Church Communications resources and tips from Justin Dean

Think Strategically Without a Strategy

Strategy. It’s a word we throw around frequently in churches. In recent years, “strategic plans” have become common at our fall staff retreats. We are given ample time to create one, yet we still scramble to finish it the night before the retreat starts.

These plans, when done well, can be helpful. We have the opportunity to spend time in prayer and give thought to get a vision for our ministry area. And we then can use that focused time to think through what we should and should not do in the coming year.

Yet we can easily become paralyzed by these plans instead of empowered. Instead of having a roadmap to guide our decisions, we instead feel as though we have created our own set of shackles that make us feel like we are drowning in the day to day work.

So is there a better way? Is there a way we can still be strategic and intentional in our work, without feeling burdened by a specific plan?

The answer is YES. You see, we may need to shift away from a specific strategy and look towards thinking strategically. Instead of something written in stone, maybe we should figure out how we can develop a strategic mindset on a daily basis.

This strategic mindset is one that is focused on making intentional, purposeful decisions. Instead of haphazardly choosing a design style, new social tool, or giving campaign plans, we take time to think through questions that help us execute our jobs in a more purposeful way.

Here are 3 questions that will help you think strategically on a more consistent basis, whether or not you have a specific strategy:


This question should seem obvious, but it is often overlooked in churches. I have literally been “inside” churches since birth, as my Dad is a Music Minister and I have worked in churches for several years. We, as church staff, are notorious for overlooking this question. If we cannot give an answer that is in line with our purpose, values, and strengths (assuming it is, you know, biblical), then we need to reassess what we are about to do.


Several years ago, I attended the board retreat for the non-profit where I worked. At dinner one evening, I sat at the table with a former Disney Imagineer (confession: I almost had a fangirl moment. I’m a big Disney fan). He told stories of the projects he did at Disney and after Disney. The biggest takeaway for me: “At Disney, we always started with what we wanted to accomplish. We then worked hard to find out everything that was required-laws, physical restrictions, budget, whatever. We used those clear boundaries as a way to bring to life the things we wanted to accomplish.”

Spend time finding out your restraints. It is OK to stay inside the box, because it gives you the chance to make it the greatest box ever.


Translate your previous answers into actionable steps. Most people struggle with productivity because they put things on their task lists that are concepts, not actions. They put the answer to the 2 previous questions as an action item, but that causes confusion and possibly anxiety. Instead, your answers should give you a pretty clear idea as to the necessary action items.

There you have it. Use those three questions, and you will begin developing a more strategic, intentional mindset to your work. And that is far more powerful than a last-minute strategy for a staff retreat.

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