How to Set Annual Goals with Your Church Staff

Setting annual goals is mundane and unemotional—but completely necessary. Without these goals, the pathway through the year lacks clarity, like a group of people navigating a trip with unstated directions in their heads and no agreed-upon route to a particular destination. That’s how horror movies begin.

Annual goals should be more tactical and less visionary. Tactics are the operational steps to achieving the desired end. Your yearly goals act like step-by-step instructions moving the church closer to a broader vision. Think of vision as the place just beyond the horizon and annual goals as the plan for the next leg of the journey towards the horizon.

One of the key roles of a lead pastor (or whoever manages the staff) is coordinating the staff’s annual goals. Below are five steps to set annual goals with your team.

1. Let the staff write their own goals, then negotiate with them. Goals should begin with the staff person. Then you can negotiate with them on the details. If a staff person is incapable of writing goals, you have more significant issues with that person. Additionally, you’re likely micromanaging if you feel the need to write everyone’s goals. Staff should write their own goals and then negotiate with you on changes.

2. Require specific goals. Here is a good example: “Start a children’s choir for elementary children during Wednesday programming by the second quarter.” Here is a bad example: “Preach more passionately.” Specific goals act like markers on a map. You will know if the children’s choir begins as planned. You can’t hold people accountable for vague goals.

3. Make goals measurable. If a particular ministry needs to grow, then determine by how much. By twenty people? Ten percent? These figures are often called lag measures because they indicate performance. More importantly, you should set ways of achieving this goal. These figures are often called lead measures because they indicate improvement. Here’s an example: I want this ministry to grow by twenty-four people over twelve months (lag measure), so I will contact six new people each month, hoping to gain two of them (lead measure).

4. Give goals timelines. Some goals may require an entire year. Other goals may only require a month. Make sure the specific and measurable goals have reasonable timelines. Without a stated timeline, an otherwise good goal could languish because of procrastination or apathy.

5. Hold staff accountable on an ongoing basis. I don’t believe everyone needs a quarterly review. However, a good lead pastor will check in periodically to see where staff stands with their goals. This ongoing accountability can be either formal (through scheduled meetings) or informal (through casual conversations), so long as everyone agrees to the process.

There are two other items to consider as a lead pastor, one on the front end of the year and the other on the back end of the year. On the front end, your job as a staff leader is to make sure staff goals complement each other and are not in conflict. Don’t blame the staff mid-year for conflict if you did not properly align their goals at the beginning of the year. On the back end, these goals should become the basis for annual reviews: Did people on staff accomplish their own yearly objectives? This way, no one is surprised by a year-end review.

Posted on July 27, 2022

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Bradley Wright says on

    Great reminders for how to lead the staff to set goals annually. I was wondering, in your current context, if you recommend going through the same process as the Senior/Lead Pastor? Who do you review those goals with – fellow elders, personnel team, deacons?
    It’s obviously great to have our staff members set goals for the year, but I also believe what’s good for them is great for us. Leaders need to set the example and demonstrate by doing. The problem for many Senior/Lead Pastors is: who holds them accountable for those goals? The staff? Deacons? Elder team? Ultimately it’s the Lord, but in the meantime, finding that group that will hold accountable without lording it over them can be tough, especially when there’s a very small staff (or no staff at times).

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Bradley, excellent insight. I think the same process would apply to lead pastors and whatever groups in their churches have oversight over them. In my case, I have a church council that gives feedback on my goals for the vision and mission of the church.

  • I spent many, many years in manufacturing management and the use of the S.M.A.R.T. technique proved invaluable in goal setting and tracking.

  • This plan actually echoes what we teachers are required to do in public schools. The goals we select must be in alignment with our school improvement plans, which are in turn related to county goals indicated by our school boards. Also, the goals we select must be measurable (i.e., data-related). Interesting how this plan would work with a denominational church!