Five Reasons Why A Church Should Set Goals (Part 1) - Scott Scruggs

Years ago I noticed a certain pattern in the ministry I was leading. Every summer our leadership team would meet to plan for the upcoming year. We set out flip charts and sticky notes. We would brainstorm, discuss, and even debate ideas. We put events on the calendar and talked about our roles and responsibilities—all the while praying for God’s guidance and consuming massive amounts of snack food. It felt like we were doing all the right things. Yet despite our best intentions, each year ended up looking and feeling a lot like the year before.
Until the summer we decided to set a goal. At the time, our ministry included a little over 100 young adults. We decided we wanted to reach 300. It wasn’t a magic number. It didn’t come from a particular verse or story in Scripture. It was simply a goal.

We didn’t know if it was the right decision or if God might redirect us to a different outcome along the way. But we committed to doing everything in our power to reach it. That one decision changed how we planned, how we prayed, what we said yes to, and what we said no to. It guided how we used our resources and helped us inspire and equip our leaders. It seemed so simple, and yet it changed almost everything.
Since that time, I’ve become even more convinced that setting clear and concrete goals is an essential part of ministry leadership. I’ve seen the evidence in numerous contexts and from a variety of leaders.
Great goals do not have to be related to attendance or revenue. But they should be measurable in some way and should be clearly connected to the vision or mission of the church or ministry. In other words, a goal is a catalyst for achieving your mission—it’s not the mission itself.
Yet some leaders resist setting goals because it feels less spiritual or even superficial. Are we imposing our will on God’s? Are we invoking self-reliance instead of trusting God?
While some are convinced leaders should “just do your best and leave the rest to God,” I want to share five reasons goals can change your leadership and your ministry for the better.
Setting a goal creates a dilemma you wouldn’t otherwise face.
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood before Congress and proposed that the United States should commit to sending a man to the moon and bringing him safely back to earth by the end of the decade. At the time, NASA lacked the resources, infrastructure, and technology to achieve such an end, and the Soviets were already ahead in the space race. Kennedy’s goal presented the nation with a seemingly impossible dilemma, a dilemma that sparked the innovation, sacrifice, collaboration and unwavering commitment to see the goal become a reality.
Jesus did something similar with his disciples long before space travel. One day, as Jesus was teaching a large crowd, the disciples pulled Jesus aside and said, “The crowds are hungry and we don’t have enough food.” To which Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.” In other words, “I want you to feed 5,000 people. Make sure no one goes home hungry.” This was more than a task; this was a goal. You can imagine the disciples looking at each other, thinking, “How are we going to do that?” That one goal created a dilemma, which sparked actions that wouldn’t have otherwise happened, which eventually led to the miracle that changed thousands of lives.
Like those disciples, we need goals to stay engaged with the dilemmas of our day. We need to be constantly wrestling with the question, “How are we going to do something about that?” It could be planting a certain number of churches, recruiting a certain number of volunteers, or reaching a certain number of people. Being aware of the need is not enough. You need a goal to motivate change and action.
A friend of mine leads in a non-profit that serves at-risk youth. His team worked for years to curb the violence in their neighborhood. A unique breakthrough came when they set a goal to see kids in their program go to college. This sparked new initiatives, unique programs, including a music studio for students to practice and record music. More importantly, their students are going to college.
The church today faces more difficult dilemmas than ever before. Setting a goal to confront just one of the issues in your context might be the only way your ministry can become part of the solution.
Setting a goal leads to conversations you wouldn’t otherwise have.
One of the realities facing many church leaders is a lack of collaboration and feedback. I was recently talking to a leader who works at a church that offers a long list of programs to help people find community. They had small groups, Bible study groups, marriage groups, home groups, membership groups, Old Testament role-play groups. Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the picture.
The frustration she described was not about the number of programs, but the lack of conversation and feedback between the different teams. Of course, all the leaders shared a heart for Jesus and a desire to see people find community and grow. But they didn’t feel the need to work closely with each other because they didn’t share a unifying goal.
A few years ago, the leadership team I currently serve on felt God leading us to launch five new multisite campuses over a five-year period. Given our resources and infrastructure at the time, it was a daunting task. But the impact of setting that goal was amazing. It pulled our different teams and departments together to talk about what it would take to get there—and how we could only get there together.