Built to Last

blog Mar 21, 2024

By Loxley O'Connor

Anyone who has spent any time in churches or has sat in meetings discussing vision has heard a leader, usually, a senior pastor, recite Habakkuk 2:2: “Write the vision, and make it plain” (NKJV).

Truly, most of us would argue that whatever followed usually excited the hearts of those of us hearing. We would respond with enthusiasm, often committing ourselves to work, fund, and be spokespersons for the vision outlined. The challenge however was never the “what” but the “how.” This perhaps is why so many “whats” remain incomplete and unfinished, or some, never having begun, merely a dream in the mind of the one who shared it.

Far too often, what we never do is to be obedient to what God charged Habakkuk to do. Let me suggest the following interpretation of the passage from the perspective of a chief financial officer and business strategist:

Clearly write the vision in a manner that communicates what we will do to realize the vision such that everyone who reads and commits their way to it may be able to follow the steps and execute their parts expediently.    

In other words, prepare a business plan. Answer the question “how” we will do the “what” God said to us. Stop saying, “God never told me how He would do it.” In Luke 14:28, Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” In other words, determine the needs of the project through consultation and planning, and then price out the materials and estimate the timelines needed to achieve the plan.

I have written many business deals, quickly scribbled on the back of a menu or napkin. That same napkin was all I shared with my spouse for her agreement. However, as the complexity and size of opportunities grew, the back of an envelope was no longer adequate.

Our most recent investment involved site visits, financial projections, study, and market analysis of a new industry. I suspect that many a church leader has seen only summary notes at best before approving transactions that they often never understood. This then is the importance of church business plans. Here is a working definition of a business plan that captures its essence:

A business plan is a written document that describes the roadmap an entity, including churches and not-for-profit enterprises, defines its goals and how it is to go about achieving them.

The business plan has five major elements:

  1. Goals and Objectives. This is the most critical step in the development of the business plan. Knowing where we are heading cannot be understated. However, fights will occur because faithless persons will constantly challenge the size of the vision.
  2. Key stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities. Subject matter experts that God has equipped to serve must be identified and empowered. These persons will identify and resolve issues that the visionary does not yet know exist.
  3. Addresses key strategic analysis and actionable steps. Careful analysis of the environmental issues that will impact the project must be performed and addressed. You must ask and answer the questions the readers are already asking.
  4. Proforma financial statements. These are not your historical financial statements. These statements are forward-looking and layout in sufficient detail the expected results of the actions and the project being undertaken.
  5. No plan is complete without defining critical dates and the expected completion. And while many things will happen along the way and no perfect plan exists, it should be noted that significant efforts will require perseverance.

Each of these five elements communicates with clarity the results of the thoughtful analysis that has been done by those leading the effort. Internal and external governing bodies, bankers, investors, venture partners, and underwriters alike can tell when the entity has done its own homework and considered the cost.

The more sophisticated the deal and its size, the more likely that these parties to the project/transaction will not commit themselves until they have had a chance to read through the business plan and have received answers to their questions.

Let me illustrate. In 2005 I was notified of two parcels of foreclosed land that were adjacent to a local church that was on the market. After negotiations and purchase, the church began the process of evaluating whether and which of the parcels would be suitable for the building of a senior housing development that had long been an articulated vision of its then senior pastor.

That analysis ultimately resulted in a decision to move forward with the project. That meant that an oversight committee of subject matter experts was formed to come up with a detailed plan for executing the goal of building a senior living housing community. The result was a business plan that was presented to an outside oversight committee led by its presiding prelate, then to several bankers for solicitation of financing proposals.

Today a $65-million senior housing facility sits on one of the parcels of land. The vision for this appointed time was cast in 1997. The “how” was laid out in the business plan in 2007.

And so, I believe that it is time for our churches and not-for-profit enterprises to revisit the value of our business plans as we begin our pivots back into full operations. Today’s economic environment is creating significant opportunities for the church. I remain convinced that, in many communities, especially rural, black and brown and poor, the church is the single most effective and longest-standing entity that can provide the leadership needed to address our social and spiritual ills. To do so, we must take the necessary steps to properly evaluate what is necessary to finish the work each of us is called to do in our own community. Failure is not an option since lives and the legacies we leave to our children will depend on our actions.  We must ensure that our navigation system is aligned with the destination we have set.

Finally, let us remember that Habakkuk was asking questions of God and that he aligned himself with God and gave time for God to answer. In our churches and the related entities we lead, we must never forget the value of disciplining ourselves to wait until our Lord speaks. Scriptures declare, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NKJV).

Through the business plan, we allow God to begin ordering our steps. The development of a business plan is an ordered, disciplined activity that requires that those who have an ear must listen to hear what God is saying. We cannot and should not run ahead of God. This practical step is by its very nature reflected in our business plan. Before Nehemiah began the rebuilding of the wall, he took time to do the evaluation, select a team, and communicate a goal. Their strategy resulted in a mere 52 weeks of effort to complete a phenomenal task. Let us arise and build.

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