The Biggest Goal Setting Mistakes that Pastors Make

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It’s the beginning of another year and pastors have either decided that setting goals is unbiblical, a waste of time, or they already have a list for the coming year. Debates aside, whether your church sets goals or not, you might want to rethink the way you operate after reading this list of common goal setting mistakes.

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1. Independent goal setting rather than involving others
People are always more committed to something when they are involved in the planning process. However, when it comes to making future plans for their church, many pastors feel it is their personal responsibility, and they choose to exclude others from the process. If I told you to lose 20kg next year, you would protest, make excuses, and explain why it was too hard or unrealistic. However, if you initiated the goal and I offered to support you, your level of excitement would be noticeably higher.

Right now, many pastors are reading this with the usual objections. I will address the objections in more detail during a future blog, but now that I have your attention, let’s fast forward with suggestions, for those who might choose to involve others.

Where do you start?

I suggest that you meet with a cross-section of members from your congregation and also people in your community. How many city majors have ever been asked “How can our church bless this city?” You should consider talking with business owners, parents, singles, youth, children’s ministers, and any other significant groups in your church or city. You could meet with people one to one, or in small groups. Potentially, all members can be given the opportunity to share their ideas through surveys, or by talking with group leaders. You might also discover that if you combine a planning session with prayer, and use an outside facilitator, that a greater flow of ideas can happen within a larger group setting. How does your church involve others in yearly planning? Share your experiences with us.

2. A focus on numerical growth rather than church health
When leaders set goals, they will often look through last years attendance figures, and then increase the numbers to represent a step of faith. If last years average Sunday attendance was 100, they might believe for 120 this year. If there were three baptisms last year, they might believe for four baptisms this year. If there were four home fellowship groups last year, they might aim for five this coming year. While there is nothing wrong with numerical growth, a better approach is to focus on improving the health of the church, because healthy churches are always growing churches.

There are many elements that contribute toward a healthy growing church. I would recommend downloading the Church Excellence Framework which is FREE, and outlines biblical principles that contribute to a church’s health. An example of a goal that focuses on the health of a church could be: “By April this year, we will improve the quality of the discipleship process, by teaching people how to share their faith”. How the teaching takes place is another discussion, but I suggest that is a far more effective goal than just announcing your desire to see twice as many people in church.

3. Not addressing the most urgent need
If you own an indoor plant, you could set a goal to water it everyday, place it in an expensive pot, and fertilize it once a month, but if the most important need was more sunlight, the plant would still die. Churches are very much the same. Every church has things they do well, and things they do poorly. A church might have 50 different goals, but if they don’t address the biggest need, they will still fail to grow. One of the reasons pastors dislike ‘church growth’ material, is that it often exposes their weaknesses, and no one enjoys their “apparent” failures being exposed. Completing a questionnaire and discovering a list of 100 changes you need to make, can be very confronting, and it’s much easier to toss the results in the bin, and create an excuse to stay the same.

The most liberating advice I can offer, is to focus on one thing at a time. If you look around your back yard, you will often see plants that are totally neglected but still living. What keeps them alive? They continue to survive because they have the minimum requirements to support life. If you give any plant water, soil, and sunlight, usually it will grow to some extent. However, if you were to take a soil sample, and add the minerals that the soil was lacking, you would see an explosion of growth. Your church is no different. If you continue addressing the weakest areas over a long enough period of time, you will experience growth. (Jn 15:2; 1 Cor 3:6; Act 6:1-5)

4. Setting comfortable goals rather than confronting the root issues
The Church Excellence Framework can help you identify the most urgent needs, but it still requires brutal honestly. Sometimes the most urgent needs get swept under the carpet because it is too uncomfortable to deal with them. The most uncomfortable areas to address, always involve people. Negative communication between staff, the way leaders communicate, and the way things are organised, are all very common issues in any group. In a previous role, I worked with businesses that often had great facilities, the best equipment, good staff, but very poor communication processes. As a result, the businesses failed to be as productive as they could have been. Bad communication was costing them thousands of dollars a year in lost productivity, but instead of addressing the problem, the senior management often made excuses, defending their own behaviour, and chosing to blame other things.

Addressing the uncomfortable areas is very confronting. Churches are often much more willing to focus their energy and budget toward updating equipment, redecorating the mothers’ room, or other cosmetic changes, instead of addressing problems that involve people. Maybe it’s time to get honest with how things are, invest time into growing as a leader, work on communication problems, and restructure the way you organise things in your growth

5. Neglecting organisational goals in preference to spiritually related goals
Some churches focus more on goals with a direct “spiritual” focus such as weekly prayer meetings, weekly days of fasting, and monthly worship nights. Other churches tend to focus on organisational goals such as building and equipment upgrades, leadership training and discipleship courses. Fasting, discipleship courses, buildings and prayer are all good. The point is to assess whether your church needs a greater balance between organisational and spiritual activities. Jesus withdrew and spent time on the mountain in prayer, but he also sent out the seventy in groups of two. Somewhere in the process, there were 35 groups that were organised and sent to various locations across the countryside. Jesus understood that both organisation and spiritual dynamics are needed to grow the kingdom of God. (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 10:1)

Can anyone relate to the five mistakes I have listed? Is there one particular mistake that your church is currently making? Share your experiences with us.

To review the studies and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.

Please also share our blog to allow others to consider – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.

Peter Sewell has over 25 years of ministry experience, training church leadership teams, business and government leaders, and community groups. He is a passionate supporter of the local church and served as an associate pastor for 15 years. During this time he was involved in planting new churches, and coordinating cell groups, pastoral care, and discipleship. He has qualifications in biblical studies, business, counselling, coaching, and adult education, and is currently involved in training future leaders across Europe.

Copyright 2015 Peter Sewell Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact

One thought on “The Biggest Goal Setting Mistakes that Pastors Make

  1. Hi Jane,this is Carolyn Mowat from Central Christian Church in Seymour. I have dropped the ball a bit over the school holidays and am getting back on track now the children are back at school.You mentioned previously that you have releases an update of the framework. Would I be able to get a copy of that please? thanksCarolyn Mowat Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2015 06:04:52 +0000 To:


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