Need for more and better planning

As those of you who have read our earlier publication “Planning for Catholics” might expect, we believe that what is needed is for Catholics to follow the best planning methodology used by successful worldwide organizations and in many complex situations. This methodology is quite deceptively simple and called “Strategic Planning”. However, for this purpose we will simply call it “Planning for Catholics”.

                Now just following this methodology will not necessarily produce all the solutions needed to solve all of the Catholic Problem. It is our hope and belief though that following this methodology is the best approach to finding solutions and many are suggested in the above section dealing with the six causes and beyond in Part II above and in the attached Exhibits.  It should be understood that although this document only deals with Strategic Planning for Individuals, Families and mainly Parishes in some detail, it is very important that the same methodology be applied to all Dioceses, religious orders, religious institutions, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Vatican as well. Otherwise it will be impossible to confront the causes of our Catholic problem described above.

                As a practical matter this planning procedure should best be done first by just a few parishes in each diocese and then have other parishes learn from those experiences.

8.1 Understanding what planning means-

                                One of the solutions to the CATHOLIC PROBLEM is to do a much better job of using modern planning techniques in everything the Church does. “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.[1] What is planning?

                                There are two general categories of planning. One is what we call Intuitive Planning and the other is Strategic Planning and, of course, there are hybrids in between.

                                Intuitive Planning is very informal and ranges from what most of us do like planning for the day, planning a trip or vacation, planning a wedding, etc. It also is the way some very large organizations and corporations plan when their owner or leader has a very clear understanding about the mission for the organization and then just makes sure that everything that they do is focused on that mission or goal.  This can be a very effective way to plan, but it is also very risky because it is so dependent on one or two persons and in large organizations it is difficult, if not impossible, to control, especially at the strategy and action planning levels. Also, it leaves out the input of the very members it relies on to accomplish. 

                                A hybrid of this planning process, where the mission is very well known, seems to be the kind of planning that has been used throughout the Catholic Church for many years.        

                                Strategic Planning is much more formal. The most common definition of strategic planning is “the process of thinking about and organizing a person’s or organization’s activities required to achieve the mission or vision of the future for the person or organization.”[2] [3] There are three levels of formal planning usually needed for each planning entity. One is the Long–range Plan, for say 15 to 25 years, and the second is the Strategic Plan for about 5 years. Third, most entities will also have an Annual Plan, which will often be more detailed and oriented toward the financial aspects of planning. The long-range plan is going to be much shorter and more general in nature. The plans for individuals and families are much simpler and are a combination of long and short-range objectives, strategies and action plans. All of these plans need to be updated about once a year or whenever there is a significant change in circumstances.

                                Everyone involved in a leadership role should participate in one or more educational sessions designed to teach each person how this planning methodology works. It is not enough to simply read a document like this one. Each person involved needs to understand not only their role, but everyone else’s role in the planning process. A good facilitator, who should lead these study sessions, will help educate everyone in what the planning process is and what it is not.   

8.2  Need for leadership to commit-

                                One of the biggest challenges for successful planning is that it requires strong committed leadership. Unless Church leaders, Pastors and Bishops and yes, even the Pope, “buy in” to this process and take ownership of it, there is not much chance for its success. By “taking ownership of it” is meant, that planning cannot be delegated to a committee or other group unless the chair of such committee is the one in charge of the entity being planned for. The Leader must be committed to operating the entity on a day-by-day basis using the “Plan” as a guide, but must not be micromanaging any aspect of it.

                                Most of us lay people who have spent a good part of our lives in the business world realize that our wonderful and religious clergy are very good at what they have been educated to do. Most of them are excellent leaders in religious matters, but few, if any, have had much formal education and experience in modern management principles and techniques.[4] This is one of the reasons that each Catholic planning entity should hire a professional planning facilitator to work with them through what can be and will be a very difficult, but rewarding process.

8.3   Commitment to Universal Mission-

                                                    The most important and often most difficult step in any planning process is establishing the entity’s Mission. Every Catholic and especially the Parish Pastor and resident clergy must agree on the Mission and be completely invested in it. See Mission in 3. above.

                                                    More details about the vision for the future and how it will achieve this mission will be expressed in a series of Objectives supporting each of the three pillars of the mission 1) Evangelism, 2) Prayer and 3) Helping Others. The details should not be “baked in concrete”, but should only change if the pastor or other leader agrees after input from others on the planning committee.

8.4 Picking right leaders for planning committee-

                                To get input and buy-in from the parishioners there should be a strategic planning committee formed. The chair of such a committee would have to be the Pastor or other leader of any other entity for which the plan is being prepared. Such a planning committee should naturally include the Pastor, the associate pastors, the deacons, manager of parish staff, music director, two or three (maybe more) heads of ministries, member or two or more from parish council, Chair of parish finance committee, three or four parishioners at large for a total of from 12 to 15 or more. This group would meet with the facilitator, as a group, as often as necessary, just on the vision and the items mentioned above and then maybe individually for at least some of the committee, with the facilitator. The committee should understand the role, views, veto power and ultimate authority of the Pastor.

8.5   Hiring the right facilitator is essential; makes huge difference-

                              The first and most important task of the committee should be to select and hire an independent skilled and experienced facilitator to help develop the strategic plan. It might be possible to proceed without such a facilitator, but the odds of being successful that way are small. The diocese may provide help in this regard.  It may be possible that the diocese has (hopefully) already engaged such a facilitator for their own plan and may recommend such person to the committee. If not we can recommend some excellent experienced facilitators. Nevertheless, the committee should interview at least three candidates for this job. The facilitator should educate the committee on the entire planning process which should follow established methodology adopted by the American Planning Association, the Strategic Planning Association or other established organization. This guide was developed based on these sources. He or she will guide the discussions in a structured manner, but without interjecting more than the bare minimum, of his or her personal views, just to keep the discussion on track. The facilitator will need a scribe to record (often on a flip chart in front of the group) and disseminate the committee’s conclusions (i.e. minutes).

