Part 5: The Genius of Backwards Planning

When a group is ready to take on a project, they usually make a plan and then work their way forward, starting with the first step and ending with the last. Many a Pastor Search Team does the same. They begin by making plan that guides them from the first meeting to the installation of a new pastor.

That approach has worked fine for many a team, but another method has been found to be even more effective. It is referred to as Backwards Planning or Reverse Planning. This method begins with the end goal in mind and then works backwards from there to develop a plan of action.   

Clearly, the most important element of backwards planning is the end goal. When it comes the task of a Pastor Search Team, I have discovered that the end goal is not simply finding a new pastor. That task is really not that difficult. There are plenty of pastors who would accept a congregation’s invitation to become pastor.

The end goal is a pastor who is a great fit for the congregation and its community at the current moment in time, and a pastor whose call to the church is affirmed by a vast majority of the congregation, let’s say 90%.  It is best to work backward from that goal: a great fit and near unanimous affirmation by the congregation. In subsequent blogs, we will look more deeply into these essential ingredients. For now I wish to accent the importance of backward planning.

Researchers have discovered a marked difference in success between forward and backwards planning. The difference, however, is not driven by the plan itself because, once finished, the forward and backwards plan look similar. One reason why backwards planning is more effective is that the end goal allows us to use our imagination to think of future events as if they already happened, which makes it easier to visualize the steps we need to take.

Another reason backward planning may be more effective than forward planning is that it helps us focus on a positive outcome. Backward planning essentially names our mission for the work of the Pastor Search Team. When we plan chronologically, it’s easier to get caught up thinking about all the obstacles that might prevent us from working our plan step-by-step.  

So, what does this mean for a Pastor Search Team? Let’s begin with the end goal in mind.  Then, let’s apply the “one-third, two-thirds rule.” More on this later, for sure.

Prayer Prompt: Lord, clarifying our goal and make clear our steps.


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ChapterNext is a pastor search and church consulting firm led by Rev. Sam Hamstra. They assist congregations through a handful of services, including staff development, weekend worship workshops, leadership retreats, and ministry reviews (vision and mission statements, budgets, building renovation, and marketing plans). These services grew out of ChapterNexts’ founding purpose which is to help congregations turn the page so that they can begin writing new chapters of dynamic and life-transforming ministry.

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