March is a pretty big month for me. Aside from being the month of my birth, March also commemorates two big moments in my life as your pastor: the anniversary of my first official Sunday here at Niles Discovery Church (March 17), and the anniversary of our first Sunday together at 36600 Niles Blvd. (March 15). I still remember so well the joyful worship on that first Sunday, and the way we stood in a circle around the sanctuary and sang our blessing to each other, surrounded by the prayers we had written on the walls months before. What an amazing culmination of our hard work, and a jubilant expression of praise for God’s steadfast love.
When we moved in last year, it felt like we all breathed a collective sigh of relief, with a deep sense of being weary from so much work, both emotional and physical. But there was also a sense of now, what? Now that we’re fully merged, now that we’re in our new building, now what should our focus be? Now where should we put our energy? What has God called us to do in this time and place? What ministries are right for our community? How can we best build the Body of Christ and the Kin-dom of God here in the Tri-Cities?
As a way of answering all those now, what questions, the Cabinet asked me to gather a team of people to do some research and recommend a strategic planning process for the congregation to undertake. From November to January, four of us—Mike Thomson, Ryan Ramseyer, Susie Claxton, and I—met as a Strategic Planning Exploration Team. We explored a variety of strategies, including asset mapping, appreciative inquiry, and traditional processes that include a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). We talked with Judy Zlatnik and Doug Swint about their experiences with strategic planning in non-profit organizations, and experienced an Appreciative Way summit lead by consultant Barbara Broadbent.
We also considered the recent history of Niles Discovery Church, especially the reality that, because of the merger process, the congregation has done a lot of work around envisioning who we are as a congregation and what we long to be and do in the community. Because this introspective process was lengthy, and the congregation is generally tired from merging and building, the team felt that the strategic planning process should be shorter rather than longer, and find a way of getting at our hopes and dreams for the future without lengthy navel-gazing.
At its meeting last month, the Cabinet approved the process that the Strategic Planning Exploration Team created, and we will be moving forward to implement it this month (please see the article on page 1 for more details). Our goal is to have the plan drafted in time to have Pastor Jeff’s feedback on it before he leaves for his sabbatical in mid-August, and have a final draft for the congregation to approve in the early fall.
These are exciting times in the life of our congregation. We are a growing church, full of vitality, and passionate about bringing God’s love to our community. A strategic plan will help us focus our resources, energy, and vision for our long-term strength and service to the community. I’m optimistic about our future, and eager to see where the now, what leads us.