With its wide-spread use of Strategic Planning, the Church has adopted a set of practices based on principles that are, at least to some degree, at odds with its own teaching. It seems to me that the dangers implicit in the above-mentioned presuppositions have allowed an uncritical use of Strategic Planning, which pose a number of dangers for the Church.
First, and this is the lesser of the three dangers, a tremendous amount of time and resources are being wasted. There is often almost no return on the investment and, if a coherent plan does emerge, it is rarely implemented and even abandoned in light of unanticipated changes. In the business world the issue of non-implementation is well-known. In tracing the history and development of strategic management, Vijaykumar Bhatia points out that, in the majority of firms he studied “strategic plans were made but remained unimplemented, and profits/growth continued to stagnate.”
It is obvious that the strategic planning initiatives undertaken by the ecclesial bodies cited above have involved years of effort by hundreds of people, consuming untold financial resources. But, if you talkwith the participants of those programs today, many will tell you that it was a mostly fruitless endeavor because “nothing has changed,”“the plan has simply not been implemented,”“there was no meaningful follow through.”
In the case of a giant corporation with almost unlimited resources, such a waste might be more easily absorbed. However, in a local parish and even a national Church organization where both funds and personnel are strictly limited, this “investment for nothing”is damaging to the structure and the morale of the parish and, for that reason, hard to justify. Moreover, those resources do not belong to the Church, are not earned or own by the Church, but are rather freely gifted by God and are to be used to implement divine, not human, givens. The faithful are called to be good stewards of the resources given to them. It follows then, that anything that wastes these resources and actually prevents the Church from fulfilling its tasks would have to be considered damaging to the Church.
This brings me to another danger posed by the uncritical use of Strategic Planning in the Church, that is, a loss of focus. What is so tragic about this waste is that resources are expended in order to redefine what has already been given to the Church. To their credit the framers of these church-based Strategic Plans do specifically mention Jesus’statement of the mission at the very beginning of their report, citing Mt 28:19-20, and begin by declaring their intention of welcoming“all people seeking salvation, love, truth and fulfillment.”The Ukrainian statement indicates its desire to embrace “those who hunger for love, comfort, fulfillment and hope.”In these cases, they cite Jesus’words of commission and one would think that that, all by itself, would narrow or limit the desired outcomes of such plans to the results of implementing the twin tasks of “Making Disciples,”namely baptizing and teaching.However, judging by the lists of “top goals”enumerated in these plans, we see a “diversification”of goals that includes every imaginable aspect of contemporary ecclesial life and practice.Many of these would appear to go way beyond anything having to do with fulfilling Christ’s commission. They include things like Empirical Metrics, Skills Matching, Comprehensive Communications Platform, and Cohesive Branding. Moreover, these diverse goals multiply and become so numerous that the Church, standing before this veritable mountain of tasks, doesn’t know where to begin and often doesn’t.
The difficulty here is that the Strategic Planning seems to take on a life of its own and the process itself drives a widened agenda, appealing to our creativity and our desire to “do”something, to take control. As mentioned earlier, some of these plans specifically refer to the commission Jesus “gave His Apostles [as] a clear strategic planas to how they were to achieve his vision.” If the biblical text already represents a plan, if it already contains the “how” of its execution, then one wonders why are we spending so much time and perhaps losing some of our focus by reaching out for something we have no need of and for which we, in any case, have no authority to re-define.
This, I believe, brings us to another danger, namely, that by using this tool we are able to create the impression of security and control. In doing so we fall into a dangerous trap recognized even in the business world. In his brief article, The Big Lie of Strategic Planning,Roger L. Martin notes
All executives know that strategy is important. But almost all also find it scary, because it forces them to confront a future they can only guess at. Worse, actually choosing a strategy entails making decisions that explicitly cut off possibilities and options. An executive may well fear that getting those decisions wrong will wreck his or her career.
The natural reaction is to make the challenge less daunting by turning it into a problem that can be solved with tried and tested tools. That nearly always means spending weeks or even months preparing a comprehensive plan for how the company will invest in existing and new assets and capabilities in order to achieve a target—an increased share of the market, say, or a share in some new one. The plan is typically supported with detailed spreadsheets that project costs and revenue quite far into the future. By the end of the process, everyone feels a lot less scared.
This is a truly terrible way to make strategy. It may be an excellent way to cope with fear of the unknown, but fear and discomfort are an essential part of strategy making. In fact, if you are entirely comfortable with your strategy, there’s a strong chance it isn’t very good. 
Like so many in the secular world, Church leaders are tempted to insulate themselves and their ministries from the unknowables of an ever-changing world by seeking to proactively take control over future outcomes. We want to alleviate our anxiety, not by faith in God’s providence, or by making use of the resources he has already given us, but by creating our own zones of comfort. But this undermines or even obviates our need to trust in God’s providence, and the guidance, equipping, and empowering of the Holy Spirit. If we, in keeping with the operating principles of the contemporary social imaginary, claim for ourselves the freedom to define our mission, the unfettered ability to use our rational ability to solve all the challenges we face, and our ability to use supposedly neutral technologies and resources to solve our problems, then what need is there for any kind of divine assistance. In that case, there is no synergy, but human beings defining, planning, and executing that strategy on their own and for their own benefit. In another placeI have suggested that this amounts to shifting the mode of ecclesial life from beingChurch to doingChurch and that shift constitutes severe structural damage.
In the next post I will conclude this segment of our conversation by proposing an ecclesially acceptable alternative to the business version of Strategic Planning
“Strategic Management-History and Development,” http://vijaykumarbhatia.weebly.com/strategic-management-history-and-development.html.
I have conducted an interview with a member of the OCA’s Metropolitan council, who seconded the notion that the whole, expensive process lead to no meaningful change and was, thus, a waste of time and effort.
A notable exception to this is the ongoing work of the Greek Archdiocese of America, which defined its Strategic plan in terms of six steps, the last of which is its “implementation.” To that end there is, today, years after the inception of the plan, an almost permanent presence of follow-up reminders, opportunities, activities, and reports. right from its inception.
The following list of goals is found in the Strategic Plan of the Ukrainian Church and is similar to what is found in all the plans cited above. “Administration: Empirical Metrics, Skills Matching, Operational and Personnel Needs. 2. Clergy: Clergy Development Program, Clergy Compensation and Wellness, U.S. Clergy Recruitment. 3. Communications: Welcoming Ministry, Comprehensive Communications Platform, Cohesive Brand. 4. Education: Orthodox Education Lifelong Learning Program, Orthodox Leadership Development Program. 5. Family & Youth: Family Lifecycle Program, College Student Outreach Program, Adolescent Outreach Program. 6. Healthy Parishes: Healthy Parishes Program, Caring Ministry Program. 7. Outreach and Evangelism: Outreach & Evangelism Ministry, New Successful Mission Parishes, Philanthropic Outreach.”
For example, “Strategic Plan for Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA,” (2016): 11.
Roger L Martin, “The Big Lie of Strategic Planning,” Hrvard Business Review, no. January-February (2014): 1.