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Principles of Church Growth: Setting Goals

Jennifer Byrd February 19, 2018

Setting goals is an important part of being successful.  Very seldom does success come randomly or by accident.  Success very often requires intentionality and planning.  This is true when considering church growth as well.  What kinds of goals should church leaders consider?  How do we make it about the people and not the numbers?  How do our goals reflect who we are as a church?

Many churches have struggled over the years with adopting and adapting goal-setting concepts seen in the corporate or secular worlds, but there is much we can learn if we are open.  There is also no shortage of examples of success stories when it comes to church growth.

Zig Zigler, author and motivational speaker, was known to say, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”  There is a lot of truth to that.  Without a clear goal in mind, how do we know which way to go, or where to expend our limited time and efforts?  And how do we know when we achieve success?  A little time spent articulating good goals will pay dividends later.

At a basic level there are two main types of goals that should be considered.  The first is quantitative.  This is a goal that can be driven down to a number – things that can be counted.  Did this number reach that mark?  If so, then the goal is met.  Some easy examples of this are attendance numbers, number of volunteers, participants in a particular program, number of baptisms, etc.  Of course, financial goals also often fall into this category.

This type of metric is relatively easy to determine whether or not we were successful.  A key consideration in quantitative goals is to be clear about how this goal fits in with or helps achieve the purpose of the church.  A number for the sake of good numbers is not a good goal.  It must fit within a larger framework or objective.

The other main type of goal is qualitative.  This is one that often, with a little creativity, can be measured as well, but generally falls more in to the subjective realm for most people.  In a church setting, that might be something like “We want people to pray more.”  Not a bad goal, but how do you know whether or not you achieved it.

The general idea for qualitative goals is addressing the question of who do we want to become in terms of character attributes or spiritual development and growth.  Keep in mind that with a little bit of effort these can also be quantified in some way.  Consider the pray more example above.  What if that goal were to be changed to something like ‘We want people to pray one hour more this week than they did last week.’  Now it is measurable but still addressing a qualitative goal as well.  It is not uncommon for quantitative and qualitative goals to interplay with one another.

There are a number of well-known goal setting concepts that have proven to be helpful reminders when we are setting goals.  Many will recall the SMART plan – making sure that our goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  This idea has been around since the early 1980s in various forms, so it is certainly nothing new but can be a helpful reminder.  As we begin to document our church growth goals, we can filter them through a framework like this to be sure we are clear on our goals.  That filtering process can help us refine the goals to be sure they articulate what we are really trying to accomplish.

“That which gets measured gets done.”  This saying is attributed to a number of people who speak and write on leadership.  We pay attention to the things for which we are going to be held accountable.  Good goal setting is a key part of incentivizing the kinds of behaviors we believe will help us achieve success.  This is true for both qualitative and quantitative goals.  Being clear on how we measure success allows everyone to know what is expected.  If we are not seeing the kinds of behaviors we want or expect, perhaps the goal is not clear and measurable enough yet.

Albert Einstein is widely referenced as having posted in his office – “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  Not everything that can be counted should be a part of your goal setting process and measure of success as a church.  As well, some things that are really important goals may be hard to put a number on.  Do the important work of defining the difference for your church.

It is critical for your church to make its own goals, rather than simply copying the latest fad or trend in popular church growth circles or trying to do what everyone else is doing.  Be clear in what you think is important and set goals accordingly to help you move toward forward.  Keep the goals in front of you through frequent reminders.  Be patient and recognize that achieving those goals is going to take time.  Above all, don’t be afraid to fail.  If you set a goal and only achieve 50% of it, you have still come a long way from where you were.  If necessary, refine the goal and keep going.

Ultimately, the goal should be to make a difference in the Kingdom. Do your goals reflect that?

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