8.6 Researching religious “competition”-

                            There is likely much to be learned from other churches in the area, especially any that are experiencing substantial growth. There needs to be prepared a list of all churches and potential contacts at these churches within an area comprising the approximate boundaries of the parish. There probably are some churches outside of this area that should be included as well because of their reputation and size. There will need to be a data sheet(s) developed for each such church.

8.7 Informing and enrolling parishioners in Mission-

                                Before continuing with this planning process we need to make certain that everyone involved in a leadership role is “on-board” and that all of the advance legwork described above is completed. This means that each person in a leadership role should understand why and agree, that the planning process, as described above, is the only way they will accomplish the changes needed to fulfill our Mission.

                At the very beginning of any planning process there should be a written and oral report to the entire parish about what the parish is undertaking, why it is doing so and how it is being done. See Appendix VI for an example of a homily/announcement. This example is intentionally a “bit over the top”, but that is intended to emphasize the importance of the planning effort.

8.8 Taking inventory of strengths, weaknesses and demographics and parishioners views on the mission-

                            There will need to be an anonymous questionnaire (see Appendix IV) developed for all parishioners to complete to create a complete inventory of all the strengths, weaknesses and certain   demographics to find out where the parish is today and where they want to be. This questionnaire should include input on the mission of the parish from members of the parish. Before this   questionnaire is distributed there will need to be materials prepared and homilies given for educating and stimulating thought and input from others.

            US Census data for tracts within what would be considered the approximate geographic limits of the parish should be analyzed and summarized for as much information as possible.

8.9  Forming Planning Groups-

                    Partially to avoid too much top down planning and to take

advantage of the rich resources of as many parishioners as possible the parish should form as many planning groups as possible of from 10 to 20 each. This can be done by asking all parishioners to sign up for one of the groups.

The purpose of the planning groups will be to critically review the draft objectives, strategies and related background information and reports developed by the Planning Committee and propose whatever changes they come up with. It will be important for parishioners attending these planning group’s meetings to think “out of the box”, so to speak, and realize that no suggestion or question is a “dumb” one.  

            Each planning group will be chaired by a member of the Planning Committee and depending on the number of planning groups formed, this planning committee member may need to chair more than one planning group

8.10 Inventory of parishioners’ ability and interest in Helping Others

                                To determine the parishioners’ various abilities and interest in helping others there needs to be a questionnaire similar to that shown in Appendix V. This is a critical step in developing a parish program that uses every resource it has to help others and fulfill the objectives and strategies for that third pillar of the mission to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

8.11 Objectives-

8.11.1 Developing draft Objectives for each pillar of the mission-

              Once there is agreement on the mission, then work can begin on the draft Parish objectives needed to more fully define the mission. There need to be one or more objectives for each pillar of the parish’s mission statement-Evangelism, Prayer and Helping Others. Objectives need to have quantifiable goals in them to enable measurement and accountability for progress or lack of it at future dates. The facilitator will be a big help in defining these with the committee.

                            These draft objectives will be subject to review and possible suggested change by the Planning Groups. Assisting them in this effort will be reports from researching competing religious organizations and from taking inventory of strengths, weaknesses and demographics and parishioners views on the missionfrom above.

8.11.2 Planning Groups review of draft Objectives-

                            The first of two jobs for the planning groups is to review and suggest changes, if any, to the draft objectives developed by the Planning Committee. The same will be done with Strategies after the Objectives are finalized.  A scribe with a flip chart will be needed for each group. There likely will need to be more than one meeting of each planning group.

8.11.3 Finalizing Objectives-

                            Once each planning group’s work on the objectives is completed, the results of that effort will be presented to the Planning Committee for review and finalization.

8.12 Strategies-

8.12.1 Develop draft Strategies for each Objective-

                            For each objective there needs to be one or more strategies for how the objective is going to be achieved. These need to be as detailed, specific and actionable as possible. The Planning Committee will develop draft strategies for each objective finalized in the previous step.

8.12.2 Planning Groups review of draft Strategies-

                            The second of two jobs for the planning groups is to review and suggest changes, if any, to the draft strategies developed by the Planning Committee.  A scribe with a flip chart will be needed for each group. There likely will need to be more than one meeting of each planning group.

8.12.3 Finalizing Strategies-

                            Once each planning group’s work on the strategies is completed, the results of that effort will be presented to the Planning Committee for review and finalization.

8.13 Develop Action Plans for each strategy-

              Very specific action plans to support each strategy needs to be developed. Each action in these plans needs a time frame for completion and a named person to be responsible.

8.14 Monitoring, managing, accountability and follow-up-

                        At some periodic date, say at least quarterly, there should be meetings of either the planning committee or other operating committees to determine how progress is being made or not made. Appropriate adjustments to strategies and action plans may be made at these meetings. Once a quarter there should be a review of the entire strategic plan-objectives and strategies.

8.15 Reporting progress and results to parishioners-

                            At various stages of the planning process there should be reports to the entire parish on how the planning process is proceeding. At least every six months there should be a report to the entire parish on how the parish is doing in comparison to the plan.  And what changes in the plan, if any, are being proposed or made.

[1] Widely Attributed to Benjamin Franklin

[2] Wikipedia and see the American Planning Association.

[3] Strategic Planning Association at

[4] For example see the curriculum for one of the country’s largest seminaries, University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois. You will find that only part of one semester course is devoted to the business of running a parish.