“By wise guidance you can wage your war and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 24:6) Strategic Intent in a parish council is regularly asking and reflecting upon high level questions such as:
What do we wish to become in light of our mission?
What exactly is our mission?
What is our preferred choice for the future?
How do we achieve our vision of the future?
What does our vision of the future as a parish look like in light of the gospel?
What are we trying to accomplish right now in this discussion in light of our mission?
The dilemma is that parish councils are often afflicted with tactical myopia, the temptation to continually focus upon small operational issues, never raising their heads from the plow in the furrow, as it were, to look at the far horizon. There are two basic challenges for parish councils that inhibit regularly focusing upon strategic intent: 1) parish council members are often forced to do staff-like tasks due to the diminutive size of a parish or under staffing of clergy and office personnel, so operations become the orientation of parish councils, and 2) it is unclear how to integrate strategic intent into parish council deliberations. Though every parish council member at any point in time can and should periodically raise questions such as those above to introduce a dimension of strategic intent in a meeting, there are four primary positions on a parish council that should be concerned with strategic intent. The four positions are: the priest first and foremost, the parish council chairperson, the chair of the strategic planning committee and the chair of the governance committee. Not every parish council will have the two latter functionalities. Strategic intent exercises should periodically be included in parish council agendas or given deeper reflection at parish council retreats or through a comprehensive all- parish strategic planning process. Strategic intent exercises are often the best time in the meeting leading to shared creativity, brainstorming and analysis all in light of the mission of the parish and asking the question, “What do we wish to become?” Strategic intent is an opportunity to dream and ask “What if…?” Strategic intent also helps a parish council to transition to mission-driven and information-driven decision making and away from personality-driven decision making – the second bane of parish council life after operational myopia. Stewardship Advocates has prepared a number of simple exercises found in the Library designed to help parish councils think and act strategically. One of these is listed below. In light of the graphic below, what does the overall fundraising strategy of the parish look like when seeking the funds that allow ministries and programs to flourish? Where are we strong? Where are we weak? What steps can be taken to improve upon our present methodology? Who should be involved? How do we acquire new information? Parish council meetings rarely accord enough time to formulate a plan to address the issues and opportunities that are raised in strategic intent discussions. This is when a committee might be tasked with bringing proposals for action to a future parish council meeting once research has been completed.