The issue never should be whether our churches should have goals, but rather how we use them.
Having goals is the one essential for all organizations. Goals give a sense of direction and purpose, promote enthusiasm, facilitate effective operation, reduce needless conflict, and give a clear understanding of what is expected. Indeed in an organization there are few things more powerful than the idea of a goal. 1
Goals are important for another reason as well. They act as the measure by which we can tell whether something has been achieved. Without goals we have just activity, and we cannot be certain that a predetermined level of performance has been actually achieved. Set goals, and you know where you ought to go. Fail to plan, and you in fact plan to fail.
You may ask, "What does goal setting have to do with nonprofit organizations, such as my church?" Ever since Peter Drucker coined the term "management by objectives" some 40 years ago, goals and goal setting have been a central feature of management theory and practice. Research has shown time and again that people and organizations that have objectives consistently outperform those who do not have any, even though they may be instructed to do their best. 2 Dale McConkey, in his book MBOfor Nonprofit Organizations,3 suggests that those who might question goal setting in nonprofit organizations would do well to consider the following: 1. Does the organization have a mission to perform? Is there a valid reason for its existence? 2. Can priorities be established for accomplishing the mission? 3. Can the operation be planned? 4. Does management believe it must manage effectively, even though the organization is a nonprofit one? If the answer is yes, then you do need goals.
The Bible too speaks of men and women who established specific goals. Abraham envisioned "the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10, NIV). Moses pressed toward the Promised Land. Hannah fasted and prayed for a son. David looked forward for the liberation of his people from captivity. John the Baptist prepared the way for the Anointed One. Jesus set His eyes upon the cross. Dorcas defined her work within the needs of her community.
Effective goals should have the following characteristics:
1. Specific and verifiable. To set a goal is to predict accomplishment. But accomplishment cannot be determined unless measurement parameters are built into the goal. When a goal is not specific enough, we cannot formulate plans to achieve it, and we would not know what resources we will need to carry out the plans, and we will have no means to measure the accomplishment.
2. Realistic and attainable. Challenges are necessary for improvement, but a challenge must be within the range of performance capability and resource availability. Goals based on hopes, desires, and wishes are seldom realistic.
3. Clearly understood. All persons involved in setting goals must clearly understand their respective roles in the reaching of their set objectives. Otherwise confusion and misunderstanding will frequently result.
4. Ranked by priority. Goal setting must be preceded by a clear definition of priorities. An organization's—and more so a church's—resources of time, funds, and personnel are limited, and we must ensure that we devote our resources to the most important objectives.
5. Communicated in writing. A written goal promotes better understanding, avoids confusion, and serves as a constant referral point.
6. Set in prayer. A church goal cannot be taken lightly. Seeking God's guidance through prayer should precede goal setting. A prayerful atmosphere has a way of weeding away that which contradicts God's will.
7. Set in faith. A church goal merely demonstrates the faith of members regarding what God can accomplish through them. Regarding membership goals, for example, the question could be asked: How many new disciples can I trust God to win through me and my church over the next year?
Church life goals
Often we think of church life goals only in terms of baptism. But other significant areas of church life also deserve measurable goal setting. Some examples of time-bound goal setting in church life are:
