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Five Tensions a Church Needs to Manage in a Strategic Planning Process: Focused & Flexible

When it comes to strategic planning for churches, one tension which quickly rises to the surface is the balance between being FOCUSED and FLEXIBLE as a strategic plan is being built.

By definition, a plan for the future needs to provide a certain degree of focus to help orient common efforts toward a shared goal. At the same time, by definition church leaders are people of faith and we want to remain open-handed to where God may be leading in the future.

Too often, pastors let this tension to be managed become untenable. As a result, strategic plans become rigid and forced or the process never moves forward because of the resistance toward doing any kind of planning at all.

For churches are are at a place in their life where you are exploring growth, clarifying your direction forward, and hoping to inspire your congregation toward greater outcomes, this tension between being focused and flexible is very real.

What is crucial is finding a balance between focused on specific objectives over the course of the plan while remaining adaptable to change and new opportunities as God leads you forward.

This article is part of a series of five articles I’m writing focused on different tensions to be managed as churches go through a strategic planning process:

1. Focused and Flexible

2. Aligned and Accountable

3. Inspiration and Impact

4. Transformation and Team-Driven

5. Holistic and Hopeful



Over the course of this series my hope is you will appreciate and understand each of these tensions while also feel equipped to manage them as a leader when the time is right for you to build a strategic plan for your church.

First, let’s look at Focus.

Focus serves as the anchor for any strategic plan. It provides direction and purpose, guiding the church towards its mission and vision. By setting specific objectives, we bring clarity to our goals and equip our leaders and congregation with a shared vision.

When a strategic plan lacks focus, it’s simply a collection of good ideas. Without a cohesive purpose or narrative connecting the outcomes and investments of the plan, it will leave people confused and unsure about why the plan exists in the first place.

Focus is vital for achieving a church’s mission and vision and setting specific objectives brings clarity and direction to our efforts and allows us to measure progress. By aligning these objectives with biblical teachings, we can ensure that our plans honor and reflect God’s purposes.

So what about Flexibility?

While focus is essential, it is equally crucial to cultivate a spirit of adaptability within our strategic planning. The church is not immune to change, and unexpected challenges or unforeseen opportunities can arise at any moment. There is no strategic plan in the history of the world which unfolded exactly as it was laid out from the moment it was announced through to its completion.

As I tell people often when I’m leading a church through a strategic planning exercise, “The map is not the terrain.” The way you will reach your destination in the future is not prescribed but described through the content of the strategic plan you develop.

By embracing flexibility, we position ourselves to effectively respond and seize these moments for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. We see this demonstrated throughout the Bible, where faithful individuals like Abraham, Joseph, and Paul adjusted their plans in obedience to God’s leading, ultimately birthing incredible outcomes which would not have been possible if there was not flexibility.

Flexibility allows us to navigate unexpected challenges and seize new opportunities for growth.

In fact, people often feel this tension between Focused and Flexibility and misunderstand this to mean if a strategic plan for a church is too focused, it will prevent flexibility. When the reality is often the complete opposite.

Developing a strategic plan with a clarity of focus and a cohesive purpose, greater flexibility is possible for the church’s leadership and congregation since we already know the direction and destination God is leading us. If we’re focused on the big picture outcome and admit honestly how much room there is within the strategic plan for variance, the opportunities for faithful flexibility toward the goals of the plan become even more engaging.

By honestly embracing this tensions which is present in strategic planning for churches, pastors will build trust with their congregation, build greater relationships with board members and key leaders who should speak in to the creation of the strategic plan, and ultimately build greater effectiveness in their church’s ability to move forward in accomplishing the intended goals of the plan.

Managing this tension also shapes the strategic planning process itself. Navigating the tension people are feeling takes wisdom, patience, honesty, and commitment. Pastors need to continue to rely on God’s leading in their own lives while remaining attentive to the dynamic nature of ministry where we’re often reminded how God shapes communities through collective collaboration, not always through the singular vision of one person. It’s important to remember the purpose of building a strategic plan together is to enable the church to be more effective in discipling more people, reaching more people, and becoming more effective in its calling.

Strategic planning for churches don’t need to be a rigid and mechanical exercise, but instead one where both FOCUS and FLEXIBILITY are valued and acknowledged as key ingredients to building a successful plan.

How to do this?

To embrace both focus and flexibility in your strategic planning, here are some suggested action steps:

1. Foster a culture of open communication and collaboration involving diverse perspectives in the strategic planning process.

2. Encourage creativity and innovation from different stakeholders as outcomes and activities are explored in building the plan.

3. Continuously seek God’s guidance through prayer and be willing to adjust or affirm your focus as you do.

4. Regularly revisit and adjust goals based on emerging needs and opportunities.


The balanced between FOCUS and FLEXIBILITY is just that – a balance. Don’t let either one dominate, but also don’t be so fearful of the tension that you never engage the process.

Continue reading this series to learn more about these five tensions  a church needs to manage in its strategic planning process. Feel free to share these articles with others from your church who are feeling this tension but aren’t sure how to best manage it.




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