How to Develop an Effective Church Growth Action Plan

Church leaders make critical decisions multiple times a day. Learn how to evaluate risk accurately and determine the best course of action for optimal church growth. | by David Ashcraft and Rob Skacel

A life well-lived and pleasing to God is one characterized by both faith — which by its nature requires risk — and wise restraint. If you are too risk averse, you may be settling for a ho-hum existence, producing a degree of impact that falls short of what it might have been. Isn’t that a key lesson of the parable of the three servants? (See Matthew 25:14-30.)

And yet, if you risk recklessly, then you may gravely tarnish or even destroy your reputation and nullify your life’s work. When Christians do that, the damage is compounded.

As we are told in 2 Corinthians 5:20, we should see ourselves as “ambassadors” of Christ — as representatives of Jesus to the world around us. In that sense, our reckless behavior can blemish the reputation of Christ. We become a source of repulsion from Christ rather than a source of attraction to him.

Every time you encounter risk, you are confronted with four distinct propositions. These four interact in a way that invites you to either embrace risk or to back away from it. They enter the picture, consciously or reflexively, whether you want them to or not.  And each comes with some bright and dark elements.  The challenge is to navigate the four propositions effectively.


The first proposition is about desire: “What would you like?”  It encompasses your wants and cravings.

At its best, desire fuels healthy ambition and focus. It produces go-getters and high achievers. Desire can lead to exceptional performance in school, sports, or work, and can motivate you toward financial security, generosity, good parenting, and spiritual maturity.

But even the most virtuous people are susceptible to sinful desires. If you’re not careful, this dark side of desire can leave you lacking contentment for what God has given you and prone to chasing the wrong things.

The second proposition deals with opportunity: “What is available?” It is about the circumstances and the options that can advance or thwart your desires.

For example, a financial blessing that comes in the form of an unexpected tax refund enables a caring parent to afford the tutoring she so desires for her struggling child. Even constraints, like imprisonment, financial loss, or a failed marriage are part of the opportunity proposition.

Of course, not all opportunity leads to good outcomes. A moment of freedom from the eyes of a watchful parent affords opportunity for a child to chase a ball into a busy street. Long hours spent alone with an attractive co-worker can lead to marital infidelity. Available credit can bring problematic spending and crushing debt.

The third proposition concerns power: “Can you make it happen?” Power is a person’s capacity to make a difference — to affect the world in some measurable way.

Most people underestimate their power. Many of us with limited financial resources or relatively low-ranking positions at work may actually possess a great deal of power in the home, frequently derived from our physical size or strength.

How a parent, for example, uses his power can be the difference between security or abuse in the home. Virtuous behavior naturally increases a person’s power, and virtuous use of power can bring about tremendous good.

But there’s a catch: power is seductive, and it can lead to impaired empathy, self-centeredness, impulsivity, and a host of other counterproductive tendencies. What starts as healthy influence can easily lapse into unhealthy control or even abuse.  We all have our blind spots, so you must be increasingly vigilant concerning this proposition as your career advances or your stature grows.

The fourth proposition involves expectations: “What might result?” It refers to the anticipated possible outcomes to your actions.

If you expect an action to produce a desirable result, then you are likely to proceed. And if you expect an unpleasant result, you are likely to halt.

Cautious people tend to exaggerate the odds of bad outcomes, which can lead them to avoid even healthy risks. In their habitual retreat to safety, these individuals may overlook the negative consequences of not taking risks and thereby cheat themselves out of life’s joys and accomplishments.

On the other hand, action-oriented people tend to be realistic optimists. They generally expect their efforts to succeed, after which they can envision and conquer the next hill, and the one after that.

Because they are accustomed to success, they expect it to continue. But this can lead them to underestimate the likelihood of a bad outcome to any behavior they may be contemplating. When you think you’re immune to getting caught, causing pain, or experiencing loss, you may tend to behave foolishly — to do things that end careers, traumatize others, and destroy legacies.

Wise Practices Lead to Wise Decisions

Again, these four propositions are always at play in every risk-based decision you can possibly face. You cannot escape the influence of desire, opportunity, power, and expectations. (Think of the acronym “DOPE” to help you remember.) The key to consistently wise risk-taking is to confront the four propositions consciously, and in a healthy manner that places humility and selflessness over pride and self-interest.


STEP 1: Invite God into the process from the very start.

Pray that he will give you the necessary insight to take an honest look at yourself and your situation as you navigate the four propositions. Ask him to help you see opportunities that might not readily come to mind, and to find wise counsel (e.g., spouse, godly friends, board members, additional resources, etc.) to support and challenge you in healthy ways.

STEP 2: Write down your thoughts pertaining to each of the four propositions of risk — desire, opportunity, power, and expectations.

Take your time with this. Think through your response to each proposition carefully.

STEP 3: Identify and invite one or more individuals to review what you’ve come up with — to walk through the four propositions with you.

This is the step most people are prone to overlook or avoid, but it is a critical one. We all have blind spots — things about ourselves that may be apparent to others but are difficult to see in ourselves.

We can be blind to both strengths and weaknesses. Most foolish risks grow out of self-deception (the inability to see ourselves or our motives accurately) or self-indulgence (the pursuit of our desires, passions, and whims without proper restraint).

Don’t overestimate your tendency to “go it alone.” Actively seek wise counsel.

STEP 4: Before taking action, give your work a final review to guard against the destructive influences of self-interest and pride.


For areas in which you might be personally vulnerable to destructive risk, but not facing an immediate risk-based decision (i.e., you have potential to struggle with sexual temptation, anger control, greed, addiction, gambling, etc.), you should consider proactive steps to: curtail your exposure to opportunity (proposition #2), invite limits to your power (proposition #3), and dwell upon potential consequences of public exposure (proposition #4).

Applying this method can’t guarantee the correct decision in every situation, but it will allow you to advance with a more calculated decision about the risks you are facing, and experience personal growth in your leadership journey.

By carefully confronting the four propositions of risk, you can focus your goals, develop a realistic action plan, and lead with greater confidence.

This article is excerpted from What Was I Thinking? How to Make Better Decisions So You Can Live and Lead with Confidence.

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