1. By December 31, 1996, increase Sabbath school attendance by a monthly average of 10 percent over that for 1995.
2. By June 25, 1998, pay off the church mortgage.
3. During 1996, place literature in the homes of 500 new families.
4. In the third quarter of 1996, train 200 lay members in witnessing.
5. Increase the tithe monthly average of 1996 by 15 percent above that of 1995.
6. Increase church school teachers from three to six in the next two years.
7. By November 30, 1997, establish a new church in a neighboring vicinity with no less than 60 members.
Goals and growth
Thousands of churches around the world experience no growth simply because nobody established any growth goal. So says Robert Schuller. 4 Adventist researchers Roger L. Dudley and Des Cummings,Jr., agree. They studied Adventist churches in Hawaii and Atlanta, Georgia, and discovered that a higher baptismal goal increased the likelihood of a real rise in the number of local members, and that church baptismal and church growth goals were among the most significant factors that distinguished high-growth from low-growth congregations.5
The motivational theory in goal setting emphasizes the role of intentions to act as major causes of motivated behavior.6 Actions are governed by intentions. 7 If an individual makes a commitment to an objective or a desired endpoint, that resolution will in fact strongly influence the subsequent behavior of that person. Therefore, commitment is an essential component of motivation in goal setting. 8
Commitment is the totality of internalized normative pressures to act in a way that meets organizational goals and interest. Most people engage in church activities on the basis of duty, cooperation, support, loyalty, or recompense. These bases, however, are not strong enough to support a process in which the church will move in a prescribed direction.
Studies show that a person will not truly commit to achieving a result unless that person has had a voice in determining what the result will be. Conversely, people will be more motivated to work for the success of a project if they have helped develop it. Thus, high commitment and high motivation usually go hand in hand to the degree that people feel that the project is their own.
Why? First, mutually formed goals tend to be both more demanding and fair than unilaterally imposed goals. Second, members who have participated in goal setting are more likely to be ego-involved in attaining those goals. Because they have made themselves responsible for the expectations in the goals, they are eager to see them fulfilled. And third, through participation members gain a better understanding of the reasons behind their goals as well as how to attain them.
Setting goals for the church should have a sequence. Craig Finder 9 suggests the following. First, the pastor confers and negotiates with members individually to determine church objectives for an upcoming time span. The degree to which members may participate in this goalsetting process varies according to the personal styles of both pastor and members. Second, members prepare an action plan that specified how they will pursue the agreed-upon goals. Third, both pastor and members conduct a periodic performance review to measure progress. Finally, it will be time to set new objectives for a subsequent period.
As a pastor in the InterAmerican Division I worked with numerical goals. In that division, it's something one cannot escape. I used them and found them effective in my different responsibilities as a pastor, departmental director, conference president, and college president. Where I am pastoring now, numerical goals are not an issue. But our church established specific goals to motivate our members. In 1992-1993 this helped bring us more than 350 baptisms, two new churches, a 25 percent increase in tithe, and the doubling of membership and attendance. Not only did we surpass the goals set, but we gained a collective feeling of accomplishment and increased confidence.
All things are subject to improper use, of course. Wrongly employed, goal setting may cause rather than solve problems. For example, if the goals are unfair, arbitrary, or unreachable, dissatisfaction and poor performance may result. If goals are set without proper quality controls, quantity overcomes quality. When goals become more important than human considerations, they become burdensome, detrimental, and destructive to church community.
The danger to avoid is making numerical and measurable goals an end in themselves. Goals are only a means to an end. Focusing on numbers to the exclusion of making responsible disciples can lead to unfaithfulness to our paramount goal: to disciple the church into Christlikeness. Numbers can never be substituted for rebirth through the Holy Spirit. So the issue is ultimately not whether we should have numerical and measurable goals but rather how to use them.
1 Edward Dayton and Ted W. Engstrom, Strategy for Leadership (Old Tappan, NJ.: Fleming H. Revell, 1979), p. 51.
2 See Edwin A. Locke, Gary P. Latham, and Miriam Erez, "The Determinants of Goal Commitment," Academy of Management Review 13, No. 1 (1988): 23-29.
3 McConkey, p. 6.
4 Robert H. Schuller, Your Church Has Real Possibilities! (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books Division, 1979), p. 72.
5 Roger L. Dudley and Des Cummings,Jr., Adventures in Church Growth (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1983), p. 61.
6 Richard M. Steers and Lyman W. Porter, Motivation and Work Behavior (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991), p. 355.
7 William C. Howell and Robert L. Dipboye, Essentials of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Chicago: Dorsey Press, 1986), p. 77.
8 Locke, pp. 23-39.
9 Craig C. Finder, Work Motivation (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1984), p. 172.
Pablo Perla is pastor of the Washington Spanish Seventh-day Church, Washington, D.C.