As we are approaching the end of the year many of us are beginning to prepare for next year. Part of that preparation is assessing your ministry for what worked this past year and asking the tough questions about what needs added and what needs taken away. This is the time of year we are looking at ministries, events, or other activities that need to be tweaked, overhauled, or even shut down. In this Field Note, we are going to look at a valuable tool you can use today to properly assess your church ministries.
A tool you can use for church ministry assessment today is a SWOT analysis. Used worldwide, the SWOT analysis is a proven tool for assessing the health and viability of any church or department. As a pastor, a SWOT analysis provides you, the board, or your team stimulating strategic thinking to clarify the sustainable effectiveness of any ministry area. This is accomplished by identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).
You Have Time for Assessment?
In church ministry, things often move at breakneck speeds. The weekly cycle of preparing and executing Sunday services other events can leave ministry leaders just trying to keep up. Often times there isn’t time available to pause and give a good assessment of where a ministry is. Even if you are able to find the time to do an assessment, it is hard to know where to even begin.
In my years of ministry, it has often fallen to me to carry out evaluations and assessments of ministry, events, and staff members. I often found that the performance of staff members was relatively easy to evaluate based on objectives expected, and events were easy to evaluate based on desired outcomes. However, ministries were a little more challenging.
It took more than just looking at the attendance numbers or the giving totals. Quite honestly, and I am sure many of you would agree, evaluating the effectiveness of a ministry is not really captured in those two metrics. You can have a well-attended and well-funded ministry that is unhealthy and causing more harm than good to the well-being of the faith community.
To effectively evaluate a ministry there needs to be an objective assessment taken from many different angles to see where a ministry needs to improve, where it is already hitting home runs, or even if it needs to be shut down.
This is why I believe the SWOT analysis is an invaluable tool for ministry leaders to use.
What is SWOT?
SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The distinction is in the what the quadrants are focused on. The strengths and weaknesses are assessing the internal environment of the church, while the opportunities and threats are focused on the external environment. This distinction acts as a guard from only focusing on the internal or external.
To properly use SWOT, it is important to remember the strengths and weaknesses relate to the internal environment, and the opportunities and threats related to the external environment.
Exploring both the internal and external environments of your church can provide you with a long-term strategic perspective of where God is leading your faith community. It will allow your church to remain effective in an increasingly dynamic and spiritually diverse world.
Like other pastors and ministry leaders, you need to be able to lift your head from the demands of today and see down the road into the coming future. This will allow you to develop a clearer plan, operate with strategic intentionality, and be more efficient with your time, energy, and resources.
For this reason, it is vital you are able to develop strategic plans to guide you and your faith community into the future. This is what makes the SWOT analysis so valuable.
A SWOT analysis will result in a less stressful ministry experience, more quality time with your family, and a greater sense of satisfaction with your ministry.
Assessment of Strengths
A vital element of a healthy church is a regular celebration of all the things that are going right. This is strengthened when these celebrations are genuinely grounded in reality rather than cheerleading and promotional spin.
The SWOT analysis begins with identifying strengths. Whether you are evaluating the church as a whole or a specific ministry, it is important to begin by identifying what is going right. Many times as ministry leaders we are focused on the fires that need to be put out, the challenges that are pulling us, or the looming conflicts we have to deal with. This can rob us of seeing all the things that are going well and the ways God is blessing our efforts. Even the morale of a church staff can be greatly hindered by the constant focus on the negative rather than focusing on the positive.
As a natural problem solver, I know this all too well. In the midst of everything going well, I can have a tendency to see the one thing that is wrong, no matter how minute it is. This has been very frustrating to my fellow team members over the years and even discouraging when they share their ideas. It is why I have to consciously choose to celebrate the victories and wins, to guard myself and those around me against being pessimistic, contrary, or even cynical.
When performing a SWOT analysis, start with the positive by identifying what is going right. What are the areas that are engaging people, bringing in new people, leading to spiritual growth, or guiding in salvation?
The strengths are the internal capabilities that give the church its effectiveness. It is how it serves the needs of members, attendees, and community and provides wins for them.
Now, it is important that in every step of the SWOT analysis an objective posture is taken. For instance, when listing strengths, if you or your team are overly positive about things going on, it can skew analysis to show things to be going better than they actually are. Just as taking an overly negative perspective will skew the results in the weaknesses section.
For instance, if you are evaluating your small group leader system and you list the training as a strength, how are you determining that? If the number of small groups is not increasing or the number of people attending small groups is not increasing, then it may be an indication that the training of leaders is not sufficient enough in the reproduction of more leaders or in the invitation of new members.
