There is a saying about parish planning which has become quite popular: “parishes that fail to plan, plan to fail.” The saying is mostly directed to long-range planning but there are other essential types of parish planning which may qualify as well.
The four essential types of parish planning are:
- Operational or daily
- Tactical or short range/annual
- Strategic or long-term
- Contingency or emergency
All of these are essential types of planning for effective parish ministry. How is or how should the parish be organized to effectively plan?
Operational or daily planning is the realm of the parish staff. All things related to the daily operation of the parish are identified and managed by this type of planning. Such activities as office hours, communication and information systems, building usage, record keeping, and management of parish revenues and expenses all fall under this area. Ministerial activity and schedules for Masses and other sacraments all fall under this area. Most parishes are quite good at this type of planning and, depending on the size of the staff, are able to provide many opportunities for personal and community enrichment and growth.
Tactical or short range/annual planning is the responsibility of staff members in collaboration with ministry teams or committees. With this type of planning, program schedules, room reservations and ministerial personnel are developed and put in place. Parishes are usually quite effective at annual planning. If parishes rely too heavily on tactical planning, they end up running programs for fewer people because they expect the parish to remain as it has in the past. A simple reality about parishes is overlooked: parishes change. How effectively parishes are able to manage change is the difference between communities which continually find new ways to grow and those parishes which always refer to their “golden days.”
Strategic or long-term planning, according to Canon Law, is the focus of the parish pastoral council. This consultative body, in collaboration with the pastor, must be the group with an eye on the future of the parish. Few councils do this effectively. Parishes are most successful at long-term planning when they are in a construction phase. Without something to build or renovate, parishes struggle to make significant change with ministerial activity which is so focused on daily and annual activity. Hence, parishes continue to function in similar ways hoping that the results will be better next year.
Contingency or emergency planning falls under the umbrella of the parish staff. Most parishes were commendable for their responses to the COVID pandemic. Parishes should have plans in case of fire, severe weather, securing facilities, personal scandals, and options in the event a priest or staff members is not available for a scheduled liturgical celebration or ministerial event. Dioceses or insurance companies often provide guidelines but the staff and other leaders should develop their own plans and review them periodically.
The next series of blogs will focus in greater detail on each type of planning and how the respective planners can be organized to effectively plan for today, tomorrow and the future. Effective planning will not only keep your parish from failing but help it to thrive.