A clear vision and a realistic purpose

‘Strategy is as much about what not to do as it is about what to do,’ claimed Sir John Harvey Jones. Enthusiasm,which is not balanced by realism, will always prove a very dangerous compass to steer by. The needs of any community are legion; issues related to crime,the elderly, young people, family life, education, poverty, health care, employment and housing ... and our desire to meet them is strong.The word ‘vision ’is one we overuse. To have vision is more than to have a dream. A true visionary is one who recognises that authentic vision is the meeting of dreams with reality and that strategic planning is the process of injecting that reality into those dreams.

Impact is the result of focus. High level ‘spiritual ’sounding statements such as, ‘our purpose is to give glory to God ’,‘we want to be Jesus in our community’, ‘our goal is to win our town for Christ ’, turn out to be no more than empty rhetoric unless translated into tangible and manageable goals and objectives. Even worse, they can actually hinder progress by acting as a verbal fog, blinding us to the reality of our need for clear planning and leaving us aimlessly wandering around in circles, going nowhere.

As the social commentators and historians look back on the first few years of the third millennium they will be remembered, without doubt, for the painful re-invention of public services in the UK. In every community, rural, suburban and urban, there is the aching need for a fresh approach to tackling besetting social (and spiritual) needs. The door of opportunity for every local church is wide open. And what’s more, the Church,which for so long was regarded as the Cinderella of community development, has been invited to the ball. The only question that remains to be answered is will we have the courage to accept that invitation?

Share your vision

Having carried out an audit of your community and researched their needs (see Look Before You Leap! November ’s Christianity+Renewal) you are now in a position to identify issues you feel passionate about and begin planning your response.

So how do you turn that dream into a reality?

Firstly, get together a core group of between four and eight people, with a skill set appropriate to the kind of task you are thinking about, but definitely including a mix of planning, accountancy, management, administrative and public relations experience. The other vital quality, of course, is that each group member must share the same basic vision. Working in a team compensates for weaknesses and optimises strengths, giving any project the best opportunity for success.Once you have built your team you can begin the journey that will turn your dream into reality.

The Wheel

In order to successfully complete any journey it is essential to have three vital pieces of information:your destination; your route;and equally important, your precise starting point. The journey to establishing any effective and sustained community project is no different. Here ’s how to plan it.

The Wheel, is the simplest and most effective strategy planning tool I know of (and I ’ve seen a few over the years). And, like any wheel, it is continuous – step 5 leads straight back into step 1 –because the task of planning is never a one off,or even an annual chore,it ’s a constantly ongoing process.

1: Where are we? Diagnosing your situation

An accurate assessment of your starting point and available resources is essential before beginning any journey.Though this takes discipline and some restraint, (especially for those entrepreneurial types who find it so hard to wait for tomorrow), without giving time to this first step, you are very likely to end up frustrated and disillusioned, leaving the needs of your community unmet.
As the country yokel once said to the city gent: “If you want to get to the manor you don’t want to start from here.” But of course, ‘here’ is the only point you can start from.The most detailed map in the world won’t get you to where you want to go if you can ’t first pinpoint that basic,but essential piece of information.

As a group, invest some quality time to a thorough SWOT analysis.What are your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats? What skills and resources are at your disposal within your group, the church and the wider community? List them on a flip chart or white board to build up a clear and accurate picture of where you are.

Jesus told his disciples a story (Luke 14:28-29).‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. What is the first thing you will do? Won’t you sit down and figure out how much it will cost and if you have enough money to pay for it? Otherwise, you will start building the tower, but not be able to finish.Then everyone who sees what is happening will laugh at you.’ You may have the vision to establish a 24 hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week drop-in centre for the young in an empty pub on your high street.But depending on your available resources,perhaps running a twice weekly,after school club for two hours is a good first stop.

2: Where do we want to go? Identifying your goal

Where are you headed?What ’s your destination?As management guru,Steve Covey puts it:‘Begin [your journey ]with the end in mind.’ Your community audit will have pro- vided you with a clear idea of your local needs as well as the gaps in provision and facilities.As you match these needs against your vision and resources your goal will become focused. Many community projects fail because they lack clarity and definition about exactly what it is they are trying to achieve. If you set out on a journey not knowing your precise destination, you’ll probably never arrive there. What is your goal? Define it well. step five step one step two step three step four How are we doing? Where are we? Where do we want to go? What is our timetable? How are we going to get there?

3: How are we going to get there? Setting your objectives

Having established where you are and where you want to go,now is the time to plan your route.One of the keys to success of any community project is accurately mapping your pathway. Break your goal down into a progression of smaller, measurable and achievable, bite-sized targets or objectives. Objectives are the steps along your route,the individual tasks you set in order to reach your destination. However far ahead you ’ve set your sights,the only way to get there is one step at a time.

4: What is our timetable? Implementing your decisions

Set realistic deadlines. By setting a reasonable but clear timeline you can assess much more easily whether you are on target to meet your goal. ‘As soon as possible’ only breeds the kind of fuzziness that makes any progress, or lack of it, very difficult to evaluate. As a team draw up a ‘critical path’, i.e.a detailed schedule of deadlines.What needs to be done, by when, to achieve your goal? Once again, begin with your end goal in mind, be realistic, but don’t procrastinate.

5: How are we doing? Assessing your progress

Why do so many great ideas fail? One reason is that this vital fifth step is so often ignored. Constantly evaluate your progress against the objectives and ‘critical path’ you have been pursuing. However, though the planning process is essential and invaluable, at the same time, keep yourself flexible.

Circumstances may necessitate a change of approach in order that you make it to your destination. Your project team should meet regularly to assess its progress.There will always be setbacks and disappointments on any journey, so when targets are not achieved to the agreed timetable ask yourselves the following questions: Why did we fail to hit our target? What problems did we ignore or underestimate? Were the reasons for failure inside or outside the team’s control? How can the problems be overcome? Could the problem have been foreseen? How should our objectives be revised? Now revise your plan by moving back round to step one and on through the strategy-planning tool step by step in the same way as before.

A passion for planning

For some,this kind of strategic planning might still feel just a little ‘unspiritual ’. Are we selling out to secular management gurus and techniques that deny God’s Spirit the room to lead us? What ’s wrong with having the objective to ‘let go and let God’? Ironically, to see life in this way, far from being biblical, is to fall for the old dualism that has dogged the Church for so much of its life – the sub-Judeo-Christian division of the sacred from the secular, faith from fact, science from religion.

God himself is a strategist and a planner. You only have to read Paul’s opening statements to the Ephesians to be aware of that fact. And what of Paul himself? His aim was to preach the gospel in Rome (see Romans 1:13), and to get there he laid out some very specific objectives.

Far from destroying our faith, setting goals and objectives helps it to flourish. Praying that your whole town is going to be won for Christ is one thing, but setting a goal to work with teenage mothers in your community, setting aside resources and volunteers to meet their practical and emotional needs,will provide a channel for prayer to become a reality.Not only that,it will also provide a visible illustration to both church and community that God is at work. As a result,all those involved with your project will be encouraged and enthused to believe, to pray and to work for more success. At the end of the day objectives are simply statements of faith (see Philippians 3:13-14). We believe that this is what God wants us to do and we trust him to achieve his purposes through us.

For more information contact, www.faithworkscampaign.org