Question #7

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple
and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
(I Corinthians 3:16 NIV)

If we don’t know who we are as a congregation, how will we know what we need?

If we don’t have an accurate understanding of our present situation as a church, how can we close the current chapter so that the Lord may begin writing a new chapter?

If we don’t know have a vision for what may or may not take place in the next chapter of our ministry, how can we write a position description for our next pastor?

Those questions highlight the importance of congregational self-knowledge or self-awareness when envisioning the future—as does Paul’s question to the church in Corinth. “Don’t you know,” he asked, “who you are?” Paul went on to remind the Corinthian Church that they were a temple of the Holy Spirit, a reality that had huge implications for its future.     

Without Paul around to write a letter, how does a congregation gain self-knowledge or self-awareness? One of the easiest ways is by employing an analytical tool like SWOT or SOAR. These popular tools provide the framework for a free-thinking, brain-storming, spontaneous group discussion which has a way, with the help of the Holy Spirit, of bringing relevant issues to the surface for prayerful deliberation.

You can learn how to use each tool through a simple search on the internet. Here I offer but a short description of each as well as this clarification: SWOT is a great tool to generate a realistic understanding of the current situation of a church, and SOAR is a great tool to generate strategic initiatives for the immediate future of a church.

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal to your church—things you have some control over and can change. Examples include your staff, curriculum, and service times. Opportunities and threats are external—things that are going on outside your church. You can take advantage of opportunities and protect against threats, but you can’t change them. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I have witnessed many neighborhoods experience dramatic demographic shifts with huge implications for local churches. What happens, for example, when your church offers services in one language but most of the people around the church speak another language? Well, that change threatens many of your services but provides opportunities for others.    

SOAR is an acronym for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. Strengths highlight where your church excels. Strengths are what the church does well. Opportunities are circumstances your church can address, like offering services in another language. Aspirations are an expression of your vision for the future. Results are measurable outcomes which demonstrate how your congregation has achieved its aspirations.

So, shall we SWOT or SOAR? As a pastor, I appreciate the level of congregational self-awareness provided by SWOT, so I’d start with that one. But I also appreciate congregations that are thinking ahead and, subsequently, have some kind of idea how a new pastor will help them live into their vision. So, how about we SWOT and SOAR?

Prayer Prompt: Lord, help us to know ourselves as you know us.    

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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, congregational mergers, 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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