions. Church planning cannot simply be a repeat of last year and the year before that, and the year before that. The Lord deserves our best efforts. It is going to take effort and leadership.

Some keys:

  • Know the big picture: Keep the main thing the main thing. It’s all about Jesus. This includes knowing where you as a church are going and what kind of church you intend to be in the community where God has placed you.
  • Know your resources: people, potential people, time, money, partnerships, energy, motivation.
  • Know your strategy: With where you believe God wants you to go and your resources in mind, identify a pathway to get there that fits and makes sense and is workable.
  • Know what to pay attention to: Identify key markers to measure, count, evaluate, lift up for staff and volunteers as important and return to those regularly.
  • Know what not to pay attention to: let dying programs die an honorable death while loving and celebrating those who serve or have served in them.
  • Know how to evaluate all ministries: If you can't define how a certain ministry lifts up Jesus and His saving message and where you as a church are going, by God’s grace, then perhaps it doesn’t fit.

Sometimes it takes courage to ask these questions. Sometimes it takes courage to begin to ask these questions when you may not have done that very much previously. As leaders in His church, He calls us to be the chief stewards of the gospel and of the ministry and programing that takes place. Even as He has placed us in these positions, He will never leave us nor forsake us in those positions either.

Let me know how I can support you in this ministry.

Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, or

"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"


The Fatal Flaw of Church Planning

2 thoughts on “The Fatal Flaw of Church Planning

  • September 13, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Scott, It seems the, “fatal Flaw,” is having no plan at all. I was anticipating that you might have included some thought about using the existing power structure or official decision making entity in a given church to adopt and mandate a plan with specific developmental goals. There are many, many visions still enfolded within the context of planning documents sitting on the shelves of an administrative pastor gathering dust because the “real power structure” of the parish is opposed or uninformed.

    • October 8, 2017 at 11:27 pm

      True enough Larry. Yet this blog was about when you do it, what is the flaw? You also point out the truth that much of the plan sits on the shelf. I agree that it is often the covert resistance of those who are opposed or uninformed. Well said. The way I would put it is that what exists as a vision in your scenario is really not the shared vision and the hard work was not accomplished to forge a shared vision in the first place. Vision should not be top down or from a select few but ground up, engaging an ever widening circle of people from the congregation so that when a vision is defined – specifically I might add (not those general language kind of so called visions) it is affirmed widely and strongly by all. People will say “of course!” that’s who we are and who we need to be by God’s grace.


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