How to Chart a New Course in Your Ministry

Are you looking to change something? Maybe you want to change curriculum, change your programming, launch a new strategy, or stop doing something your ministry has done for a long time. Whatever course you want to chart, you can probably count on it not being easy.

It’s hard to be a leader without leading change. In fact, without change, manager or maintainer might be a better descriptor of our job. A big reason we are leaders is because we want to see change.

Status quo is not okay with us.

If you want to chart a new course in your ministry, then you’re thinking about leading significant change. If this were something that only impacted you it would be easy, right? The challenge comes when we need others to buy into the vision with us and help make it a reality. This is where a former President’s definition of leadership is probably fitting:

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

We’re not talking about the movie Inception here. We don’t want people to buy into our vision because we somehow trick them into it. However, most people are not naturally looking to change things and take a new approach. As leaders, we see what could be and our job is to help everyone understand why it should be. Once that happens, we can band together and make it happen.

If you want to chart a new course in your ministry, I hope this will be helpful to you. Before you set out to chart a new course, you want to surround it with prayer and unity. You want to pray to hear from God and ask for his guidance. You want to make sure the course you’re charting is completely in line with the mission of your church.

With that, you’re ready to get started.

Vision

If we want to chart a new course in the literal sense, we would need some important things to make it happen. We would need a destination, a map, and a plan for how to get there. The same is true when charting a new course in our ministry. It starts with vision. Vision is like the destination on the map. It’s a clear picture of where we want to be.

It’s a picture of what it will look like when the new curriculum is completely implemented. It’s an image of what the new strategy will be for partnering with parents. It’s a detailed description of how the ministry will work when we have the new volunteer structure in place. Another way to think about vision is the combination of these three things:

Problem – A description of why things are not okay now
Solution – A description of the plan to fix it
Urgency – A passionate plea for why this matters now

When we can clarify the vision by describing those three aspects, we are ready to create a plan to achieve it.

Plan

As the Japanese proverb says:

“Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”

You have the vision at this point, but now you need a plan. The plan should include the following things:

Objectives
Timeline
Milestones
Ownership

Clear objectives should be decided upon as part of the plan. What are the things that must happen in order for the plan to work? In terms of the timeline, how long is it going to take? The timeline should include the overall estimate of time to completion, but also the key milestones along the way and when you plan to hit them. Milestones are the critical stops in the journey where you have made significant process and are ready to move on to the next thing. Finally, we want to identify who will own each part of the plan.

Communication

One of the most overlooked things when it comes to charting a new course is communication. If this is something that involves more than one person, communication is key. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen churches fumble the ball here. In some cases, you see key people never being communicated with at all. In others, you have staff hearing about things after volunteers. Communication is key, and there are multiple aspects to it.

What to communicate

Before communicating anything, we have to decide what we are going to communicate. Simon Sinek’s book and TED talk, Start With Why, are great resources here. His main point is simple: We want to primarily communicate the vision before we talk about any plans or details. People need to buy into the why before they hear about what and how.

Bill Hybels described his approach one time in a way that was funny in how he presented it, but it’s absolutely true. He said he would talk about what’s wrong over and over and over again (see problem under Vision). He would talk about what’s wrong for so long, maybe a month or more, that people finally just wanted to hear the solution. At that point, he gave them the solution and most of their concerns and disagreements were long gone.

As you communicate, be sure to spend most of your time on the why and less time on what and how.

Who to communicate with

When planning communication in our church, we always answer the question, “What is this?” first, just as I described previously. The other two questions we answer after that, are.

Who needs to know this?
When do they need to know it?

Generally speaking, communication should start with those who are the most invested and work out to those who are the least invested.

See the image on the right for an example of how that might work. Depending on what is changing, you may start with the staff and elders and work from there out until you communicate it publicly. The key is, people who are directly involved and impacted by the change should hear about it before it becomes a reality.

We can put all our best work into casting a compelling vision and creating an excellent plan to achieve, only to have it fall apart simply because we miss this important step. The closer someone is to the center of the circle, the more opportunities they should get to ask questions and have time to process it. Also, the closer someone is to the center, the more we have to talk about what and how. The more invested people are, the more details they should know.

Communicating everything isn’t enough, however, we also need to invite people to take the journey with us.

Recruit

Charting a new course isn’t just about the changes that will be required from the people involved. It also includes work that needs to be done in order to bring about those changes. For example, if we start a new curriculum our leaders will have to change and adjust to using the new material. However, we also have to prepare the new curriculum, teach people how to use it, figure out how to distribute it, and so on. There’s work to be done, and we shouldn’t do it alone.

In addition to the work, we also want to recruit people to help you cast vision for where we’re headed. We need people who completely buy into the vision and will help communicate that to others. We need people who will lead the way and even have tough conversations if necessary. As we recruit people to help cast vision and carry out the plan, we should start with those who are already bought in and believe in what we’re doing. With a team of people in place, we’re ready to work the plan.

Make It Happen

There is some overlap among these areas, of course. You’ll communicate with some people as you’re forming the plan because you’ll get their input. In the same way, you’ll recruit some people to the team as you communicate the plan to them. For the most part, however, you want to keep these in order as you proceed.

You have a clear vision, a comprehensive plan, you’ve communicated well and recruited people to join the team. At this point, you’re ready to work the plan. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but this process can help make sure you do the right things in the right order, to give you the best shot at realizing your vision.

What new course are you charting?

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