Five-Year Strategic Plan

by Bryan Simmons on May 20, 2024

Dear Beloved in Christ,

French pilot and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once famously wrote, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” It is with this understanding that we do the work of strategic planning here at Bethesda. It is not enough to want Bethesda to be successful in its mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest. Instead, we, as a congregation, seek guidance from the Holy Spirit, and embark on this quest to carefully discern our opportunities and foci, capitalize on the talents and interests within our community, and embolden the work of the wider Church through our strategic contribution to the whole.

Dennis and Marnette Warth have graciously agreed to co-chair the Strategic Planning Taskforce in partnership with me, and I am so grateful for their commitment to this process and desire to see Bethesda proclaim the Gospel at its most effective. Since the beginning of the year, we have engaged in the creation of this plan in our listening phase. Before a single word is drafted, we have first reached out to the congregation and those closely connected to it through our 5-Year Strategic Planning Survey via Survey Monkey.

The survey had 182 responses, our highest response-rate since my arrival in 2015! The key demographics in the survey were an accurate reflection of our community as well, with the majority of the congregation 65 years of age and older and over two-thirds being members of 10 years or more here at Bethesda. About a quarter of the population have children or grandchildren who are at Bethesda. Respondents had a highly favorable view of Bethesda, with a Net Promoter Score of 48 (50 and over is considered “excellent”). According to respondents, our primary form of communication along with our other forms should be the weekly “Living Current” e-newsletter, and you are reading this article in what over two-thirds of you find effective to extremely effective in its communication.

Notable findings of the survey included these key themes:

   o Our outreach to the community in service to others.
   o Our opportunities to gather for worship.
   o Our opportunities to gather for fun and community.
   o Our dynamic music offerings.

   o Our ministry with children, youth, and families.
   o Our public proclamation of the Gospel to reach out to those beyond these walls.
   o Our visitation and pastoral care to the homebound.
   o Our education/Bible study program for adults.

Also of note is the synonymity of Bethesda’s name with our Food Pantry and Clothing Closet with the Ames and surrounding communities as the thing Bethesda is best known for. When asked to describe Bethesda in one word, the top 5 responses were: welcoming, community, caring, outreach, and service. The responses as to where we should focus our time and energy on in the next five years surrounded strengthening our ministry to children, youth, and families, expanding upon our outreach in service to the community, and maintaining strong worship opportunities. By and large, respondents are comfortable with the condition and function of our building insofar as no major changes or additions are desired.

The numerical results of the 5-Year Strategic Planning Survey can be found in the Member Portal on our website,

The next stage of the listening phase was to gather people in open forum where participants were presented with the strengths, struggles and five-year focus items. Below are Marnette and Dennis Warth’s comments, who facilitated the sessions:

In all, 74 Bethesda members attended the nine listening posts with 51 attending in April and 23 in May.

Confidentiality was crucial to ensure those attending would feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Although notes of each session were taken the names of those in attendance were omitted to ensure anonymity.

Once presented with the survey results, focus of each session was on the five-year focus items. There was excellent discussion in many of these meetings with the meetings often going 15-30 minutes beyond the allotted hour.

When presented with a more immediate issue we would see that the issue was addressed and then communicate this to the person who brought it to our attention.

Children, Youth & Family Ministry was a focal point of many of the listening posts. Engaging youth and families more in worship services & service projects; establishing a mentoring program for youth; modifying confirmation programming to include mentors, small groups, service projects, mission trips and less lecture; providing direction for children’s church to ensure teachers are provided needed resources, curriculum is age appropriate and splitting the class by age if numbers support; and informing the congregation about children, youth & family ministry activities. Many asked specifically about the upcoming National Youth Gathering.

There is also an interest in having more frequent adult education opportunities on Sunday mornings. It was suggested that there needs to be a dedicated coordinator of adult education.

We learned that there is interest in having small group ministry at Bethesda. There are small groups that have formed in the past that continue to meet.

Visitation and pastoral care was discussed. Some were not aware that Bethesda has a lay visitation ministry. Others have an interest in being involved in this ministry, but didn’t know how to get involved.

The taskforce will now take all of this feedback, combined with social and theological demographic data of the Ames area, and begin the first draft of the plan. The goal is to present this draft to the Congregation Council for approval at the June meeting. Upon approval, this draft will be shared with the governing boards for their feedback and a new draft will be presented to the Council for a 2nd approval.

After a second approval, we plan to share this draft with the congregation at large and host forums for further feedback. After the forums we will prepare a final draft of the plan to present to the congregation for approval at a special congregational meeting, hopefully held in mid to late autumn. Once the plan is approved by the congregation, a new taskforce will be created that will design implementation steps. This process is very similar to the process of the last 5-year strategic plan approved in 2016.

Special thanks to the Warths for their willingness to co-chair this taskforce and a special thanks to all of YOU for letting your voice be known as we focus our efforts to proclaim the Gospel of grace, mercy, and peace in Ames and throughout the world.

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