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Church Strategy

Tools and Trends for Strategic Planning

Monthly Archives: January 2010

Roger Martin’s HBR piece, Why Most CEOs Are Bad at Strategy, proposes that strategy is about two questions: “Where to play?” and “How to win?”  In my experience at churches, we spend 99% of our time figuring out how to win, and only 1% on figuring out where to play.

“I know where to play,” you’re saying.  “Our church is placed in x community, and has y ministries, and that’s where we play.”


Churches have far more control over their fields of play than they imagine.  While every church is in a certain location, we kill ourselves by trying to play everywhere.  Tell me how familiar this sounds:

“You know, there are a lot of [fill in the blank] people in this community who really need [fill in another blank].  I think the church should [fill in the final blank].”

You think, “They’re right.  That’s a real need, and our church could help with it.  Let’s go ahead and get involved.”  You have just made a losing “Where to play?” decision.  Even if the new ministry doesn’t take any money (and they always promise not to ask for any money), it’s consuming resources that are even more precious: management capacity and congregation mindshare.

The overextended church plays in several fields, but excels in none.  Of course, each ministry will find an anecdote to highlight its own importance (read: justify its own existence).  “Jim has really found an outlet for his maintenance gifts in our car ministry.”  The dangerous thing about these anecdotes is that they are implicitly saying two things: (1) Jim wouldn’t have found that outlet if our church wasn’t involved in this new ministry, and (2) if those resources had been directed to another ministry, that ministry wouldn’t have been as effective as this one was.

Decide strategically, prayerfully, and deliberately where you play.  Here’s a sample statement to get your started.  “Our church is situated in Arlington, which is a high-income community full of young families.  To reach our community for Jesus, we are deciding to play in the realm of educated young families.  We welcome others who attend our church, but we will focus 100% of our outreach efforts on creating opportunities to bring these young families into God’s family.”

Then, when the next request comes to you, compare it to your “Where We Play” statement.  Rigorously – but kindly – decline to play elsewhere.