Having a Ministry Strategy Means Saying “No”

Michael Porter is a Harvard business school professor, consultant, author, and leading authority on strategy. Porter’s view of strategy, according to Harvard associate Joan Margetta, contains five essential beliefs. I am taking some liberty to restate and contextualize Porter’s views on strategy for a ministry context. If Michael Porter were to consult with you, perhaps he would say:

1. Understand your identity and how you will make disciples.

2. Match your actions (programs, activities, etc.) to your identity and mission.

3. Say “no” to that which falls outside of those critical actions.

4. Seek to align everything to your identity and mission.

5. Continually make wise choices in line with your identity and mission.

Michael Porter believes “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

If you say, “yes” to every opportunity, you do not have a strategy. Saying “yes” to that which falls outside of actions that are aligned to a ministry’s identity inevitably takes resources, energy, and time from that which has been deemed to be most important. If a ministry does not possess a clear identity, the temptation to chase every new idea or program will be constant and overwhelming. When a ministry has a clear identity, saying “no” is essential. A leader’s refusal to say “no” is a leader’s admission to not possessing a clear identity and mission.

Strategic ministry leaders say “no” to these three things:

1. Some staff

When leaders understand their unique identity and mission, they evaluate staffing opportunities through that lens. Just because a ministry of the same size or with the same number of resources has a staff position does not mean your ministry needs the same position. Their identity and mission is likely different from yours. Some church leaders, because “other churches have this,” succumb to unhealthy pressure to over staff. The result of succumbing is mismatched staff. About mismatched staffing, many wise leaders have said, “It is better to want what you do not have than have what you do not want.”

2. Some programs

If a church offers a seemingly endless number of programs and events, none of them are offered very well. The most important environments must not be drowned with an over-cluttered calendar.

3. Some good opportunities

In a church where there is momentum and the Lord is working on people’s hearts, almost every single week someone will approach the leadership team with a new idea. Almost every week good opportunities will surface. If a ministry pursues every good opportunity, she will quickly lose her distinct identity, and resources and energy will be dispersed in too many directions.

Saying “no” requires discipline and focus. And it is sometimes painful, in the short-term, to say “no.” It is, however, much more damaging in the long-term to say “yes” to everything.