Strategic Gaps

“A strategy gap refers to the gap between the current performance of an organisation and its desired performance as expressed in its mission, objectives, goals and the strategy for achieving them.” (source: strategic gap)

“A Forecasting technique in which the difference between the desired performance levels and the extrapolated (see extrapolation) results of the current performance levels is measured and examined. This measurement indicates what needs to be done and what resources are required to achieve the goals of an organization’s strategy.” (source: Business Dictionary)

Maybe as a kid you rode your bike on the sidewalk (because the street is too dangerous.) You’ll remember how the sidewalk would have a seems in the concrete every several feet? Now think of what might happen if you’re riding along and an entire section of concrete is missing. What will you have to do? You’ll have to get off your bike, walk around, or maybe try to pedal your bike through grass on the side. Either way your progress is inhibited and it takes away the smoothness of the ride. Its kinda of frustrating. 

One of the challenges of leading organizations like churches comes as we attempt to move from point a to b to c to … whatever point in our strategic vision only to find our work disrupted by gaps in the process. These gaps come from a variety of places. Imagine, if you will, that strategic gaps are like missing parts of a sidewalk.

This is how strategic gaps are experienced in your church. They mess up a smooth ride.

Strategic gaps stand between an articulated strategic vision and an accomplished that vision. They often arise from shortcomings in leadership competencies and resources for sustainability. Of course that simply means: lack execution.

All too common is an instance where the existing strategic plan is unknown or constantly shifting. In these instances, gaps become gorges that swallow your functionality and inhibit progress as an organization. In churches this happens just like in other organizations (because we really aren’t that different functionally.) The senior tier leader(s) are unable to frame and cast the strategy to the staff so they can go out and accomplish to goals. Along these lines poorly informed subordinates are unable to accomplish goals they know nothing about. This leads to the image of riding your bike at night without a headlight and hitting one of these gaps in the sidewalk. Ouch!

Constant assessment of the vision, strategy, and results helps in both identifying and filling gaps before they are met on the pathway. Doing a consistent strategy review with key team voices will aid in reducing strategic gaps.

Critical to any strategic review is knowing when and who: when to have this check up? and who to invite? Not everyone on your team has a voice that matters equally in this process. Also, it is not entirely essential to have all ministry areas represented. If the results measures indicate that a gap exists in, say, the groups ministry. Then it is important to visit with the groups staff leadership, then possibly involving lay people in the process. This isn’t a singular meeting, but possibly a series of meetings which openly discuss (in a safe environment) reality and end up with results.

Of course one the larger challenges for too many churches is that they lack resources to acquire and hire individuals who have high talent and an ideal gift set. Not having the best individuals occupying the right seats ultimately leads to more of a skills gaps than a strategic gap. However, alignment with the overall strategic vision is central to accomplishing your goals and minimizing gaps.

One final thought: Several studies of significant organizations have looked closely at the issues of strategic gaps and how they impact the final accomplishment of a vision. They all have discovered that 70%-80% of failure in accomplishing a strategic plan comes from execution mistakes and not a faulty plan. We should remember this, it isn’t our plan that is creating a rough ride it is probably is our inattention to strategic gaps that is doing this.

What kind of strategic gaps are common in churches? What do we call them in the real world? How do we bridge the gap?


Measuring Up

One of the challenges of living in an increasingly post-Christian culture that is fragmented and dispersed as we are, is that how we engage with church and activities is changing. Even up into the late 1980s, maybe the early 1990s, we could reasonably expect regular, consistent attendance at events and programs. Indeed, the average church built their year around a programatic structure where we could move people from event to event to event to event and expect that this would be a decent marker of how well a church was doing in its ministry. 

With the explosion of fragmented and dispersed people, who are often faithful believers, that is driven by a shift in technology, media, and social involvement this programatic model is suffering a much needed death. The challenge for church leaders is understanding that there are two kinds of measures that go into assessing how well, or not, a church is accomplishing its goals and ministry.

Vertical Measures – are largely how many church leaders track, analyze, and assess their ministries. This approach asks the question: how many people showed up to (insert activity.) It is fundamentally a church of last century approach to ministry assessment. It has, as an underlying assumption, that church folk are moved and motivated to personal growth by attending events and regular involvement in ministry. Vertical measures track numbers and draw conclusions based on those numbers. (How many of us have a designated counter on Sunday morning.) They are also how most senior leaders have been taught, in both seminary and vocational life, how to assess programs and ministries.

Horizontal Measures – seek to track how many people are moving along in their journey of spiritual maturity. This approach asks the question: how many people are being changed/transformed in their spiritual lives? In utilizing this approach, church leaders attempt to understand how people are drawn from being passive observers (imagine the people in the stands of a baseball game) and grown into active contributors (the players on the field.) This is a difficult assessment to get our arms around, particularly since our measure tools are designed to track this growth. When leaders move to utilizing this measure as a primary tool for assessing ministry performance the metrics change and conversations are shaped differently.

Horizontal Measures

For churches that are seeking to grow their ministries (not necessarily numerical growth) the horizontal measures, appropriately tracked, might lead to increased vertical measures. Here the focus is on making disciples, making maturing Christians. With the fragmented and dispersed people who fill our pews and chairs from week to week, their weekly/regular attendance isn’t a metric of their spiritual maturity. Frankly, many spiritually mature church goers know where and how to get resources for their own growth that are unconnected with the specific church where they serve.

How church and ministry leaders develop tools and metric to measure horizontal growth becomes the key matter. Perhaps some questions lead will bring about some focus: how many more of our people are interested in missions work (local, international)? how are we doing starting a new ministry to an external need? where do we turn for new group leaders? how are doing filling vital volunteer positions? how are our people doing in moving from an inward focus to an outward service? how are we doing moving people from sitting and soaking to being involved in serving and giving?

Horizontal measures help develop people and draw them along a spectrum of spiritual maturity. Of course we can still use vertical measures, but to exclusively rely on them misunderstands appropriate ministry goals. A good balance between the two measures will bring about a healthier ministry culture and more informed leaders as we consider our next opportunities for expanded ministry.

 So what do you think? What are some ideal measures of horizontal growth?