I had a vision to beautify the barren property that surrounded the church I served. It was an engaging vision that garnered lots of buy-in. Trees and fencing were donated. A spring Saturday was set for planting the trees. Folks were excited! Lots of trees got planted that day. Sadly, almost none of them survived.
For years, their brown boughs served as a living, or rather dead, reminder of that failed vision. In fact, the property looked even more barren with dead trees dotting it than it had before.
What was the culprit here? Blight, bad weather and critters are all good guesses. But the truth is simpler and harsher than that.
When it came to planting trees, we had several things going for us: vision, alignment and even people willing to execute the vision. But there was also an unnamed saboteur in our midst: lack of planning. We sabotaged the vision by failing to think through what should happen next. Like watering and follow up care. Even more so, we sabotaged the vision by failing to engage people who would have noticed the lack of a plan.
Personally, I was quite comfortable shooting from the hip, making stuff up as I went along. I didn’t need a thought-out plan. But those poor trees did! I wish I could say the great tree planting caper was the only example of aborted vision, wasted energy and squandered good will in my tenure there. But it wasn’t. As an idea-generator with lots of energy, I had all kinds of great ideas. And the persuasiveness to get others on board. What I lacked was awareness that each of my ideas needed a thorough plan to succeed. Bottom line: I had failed to plan and planned to fail.
If you’re a regular reader you know that I have a bias toward risk-taking, adventure, and boldness for church leaders. I’m all about visionary change. So this next thought may come as a surprise. Here it is: There’s genius in putting on the brakes and slowing down the pace of change. Yup, you heard it here.
Slowing down the pace of change allows a plan to emerge. It also allows structures to be created which ensure the change is sustainable. Developing a structure requires putting the brakes on and thinking things through. All the way through. Including who is going to buy the water hose.
I now know the best way to plan is to begin with the end in mind. Then provide a framework that allows you to get there step by step. With all the i’s dotted and all the t’s crossed. It’s detail time, folks.
You want gorgeous, healthy trees that thrive in the high desert plains for years to come? You want flowers and bushes and color that vivify brown prairie grasses and silver-green sage brush? That all takes planning! Likewise, you want an outreach ministry that makes a real difference in the lives of street people or the underemployed? Or a prayer ministry that will impact each and every person in your zip code? How about a community garden that will nourish the elderly? All that takes planning. Start with the end in mind and work your way backwards.
Our churches are full of people who excel at thinking things through. They’re the ones that usually like to put the brakes on anyway and consider all the angles. They value harmony, stability, and well-thought through change. If that’s you, please stand and take a bow! This is where your genius shines. By tapping into your ability to think systematically, supply details, include the right people, ask the right questions, and challenge flawed thinking, you can enable changes to take hold and take root. You can ensure that change is sustainable.
Of course, there’s still a place for your faster-paced, more adventurous fellows, too. In fact, you need them to keep the momentum going, so you don’t get bogged down or stopped. The truth is that you need each other.
Here are eight tips for making sustainable change while keeping forward momentum going:
1. Get input from the visionaries as well as the analyzers. Make sure to include the very people who will be implementing the vision. Engage them with both voice and a vote to create strong buy in. And a greater likelihood of seamless implementation.
2. Have regular meetings. But don’t space them too far apart! Otherwise, you’ll lose momentum. The more often you meet, in fact, the shorter each meeting can be. And the more focused. Monthly or quarterly meetings are the graveyard of too many worthy visions. At the same time, give yourselves enough time to make a good plan, and to think through what needs to be done.
3. Together, anticipate cause and effect, plan for contingencies, think through what could go wrong, and wherever possible eliminate risk.
4. Plan for things going better than expected. With God in the mix, lots of things go well and right! Consider new opportunities that could arise from your vision being implemented. Includes plans to jump on those opportunities so you can keep the momentum going.
5. Let your plans be vigorous, focused, and move things forward. Then take the foot off the brakes. You can’t know everything before you finally say “go.” But your plans will help you deal with what you encounter along the way precisely because you will have thought through what could go right and what could go wrong. Develop your faith by trusting God and trusting your fellows, even if you don’t feel 100% ready yet.
6. Once you have a plan, remember to stay in communication! Consistent and timely communications keep planning on track and allows for real-time analysis. It also helps people feel part of things.
7. Embrace your adversaries. Both the ability to craft a vision and to carefully implement it are gifts from God. But most people have one or the other, not both. Learning how to work well together is key.
8. Have fun! Feel the joy of doing things well, and creating a sustainable culture shift. Surprise people by excelling at making good, enduring change. Revel in the fact that the Kingdom is at hand.
I’d love to hear about your failed visions. And your successful changes. Both are inspiring. Because we learn from failure and success.
Not sure how to bring all this together?  Check out Creating a Culture of Renewal. It’s a step by step process that shows you how to bring out the best in the people who frustrate you the most. All while empowering you and your church to dream and lead like Jesus.