The pace of this fall seems faster than ever. I feel as though I hardly have a moment to sit down and think–let alone write. There is more going on at the church than ever, with the launch of a new Religious Education model, our new intern, the strategic planning process, and some financial concerns. I’m beginning to understand how fast we’ve been moving over the past three years and I am trying to figure out a new rhythm for this year. We sometimes sing “Let It Be a Dance” from our hymnal and this year it feels like we need to slow it down a bit and dance more gently and with additional grace.
One of the greatest stressors in a congregation is money. I’ve heard it said that when finances are good they are 10% of what matters in a church, but when they are hard, they become 90% of what matters. That’s certainly how it feels this week. Several things are coming together to increase all of our anxiety: a shortfall in pledges that led to a budget deficit, financial statements that are confusing and unreliable, and a lack of communication that has led to some folks feeling left out of the decision-making process.
Being a growing congregation is hard. Old ways of communication (the grapevine, mostly) are not sufficient. Even with multiple newsletter articles, announcements, emails, and discussions, there is always someone who says, “Well, I didn’t know about that.” Because there are more of us than ever before, each member has to take more responsibility for finding out what is happening in the congregation. People can’t find out everything they’d want to know at coffee hour.
At the same time, it falls to the Board and other leaders in the church to be thorough and intentional in communication. It also means creating strategies to invite comment, conversation, and review of important decisions. But perhaps most importantly, it means taking the time to get as much congregational input, guidance, and buy-in as possible in the strategic planning process.
Several people have asked me “Why do we need a strategic plan?” I have two answers. The first is that if we don’t make a plan, we may end up going nowhere. It’s easy to move in circles, moving from new idea to new idea with no real direction. The second answer is that it is impossible for any organization, even a church, to do everything. We need priorities and we need those priorities to come from the grassroots–not just from the minister or the board. If we plan well, our strategic plan can be a living document–continuously updated and guiding our community toward health and effectiveness.
All of this sounds a bit dry and businesslike, I know. But what is at the heart of this effort is a deep confidence in the love each member and friend has for our congregation. I know that all of us are trying to build a community that shelters, encourages, and challenges us to a compassionate people.