Missional Planning for Dioceses: Vision, Context, and Stewardship of Resources


by Ken Howard

This the 6th post in a multi-part series. Click here to read the previous post.

Step 1 – What is God calling us to be? (Vision). What we are looking for here is succinct statement of what you have collectively discerned that God is calling you collectively to be and to do. It is a description of what the diocese wants to be when it grows up, the belief that drives all other beliefs, the passion that drives all ministries and programs, a vision the people find worthy of their faithfulness, even in the face of failure. You should be able to reduce it to a one or two sentence “sticky meme” that anyone can recall and repeat. And you should revisit in any time you engage in strategic planning.

Step 2 – Who are our neighbors? (How our contexts are changing). In this step, you will be examining the populations that comprise the communities surrounding the congregations you oversee in comparison to the characteristics of the congregation.

From a strategic level, you will want to look at general direction of demographic trends, such as: Population Growth, Diversity Shifts, and Generational Predominance. You will also want to examine specific demographic and lifestyle characteristics to determine which population groups are currently “at the table” and which are not, in order to determine how your congregations might be better equipped to engage those who are not.

Step 3 – What Are Our Collective Strengths and Weaknesses? (Stewardship of current resources). You might think of this as a form of triage, in which you identify and sort your congregations into three sustainability-related groupings:

  1. Currently sustainable and likely to remain so.
  2. Plateaued or declining but could be made sustainable with appropriate missional interventions.
  3. Plateaued or declining, which no missional intervention can make sustainable, and which therefore must be pastorally closed, and for which ministry must be brought to the members of the congregation and community in innovative ways (other than through a church building).


Internal (Congregational) Sustainability. Four trends affect the capacity a congregation to sustain itself:

  • Increasing or decreasing? (Increasing is better)
  • Increasing or decreasing? (Increasing is better)
  • Normal Operating Income. Increasing or decreasing? (Increasing is better)
  • Child-to-Adult Age Ratio. Increasing or decreasing? (Increasing is better)


External (Community) Sustainability. Four trends affect the capacity of a community to support a congregation:

  • Increasing or decreasing? (Increasing is better)
  • Generational Balance. More balanced or less balanced? (More is better)
  • Increasing or decreasing? (Increasing is better)
  • The Number of Same-Denomination Congregations within a 15-minute drive. The greater the number, the less sustainable all of them will be.

Note: Research shows that 70% of congregation members will come from within a 15-minute drive of the congregation, which means that congregations with a 15-minute drive of each other are competing for (or “cannibalizing”) the same neighborhoods and populations.

Example – Drivetimes:

The above illustration displays the 15-minute DriveTimes of all the congregations of the DIocese of the Central Gulf Coast. The areas where DriveTimes overlap raise concerns of external sustainability (congregations cannibalizing the neighborhoods and populations they share). The areas with the most overlap (Mobile, Pensacola, and Panama Beach), raise greater concerns.

Example – Assessing Congregations for Redevelopment Based on External Sustainability:

Now that you’ve assessed the existing congregations in your diocese, next week’s post will guide you through how to use this information going forward.