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Critical components of SMART church goals

As church leaders, we must translate squishy ministry goals into clear measures and tactics. Illustration by Cindy Caldwell, United Methodist Communications.
As church leaders, we must translate squishy ministry goals into clear measures and tactics. Illustration by Cindy Caldwell, United Methodist Communications.

As leaders, we must translate squishy ministry goals into clear measures. This means developing strategies and creating clear tactics that equip teams and leaders with the tools they need to accomplish tasks.

Good goal setting is critical for us personally and as we help develop others, both spiritually and professionally. How do you set good goals? How do you motivate yourself and others to achieve them? And how can you best evaluate the results?

One method for creating vital churches is to create well-crafted goals using the SMART model.

What are you trying to accomplish? In our world, most leaders want their churches to grow in healthy ways that allow more people to encounter Jesus. How that looks is different for everyone. Yet, we can all begin by understanding a simple, yet solid, framework based on two things:

  1. Phases of the goal process
  2. How to set and manage good goals

The best way to develop others is first to develop ourselves. Just as physicians learn to heal by playing the role of patient, we can model the goal-achieving process by living it. Let's take a quick look at the steps in the process.

Three phases of the goal process

  1. Set goals.
    Sometimes we set our own goals. Sometimes we follow someone else's script. Our goals should be aligned with the mission we are called to accomplish.
  2. Take action.
    Our goals must be constructed so they are achievable. Identify specific tactics that make up the larger goal. Then come up with an action plan to accomplish them.
  3. Evaluate goals.
    Measure results. After developing broad strategic objectives and dividing them into more specific goals, come up with a method for rating your actions. The clearer your goals, the easier they are to evaluate.

So how does a well-crafted goal look? The SMART goals model has been around a long time, in many forms. This simple acronym helps identify the key components of effective goals. Consider your goals as you read this list.


Is your goal specific enough? Deciding you want to grow spiritually or that you want people to be more faithful is nice, but those wishes aren't good goals. How exactly do you want to grow spiritually? What specific things will you do and how often?

Perhaps you desire to deepen your relationships with people on your leadership team or in your congregation. A working goal could be to reach out to two people each week. Refine it further by deciding to call one person each Monday and write a note to another every Wednesday.

Instead of saying you want to get better at pastoral care, say you want to avoid overlooking people in need and keep track of people who aren't attending services or small groups. One strategy would be to create an opt-in buddy system that helps people keep track of their friend's attendance at worship services or small groups. Be sure to think of several tactics to help leaders manage small groups and support this goal.


Can you clearly measure your goal? How will you monitor progress? How often?

Let's say your church desires to increase its visibility in your community. You might set a goal of actively participating in three community events over the next calendar year. The numbers are easy to define. You and your congregation must physically participate in public events three times in 12 months.

How will you check in on your goal? Chart progress or ask a friend to keep you accountable.

A good goal includes built-in ways to measure progress. In addition to motivation, these check-ins provide opportunities for reality checks. If the goal is being met too easily or proving too difficult, this monitoring process allows you to recalibrate as necessary.


Is the goal reachable but not too easy to accomplish? This actionable concept provides clarity through these key questions:

  • Does the person or group trying to reach a goal have the resources and capabilities necessary to achieve success?
  • Do your goals have smaller tactics (with measurable outcomes and deadlines) assigned to specific people?
  • Are the tactics and expected outcomes clear?

If the answer to any of these questions is "no," you have more work to do. In the previous example of increasing a church's involvement in the community, specific actions or tactics would include identifying specific events in which to participate, contacting event organizers to determine what role you could play (vendor, volunteer, etc.) and selecting key volunteers to organize your group's presence and effort.

Always consider how many actions you must take to accomplish a given goal. If there are too many, the goal is likely too broad and may need to be divided.


Is the goal aligned with broader personal or organizational values? The goal may be righteous and well intended, but does it meet a significant community need? It is possible to get distracted and pursue the wrong goals. Most of us know what it is like to start cleaning a room when we're supposed to be filing reports for work.

Sometimes we fail to prioritize our goals and miss focusing on those that will yield the biggest or most important results. Cleaning is good but not if we're doing it to avoid important deadlines.

Also beware of chasing too many goals at once and losing sight of the actual needs of the community and your church's unique calling.


Do you have a clear timeframe for completing the tasks? Deadlines and check-ins should be as specific as the goal itself. Defining exact dates helps avoid open-ended goals and offers incentive for making progress on time.

The process of goals is a dynamic and ongoing cycle of taking action, evaluating progress and adjusting a plan of attack on the fly. Smart, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound goals should flow from a clear vision of purpose.

Are you unsure of where to begin? Check out our church marketing plan tool, a great way to focus on every aspect of your ministry, from vision to evaluation. Specifically, consider doing a SWOT analysis (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) for your church.

Related resource

The General Council on Finance and Administration offers VitalSigns for United Methodist churches. VitalSigns is an easy, intuitive way to set expectations and accountability for your church, as well as a place to discuss and act on the important issues we all face.

Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is an author from Dallas, Texas who spent a decade teaching college courses in the social sciences before becoming a consultant in communications and organizational strategy. Clay enjoys writing at the intersection of culture and spirituality. He has done ministry with college students for years and loves finding creative ways to engage millennials.

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