I don’t know about you, but in my role as an executive pastor, I am having to simultaneously manage two seemingly conflicting realms. There is the 35,000 foot view, where I must be able to see the vision that needs to be crafted and executed. In addition, there is also the boots-on-the-ground view, where I am involved with the details that help a team arrive at a destination.

If I am not careful, I can easily fall into the trap of consistently giving my thinking and energies to what seems most advantageous at the moment. The result is that I am very liable to miss longterm strategic thinking and planning. There is no lack of busyness, but I end up looking back and thinking “Why didn’t this get done like we planned?”

As I have tested and tried various planning and organizational tools and strategies, I came across one that has really allowed me to be successful with both the long range planning as well as the day-to-day task management.

The tool is 90-day planning. Once every three months or so, I take a half day or full day offsite and think intentionally about the next 90 days.

LiveDev says that…

“The reason most cited for doing planning on a quarterly basis is that the 90-day time horizon is ideal for setting appropriately sized goals. We overestimate what we can accomplish in a short time frame like a day or week, and we underestimate what we can do in a long time-frame, like a year.”

The 90-day planning process has created that sweet spot for me.

Every 90 days I am looking at our church and asking the question, “What strategically needs to be thought about or executed that is going to move our church forward?” Many of these ideas come from our annual planning process, but most come in the weekly interaction with my Lead Pastor of Preaching and Teaching. Three months is long enough to get something substantial accomplished but also short enough to see daily or weekly progress.

Incorporating long- and short-term planning

To plan every 90 days does not translate to completing every project in that time span. What it does do is force me to set some longer-term goals with weekly accountability. What do I mean by this? What works best for me is to take my Sunday and look at the week ahead. With each Sunday, I also look at my 90-day planning, which I keep in Evernote. I review each listed item and ask “What can I do this week to move the ball down the field in each of my 90-day targets?”

For example, we recently revamped our child check-in process for checking in kids to our children’s ministry. It was a sizable project because the process was causing tension and making a poor impression on parents. In that 90-day timespan, I wanted to have a new system up and running. And so my 90-day goal was themed around “to implement a new child check-in system that protects our children and meets parent needs.”

Each Sunday, as I looked at the week ahead and reviewed my 90-day plan, I noted those things that I could do in the next week that were going to help accomplish a new child check-in process. So one week my task may have been to speak with our child check-in team and ask what they desired and where the roadblocks were. The following week might be taking time to meet with a technician about installing an upgraded wireless system in our church to support our new process. Another week I began researching technology that was easy to use and more intuitive.

And everything was accomplished to plan.

Over the course of 13 weeks, the end goal is always before me from a process perspective, but each week ensures that I am viewing those details necessary to accomplish our vision. It breaks an overall process into 13 weekly and attainable goals.

How to make this process work corporately and personally

I use 90-day planning both from a church wide perspective and also from a personal category perspective. For the broad church categories, I am speaking frequently with our lead pastor about each of the items, providing progress updates, asking questions, and figuring out best next steps.

The result of incorporating this process into my daily/weekly/monthly thinking is that it is providing “guardrails” for me so that my time is not unnecessarily spent on the urgent – you know, those things that demand attention now. It has also challenged me to think more about delegation, team wide communication, and a “who needs to be involved” mentality.

I would encourage you to read this article on quarterly planning. I would also challenge you to try it for a three-month period.  It will sharpen your planning abilities and increase your ability to execute. These are two areas that always need sharpening for me.

Written by Phil Taylor
My name is Phil. I spent 20 years as an Executive Pastor and now I serve churches all over through consulting and coaching. I wrote "Defining The Executive Pastor Role" and "Eldership Development-From Application to Affirmation". My greatest passion is helping others bring vision into reality. I've been married for 25 years, and we have three kids and one grandchild.