Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, as a way of life

Strategic Planning in the Church

Beloved saints,

Lenten greetings to you and yours. I hope and pray that you have had a reflective Christmas and Epiphany— albeit punctuated by the sobering reality of senseless  gun violence.

One of the key twists in the Epiphany narrative is when the Magi change their plans. They change their goal from going back to Herod to essentially avoiding Herod. Their discernment resulted in their GPS significantly rerouting them all because they discerned and listened to their discernment. Their roadmap changed and it changed their journey, and the rest is gospel history. We are invited to listen and discern, whether it is around issues such as gun violence—or the future of God’s church.

Much like the nation, the Church is faced with a spiritual cliff, slope, or whatever your metaphor. We have to make some choices wisely. Discernment is key to our journey as congregations, as a Diocesan family of congregations, and as The Episcopal Church. Around our Diocese, I see congregations at various stages of discernment asking questions like “Who are we?” and “Where is God calling us?” Every congregation has presenting issues that bring such discernment to the forefront. Discernment is a sign of the new day in our lived experience. In the past, quick-fi x solutions worked out. Smaller congregations, for instance, could patch fi nancial defi cits with the help of a generous donor or two, and things took care of themselves because we could always count on the fact that people would come to church. This is increasingly not the case in our postmodern world where individuals are custom-building their own spiritual paths and mainstream religiosity is almost not on their radar.

The writing on the wall is clear: Congregations that are not discerning their purpose and developing a roadmap to get there are destined to fade away. I am sorry if that sounds melodramatic, but really, every congregation has to choose between managing decline and growing in spiritual and missional ways. Please continue to stop, learn, pray, discern, plan our path, invest, and trust in God. We have learned and capable clergy who desire to do this work with all the laity engaging their splendid gifts.

In our Diocese, one of the methods that a few congregations have engaged is a strategic discernment process with the help of a trained and compassionate facilitator who companions the leadership team in this journey. It is a coaching model that is meant to empower and not to patronize or develop codependency. This is a special resource available to all congregations. Because of the limitation in the number of trained facilitators, we may not be able to get a person to everyone one of our congregations at once. There may be some waiting involved, but the important thing is that we do have help! This is not the only method. There are other methods and tools that can be used, but the important thing is to prayerfully discern from the ground up, clarify where God is calling our congregations to go and how we intend to get there during this season.

As we continue our Lenten journey, let us consider our church’s destination. The old adage “if you don’t know where you are going, you will most likely get there” is more than partially true as far as the church is concerned, because with- out discernment and goals we will most certainly get nowhere. It is a choice we are empowered to make. I hope your congregation is doing this heavy lifting; if your congregation has not done so in the recent past, I invite you to a Holy season of discernment during this year. Help is available. As long as we depend on God for our strength we will be vibrant witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Please reach out to me and my staff. Let us discern how we can help you in this exciting season when we are, in a way, being forced to trust in God more than anything else. My staff and I are at your service in the name of our loving Christ! Do not be afraid. You are not alone. Let us journey together.

Glad tidings all!

+ Prince