Assessment of Weaknesses
In the second step of the SWOT analysis, you will assess the weaknesses. What internal capabilities in the church or ministry being evaluated are ineffective or inefficient in performance or reaching desired objectives? It may also be identifying areas of limitation where objectives are being met, but the objectives are lowered because of the known limitations that exist.
For instance, if attendance to a specific class is limited to 15 attendees because of available space, but if space was not an option you know more would attend. This would appear as a strength because each time the class was offered it was filled to capacity, but it is really being held back from its full potential because of a limitation.
Another area of weakness that needs to be identified are ways your church or ministry are coming up short of serving a specific need of your members, attendees, and community. Is there a college in your community but your congregation only has a small number of those students attending? Or, do you have a lot of single mothers in your faith community, but there is nothing tailored for their unique needs?
This needs to be measured against your mission, vision, and core values, to determine whether or not it truly is a weakness, but it is an area needing to be evaluated.
When I perform a SWOT analysis, this is my favorite portion of the process. When identifying opportunities, this is a place to dream, imagine, and expand your thinking.
At this step, you are going to look at what conditions, or possible future conditions, might provide your church or ministry an opportunity to serve its members, attendees, or community more effectively.
Though this can be an exciting exercise to go through, the inevitable result of this step is change, and with churches, change can be difficult if the church has not built a tolerance for change into its culture. If you have built a church culture where change is accepted, then this is an exciting step, but if you haven’t then this can be a liberating process where new opportunities can invigorate you and your team to lead change.
The temptation at this stage in the SWOT analysis is to stop, ride the high excitement of all the opportunities you just identified, and be done. However, identifying threats is possible more vital to the analysis than any of the previous areas.
In this stage, you will identify conditions and possible future conditions inside and outside the church that might threaten the sustainability and effectiveness of the church or ministry. The objective here is to find ways to minimize or avoid these threats before they make an impact on your church or ministry.
For instance, how will your faith community handle the move toward online worship? How is your church handling the growing competition with youth sports and busy school activities?
Being able to identify these threats in advance will allow you and your team to plan a response to avoid or minimize the threat rather than reacting to it. Reacting to threats often leads to a greater loss in resources, loss in people, and increased stress and strain on everyone involved.
Holding a SWOT Workshop
Now that you understand what each section of the SWOT analysis is focused on, now you are ready to perform an analysis yourself or lead your team through a SWOT workshop. The following steps will take the guesswork out of the process and set you and your team up for an incredible experience.
- Define the objective of the SWOT Analysis: what is it that you are assessing? You may be assessing a specific ministry department, an event, a service, or your entire church effectiveness. It is important to know what objectives you are measuring against. If there are not predetermined objectives, then this is a good time to quickly jot some down.
- Explain the SWOT procedure: use the previous sections of this Field Note to bring everyone else up to speed on what each step in the procedure looks like.
- Individuals lists: Provide everyone in the workshop with a framework they can use to list their own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It would be best to allow everyone to do a section at a time for a set amount of time, such as 1–3 minutes. The temptation will be to have a discussion about each section but help your team restrain from engaging in dialogue until later in the process.
- Combine responses: Now that everyone has their own individual SWOT frameworks filled out, it is time to come together as a team. Using a whiteboard or Post-its on the wall, combine a collection of everyone’s responses in the appropriate quadrant of the framework. This will provide everyone the opportunity to see what everyone else is thinking, identify where everyone is on the same page, and where there are differences in perspective.
- Engage in authentic dialogue: This is your opportunity to facilitate the dialogue of your team. Encourage them to be open and honest and really explore each section together. The goal of this is to come to a common approach regardless of differing perspectives. It is vital you as the leader become a facilitator of the dialogue rather than a driving force. If you have a dominant voice in the dialogue, then it will stifle the voice of the others in the room.
- Develop actions for moving forward: The key to a successful SWOT analysis is to use the information from the framework and dialogue and place it into action. This is where you as the leader begin to take more of a prominent role. Distilling the information gathered and turning it into action steps with a strategic approach.
If you would like to receive a free SWOT template you can use, click here.
Objective assessment is always a challenge, and finding the time for assessment is an even greater challenge. The SWOT analysis can provide incredible insight into the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of any church or ministry, and it can be done on a napkin if necessary. Despite the simplicity of it, the insight gained is invaluable and can position you and your faith community to develop an intentional strategy to advance God’s Kingdom and make a lasting impact on your community.
Leave a comment below and let me know what section of the SWOT analysis you are most interested in diving into with your team.
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